Strangers with Candy came out in 2000, and good goddamnit, I wish I had seen it the second it premiered. I think it would have explained middle school to me, and I would have been a weirder, funnier kid.
But I can’t go back in time, so instead, I’ll attempt to tell every middleschooler I know (currently none) — and every grown adult — to devour this series. Late-90s and early-00s Comedy Central was, to paraphrase one of the hilarious fellas who recommended this show to me, an untapped gold mine. Brilliant, unfiltered comedy ran at hours odd and even, and most of the jokes died before anyone had ever heard the punchlines. Hulu, thankfully, allows us to resurrect some of ’em ad infinitum.
Amy Sedaris — who’s a helluvan IG follow, by the way — plays Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old high school freshman whose backstory you’ll hear in pretty much every single episode, as the show is very open about how passionately it’s skewering after-school specials. Everything about her is exaggerated — her overbite, the pleats on her pants, the assholish nature of her brother, the uninvolvement of her parents — and yet she’s the most relatable, dare I say heroic, “teenage” character I’ve ever come across. Because she’s got the perspective of a person 30 years removed from high school, she rarely puts weight on what her classmates think of her — instead, she sees their disapproval, or whatever you want to call it, as a sort of challenge. She’s not particularly dissuaded when people don’t respond positively to her because she’s seen worse. If only we could all have had that perspective during puberty.
And then there’s the rest of the cast. Greg Hollimon, as Principal Onyx Blackman, is incredible. His voice has the richness and power of James Earl Jones’, so it contrasts perfectly with the absurdities he spouts. The running joke of him always appearing onscreen with his own likeness, in a photo or a painting or whatever, never gets old because it’s so damn consistent. He’s the principal you wish you had, at once intriguing and completely oblivious.
Paul Dinello as art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck is probably my least favorite part of the show, and he’s still amazing. He’s really the only sensitive part of the show, and probably the most likable character because of it. (Which, I suppose, is why I don’t love him quite as much as the others. My favorite show in the world is Seinfeld — I love despicable people.) He’s the only person in the whole school, really, besides Orlando (Orlando Pabotoy), who reveals any sense of true humanity. And yet he’s a terrible role model all the same.
But if you know me at all, you know that Stephen Colbert is the be-all, end-all in the world of Strangers. He is perfection then, now and always. To see him in this show is to truly understand his comedic genius — he’ll never stray too far from the straight man, but he can play the straight man an infinite number of ways. Here, he’s history teacher Chuck Noblet, Jellineck’s sometime lover and Jerri’s completely irresponsible, insulting mentor. Colbert’s delicate physical comedy is worth watching the entire show for.
I’m actually resisting not watching the rest of the show — there are only two more seasons, and they’re short — because I want to savor it. It’s delightful in a way no other show is, in that it’s dark, unsettling, gross, and completely surprising. It’ll make you laugh out loud instead of saying, “Oh, that’s funny,” to yourself. By the end of each episode, you’ll wonder how the story wound up there, and you’ll smile at the cast as they non-sequiturly dance over the closing credits.