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Strangers With Candy:Bad People Learning the Wrong Moral Lesson

Updated on December 30, 2011

"Strangers With Candy" tries to be a "dark comedy," but I'm not sure if it qualifies as such. Dark comedies convince the audience to laugh at horrible things that happen to its protagonists, generally because its protagonists are horrible people who deserve what they get. 'Strangers With Candy," on the other hand, pretends to have horrible things happen to its horrible characters, but in reality nothing much bad happens to them that isn't fixed by the end of the episode.

This presents a problem, as most of the characters really are horrible people who deserve what happens to them, and the "status quo is God" trend of sitcoms which causes this show to pull its punches somewhat leaves you with generally horrible people who don't get the comeuppance they deserve. What you do get is a few funny jokes mixed in with material that's supposed to appear "darkly humorous" but which just seems dumb.

Jerri Blank (played by Amy Sedaris) is a 46-year-old woman who ran away from home 32 years ago, did a lot of drugs, and has finally come back to restart her life at the point before it went bad: freshman year of high school. Despite being old enough to be a parent to her fellow students, Jerri is incredibly immature, often having to be remonstrated by her friends Tammi (Maria Thayer) and Orlando (Orlando Pabotoy) when she acts selfishly or stupidly. Not that Jerri is alone in being an immature adult: there's also Principal Onyx Blackman (Greg Holliman, who is indeed African American, how did you know?), who's off in his own world almost all the time and seems to want to turn Flat Point High School into a cult revolving around him; art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck (Paul Dinello), whose sensitive facade hides his incredible self-centeredness; history teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert), who is engaging in a secret gay affair with Geoffrey and who is needlessly cruel to his students, particularly Jerri; and coach Cherri Wolf (Sarah Thyre), whose characterization changes from episode to episode. There's also Jerri's father (Roberto Gari) who we only see posed motionlessly in midaction; stepmother (Deborah Rush), who is extremely open in how much she loathes Jerri, and stepbrother Derrick (Larc Spies), who is your typical high school jock.

Episodes generally take the sort of plot lines generally used by after-school specials, and have the characters do the exact wrong thing, which more often than not works out anyways. This is sometimes interesting and funny, but it's hurt by Jerri Blank. I simply did not like Jerri very much, as she combines an irritating naivete (required for her to learn a "lesson" with each episode) with a personal disgustingness that's repellant. This is no diss on Amy Sedaris, indeed Sedaris does a good job selling this character, but I just found her as a central character to be personally irritating.

Paul Dinello's Geoffrey Jellineck is similarly irritating, mixing a surface "sensitive teacher" behavior with a childish pettiness and self-centeredness that made me just want to punch him. Of the other characters, Stephen Colbert's Chuck Noblet and Deborah Rush's stepmother manage to pull off loathsome characters, by being so fascinatingly sociopathic in their behavior. Rush is rather one-note, but it's a good note. And it's great to see Colbert doing something other than his eponymous show, although his character here is something like his character on his show, just more ridiculous. Greg Holliman's Principal Blackman is fascinating in his weirdness, and I like Maria Thayer's Tammi, even though she doesn't do much except be Jerri's straight man.

All in all, although this show tries to be a taboo-breaking comedy, it pulls its punches in order to function as fairly standard sitcom. Combined with unlikable characters portrayed by Sedaris and Dinello, this show didn't grasp me, although it wasn't bad and occasional 'after school special gone horribly wrong" plots did work, combined with good work from Stephen Colbert, Greg Hollimon, Deborah Rush and Maria Thayer. As a final verdict, I'd say this is a show to check out to see if your opinion differs from mine, but not one I'm likely to return to any time soon.


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