The Ben Stiller Show

If ringtones were still important to anyone, I’d strongly consider making The Ben Stiller Show‘s theme song play every time I received a phone call. Addendum to that sentence: If ringtones and phone calls were still important. How times have changed…

Times have changed. Ben Stiller used to be really, really hot. He’s still rather dashing, but damn, he was jacked back then. It’s very easy to forget. Do yourself a favor and remind… yourself. You’ll also be reminded that Bob Odenkirk was super hot back then, and Janeane Garofalo was super hot back then. Both of them have also aged incredibly well. (No comment on Andy Dick.) Props to that cast for going into middle age with good hair and great humor.

The Ben Stiller Show made me appreciate the ’90s. Think about that for a second. I hadn’t really, truly appreciated them until now because I hadn’t felt old enough. Not that I’m old. But to me, and up until this point, ’90s nostalgia seemed really contrived and unnecessary because the ’90s weren’t that long ago. They’re still fairly recent, as far as I’m concerned. But there was a different comedy mentality back then, and while this show wasn’t the most brilliant of all the sketch shows, it was certainly charming and odd and hilarious in its own right.

My only beef with it is my same beef with SNL: I am thoroughly irked by sketch shows that contain too many impression-based bits and too few original character- or premise-based bits, and Stiller was definitely heavy on the former. Incredibly, though, Stiller himself managed to look like most of the people he was impersonating. There is something magically transformative about his unique face. Plus, the power of the so-bad-it’s-good makeup doesn’t hurt. Oliver Stone, Tom Cruise: these are not men that I’d think Stiller resembles, but he proved me wrong. He barely looked like himself in most of the sketches.

There were a few impression sketches that stood out to me, though. I can’t find video of “Three Men and an Old Man,” but suffice it to say that between Stiller, Odenkirk, and Dick, they cast the three men the best and most unexpected way. Here are my other two favorites, “Counting with Bruce Springsteen” and “The Mohican Master 2000.”

I can only think of one original-character sketch that I truly loved. (Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh for criticizing their lack of sketches like this, because this one could have been the only one, and it would have dominated. Fuckin’ great.)

Yes. Es-yay. Absolutely delightful. High hits, decent misses, this show. And it’s all tied together with very genuinely sweet anecdotal commentary from Stiller and whichever cast member was available to appear bitter or jokey that day, and maybe also a guest star. Stiller has a humble-guy conversation with, say, Sarah Jessica Parker or Garry Shandling, neither one is sure why they are there, there is no explanation, and then the next sketch starts. It all feels very unplanned, and I imagine it was very scripted, but I liked how the disorganization came all the way back around to being organized. Stiller had a vision, and it only got to manifest itself in thirteen episodes, but it was enough for me. The germs of Zoolander and Greg Focker are embedded deep within the sketches of this show, as is the talent of the four stars. Pretty nerd-cool to think about that trajectory.