Strangers With Candy Reviews: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

[NOTE: The positive articles and reviews below have been written by visionaries with open minds and an eye for originality. The negative comments have been written by ignorant, closed-minded, curmudgeonly old grouches who would probably be satisfied to see cookie-cutter renditions of the same old rehashes until the end of time. Their senses of humor (if they have any) gravitate to the bland, the corny, and the familiar, so they aren't capable of appreciating cutting-edge humor. It's obvious that they had no intention of looking past the political-incorrectness and audacity of "Strangers With Candy", so they didn't even try to see the genius in the writing and the hidden humor in the background. They don't know what they're missing! I'm sure that in a few years, when SWC has reached cult-classic status (if not mainstream acceptance) many of these nay-sayers shall recant their diatribes and may even claim to have been among the first to jump on the bandwagon.]

November 26, 2004 - "Strangers With Candy" made Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best TV Shows on DVD, sharing the Cult category with Chappelle's Show, Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life, Sports Nite, Pee-wee's Playhouse, and Popular.

Strangers With Candy
Seasons 1-3
Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello

Unrated, 12 hrs., 43 mins., 1999-2000 (Comedy Central)

Throughout three twisted seasons, fortysomething ex-junkie/resumed high school student Jerri Blank (Sedaris) and her horny teachers Noblet (Colbert) and Jellineck (Dinello) proudly imparted morals. The wrong morals. They hit their comedy high and human low in the final 10 episode—and not just when Jerri confirmed her Native American heritage by scalping a classmate. She also faced a breakup ("I've recently learned something about self-respect: I have none"); a bully ("Violence really isn't the only way to resolve a conflict, but it's the only way to win it"); and sexual harassment ("Turn yourself into a victim, and you'll be too pathetic for anyone to consider you sexual").  EXTRAS  Seasons 1 and 2 offer commentary from the three stars, while season 3 honors Candy's entire run with a 25-minute blooper reel and a montage of the series' signature episode-ending dance sequences—Mandi Bierly

Joanne Weintraub / Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
This June, 2000 blurb announced the commencement of the third season:

I've departed from chronological order to save the best returning series for last. "Strangers with Candy" (9 p.m. Monday), all about a neurotic but unsinkable 47-year-old high school student, returns with the two-part tale of Jerri's (Amy Sedaris) induction into a cult. If you're a fan, just thinking about the brilliantly odd Sedaris makes you grin; if you're not, nothing I can say will make you enjoy this weekly trip through the looking glass.

From the "Cheers and Jeers" section of an October, 2000 TV Guide

Guilty Pleasure:
Strangers with Candy (Comedy Central, Mondays 10 PM) aired its final original episode October 2, with a send-off featuring such guest stars as Winona Ryder and Paul Rudd. But the most surprising "cameo" came from Candy's star and co-creator, Amy Sedaris, who finally showed viewers what lies beneath her usual Candy makeup. Sedaris's portayal of the bucktoothed 47 year-old (and showing every minute of it) junkie hooker turned high school student was on the money, even when the series wasn't.

A fine eulogy to the SWC, from the 10/9/00 edition of

When Comedy Central saw fit to cancel the TV series Strangers With Candy, creative free expression in these United States suffered yet another partial-birth abortion. (The only other induced miscarriage of laffs and body-fluid-soaked television that comes close occurred when Fox D&Xed Chris Elliot's magisterial Get a Life! in 1992 and replaced it with Woops!, a post-apocalyptic version of Gilligan's Island that made On the Beach seem positively Hoolarious.)

For those who never watched "the after-hours afterschool special," Strangers with Candy chronicled the misadventures of a 47-year-old female ex-con named Jerri Blank as she resumed her long-delayed high school education. Nixed in its third season, the show featured plots and gags unimaginable on the small screen only a few years ago: former prostitute and sexual omnivore Jerri dating and almost copulating with her own son, whom she had given up for adoption years back as a teen; school administrators telling Jerri that if she wants to attend a trip to "Pleasure Island" [sic -- Good Time Island] theme park, she must inform on a classmate suspected of "being a retard"; Jerri using steroids to supercharge the girls track team into bearded shemale champions; Jerri triumphing over a case of syphillis and getting elected queen of the big school dance as her date descends into syphillitic dementia.

As depressing as it is to contemplate the inevitable rerun of Saturday Night Live that will doubtless replace the show, its cancellation is hardly surprising. During an election year in which the Republican Party is the softy on issues of violent and sexual entertainment, it was a foregone conclusion. Strangers with Candy threatened the very core of Western civilization — the notion that TV shows, especially those related to teenagers and high school, must be morally responsible.

But the shabby treatment of Strangers with Candy sheds a light on another issue, a problem that ranges far beyond a self-deluding Amerika's collective unwillingness to peer into the heart of high-school darkness on a weekly, laugh-tracked basis: Our collective quickness — even after decades of burnt bras, Ms. Magazine, and family sitcoms in which the girls routinely outperform the boys in academics, athletics, and everything else — to underappreciate the female half of power couples, real and imagined.

Indeed, try this quick thought experiment: Who is Kristen Kinkel and what are her accomplishments? (Answers at bottom of page). Despite the ability of women such as Winona LaDuke and Ezola Foster to run for the second-highest office in the land and seem every bit as insane and laughable as their male running mates, three recent cases highlight this ongoing gender problem.

Consider first Amy Sedaris, the star and co-creator of Strangers with Candy. Sedaris is the relatively unknown sister of David Sedaris, the bestselling author, NPR commentator, and fixture in what was once called the literary establishment. His latest collection of autobiographical pieces, Me Talk Pretty One Day, is currently Number 18 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and has been described by's reviewer as "the most distinctly skewed autobiography since Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia" (That last description has doubtless scared away millions of readers, but Sedaris can be comforted with that fact that his tome is 109 in the online bookseller's rankings). As little sister's Comedy Central show — barely one step up from cable access, as that channel's own employees routinely acknowledge on air — gets rudely shitcanned, David Sedaris is splitting cover time with Ashley Judd on the Women We Love issue of Esquire (he also occupies the equivalent of a 10-room mansion on that same mag's Web site...

[the article continues, unrelated to SWC, discussing Yoko Ono and Nancy Reagan...]

The brilliant Mr. Showbiz chimes in about the final episode of SWC

September 27, 2000

Ryder Guests on Final Strangers With Candy

Say it ain't so: Cable's zippy Comedy Central might be canceling the sage, delightfully back-ass-wards Strangers With Candy show.

If your response is "What's Strangers With Candy?" consider yourself part of the problem rather than the solution. As a modern take on the after-school-special formula, Strangers With Candy has gathered a cult following in its three seasons. The series centers around 47-year-old screw-off Jerri Blank (brilliant sicko Amy Sedaris), who returns to Flatpoint High School 32 years after she dropped out to pursue a diploma-less life of sex, drugs, booze, and cockroaches.

The show's series finale — unless some divine miracle intervenes — is Monday, Oct. 2, at 10 p.m. In it, pixie-ish actress Winona Ryder revisits themes from the 1989 movie that also put her on the cult-status radar: Heathers.

Sedaris and her Candy co-creators thought Ryder would reject their invitation to appear on the show. In a recent chat on the Comedy Central Web site, actor-writer Paul Dinello said, "We used to be in negotiation with Wynona Ryder [sic], but she seems to have cooled." His co-star Stephen Colbert added, "Maybe Matt Damon [Ryder's ex-boyfriend] was a fan. Now that that's over, she's changed her mind." Sedaris chimed in, "That's funny!"

But hip chick Ryder will appear on the show to give frumpy Jerri a makeover so Flatpoint's prize jock (Paul Rudd) will ask her out. The catch? Ryder's in a She's All That-style contest with her bitchy peers, who plan to take Jerri down the hard way. Janeane Garofalo, Cheri Oteri, and Mark McKinney also star in the final SWC episode.

A trailer promoting the episode shows Jerri, usually a sloppy mess with a Sandy Duncan haircut, as a sexy woman who looks like a cross between Amanda Peet and Jenny McCarthy.

This is the genius of Sedaris, who wears a fat suit, dons skintight sweat pants, and rolls her upper lip into painful contortions in order to get into character. When asked who she believes the show's core audience is, Sedaris told a fan, "Homosexuals and 14-year-olds and farmers and ghosts." That pretty much sums up the beyond-weird, joyous mess that is (was?) Strangers With Candy.

Fans interested in keeping the show alive should send a message to

From a Spring, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone

Strangers with Candy, the first live-action narrative series from Comedy Central, is a profoundly unusual and often hilarious version of an after-school special in hell - a twisted mutation in which Heathers meets one scary woman's midlife crisis. The show reunties several members of the Comedy Central troupe Exit 57 and stars the incredibly gifted Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank, a forty-six-year-old dropout who returns to Flatpoint High School - home of the Concrete Donkeys - as a freshman. Jerri, possibly more damaged than any high school student ever after having done serious time as a runaway and a ward of the state, is chatty in a way that verges on insane and is impressively unlike any chick to matriculate on Beverly Hills 90210. "I'm having my uterus scraped," she explains to her counselor when asked why she can't attend a meeting. At another point she wonders out loud, "It's not so bad making friends with drugs, is it?"

The cast includes Stephen Colbert (The Daily Show ), Paul Dinello and Greg Hollimon - all very funny and effective complements to Sedaris. Strangers With Candy is gleefully absurdist stuff that is clearly not factory-made to suit all tastes, but it's certainly a brave if willfully fucked-up piece of work. And, who knows, Comedy Central has done well for itself selling that previously forbidden flavor before.

Wednesday, September 27, 2000, 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Melanie McFarland / Seattle Times staff columnist

Bye-bye 'Big Brother,' but must 'Strangers' end, too?

Comfort is king in the U.S. of A., which explains "Big Brother's" failure: the shut-ins were so relaxed with one another they were deadly dull to watch. And - if you'll allow me to go out on a limb here - our complacency may mean the demise of a far-better show, Comedy Central's "Strangers With Candy," whose (possible) series finale airs Monday at 10 p.m.

Ratings in both cases indicate that few people will mourn the loss of these shows, but unlike "Big Brother," mercifully ending Friday, "Strangers With Candy" was no crime against the airwaves. The screwy take on after-school specials, dispensing moral advice no one in their right mind would heed, stars Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank, a 47-year-old "user, boozer and loser." The show regularly took viewers outside their comfort zone, and ardent fans kept "Strangers" a secret, taking the show's existence for granted. After all, it had a faithful core viewership that seemed to grow as more turned their friends on to it.

But Comedy Central has been spoiled by the success of "South Park" and "The Daily Show"; both rake in solid ratings by cable standards, where any program that regularly attracts nearly 2 million viewers is a hit. Hence, they've started cutting the fat, and the pear-shaped Jerri is one of the first characters on the chopping block.

Here's the Cliff's Notes version of the series. Cursed with a criminal overbite and grating voice, Jerri spent years selling her body for smack. Upon her release from the pokey, she starts over as a freshman at the surreal Flatpoint High. During her high-school career, she learned to read via trying out for cheerleading, grew a beard from pumping steroids, and almost dated her long-lost son, the infant she traded for a guitar while she was strung out. You'll see homages to TV shows, movies and literature in each wickedly inspired half-hour of "Strangers," cues that'll make you guffaw all the more.

Jerri's misinformation-spreading history teacher, Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert), despises her. He and art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck (Paul Dinello) engage in an illicit affair with one another. School principal Onyx Blackmon (Greg Hollimon), a dictatorial, lust-filled freak, lords over all of them. Delicious!

Sedaris, sister to NPR darling David Sedaris, is an award-winning actress and playwright who draws upon numerous cultural cues for inspiration in writing the series with Colbert and Dinello. Even if "Strangers" doesn't return, we'll be hearing from Sedaris for years to come - but why wait?

On "Strangers," sexually swingin' Jerri learns valuable morality lessons every week about everything from illiteracy ("Reading and writing are deadly!") to drugs ("If you're gonna smoke pot, be prepared to spend a lot of time laughing with your friends. Think about it.") to ambition ("If you're going to reach for the stars, reach for the lowest one you can."). Rarely does the show fail to horrify us as Jerri is subjected to countless abuses, some recounted in vivid detail, others witnessed, like the time a fellow student tricks her into eating a scab. "Not again!" she whines mournfully.

As you can tell, "Strangers With Candy" is probably one of the most deliciously non-P.C. shows out there and certainly deserves more attention on TV (and the Internet - its site at is one of the more entertaining ones you'll come across) than it's getting. Monday, Jerri gets a makeover. It may be billed as the series' last entry, but the great thing about cable is that it has a history of reviving the canceled. See the last episode or catch a repeat of this week's on Friday at 12:30 a.m. If you like it, write Comedy Central at 1775 Broadway, New York, NY, 10019 or by e-mail:

Or waste your time and vote off one of "Big Brother's" prisoners - but really, who cares? The only lesson that show has taught us is how dead TV can be. Besides, Jamie's probably going to bite it anyway. Delicious!

Melanie McFarland trusts "Strangers With Candy."
She can be reached at 206-464-2256 or by e-mail at

Copyright © 2000 The Seattle Times Company

From US Weekly's June 26, 2000 issue Review by Tom Conroy

Some TV shows come complete with a special ingredient: viewer repellent. Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whose title is perfectly designed to keep away the very people who would most appreciate its smart scripts. Strangers With Candy boasts an even more effective audience reducer: its main character, Jerri Blank, played by cocreator Amy Sedaris. Jerri is the wide-hipped, flip-haired loser with an overbite whom you have probably seen on the show for about three seconds before flipping to another channel. Next time, put down your remote. This sharp and funny series, a loose parody of after-school specials, shows what happens when Jerri, a former teen runaway, returns to high school after 30 years of drug abuse, crime and promiscuity. In this week's season opener, Jerri is easily swayed when cult members tell her she's beautiful; in part two, next week, she is just as easily deprogrammed when her brother and stepmother prove she's not. Even fans of the show would admit that Jerri's abrupt switches from naive to worldly-wise (depending on the exigencies of the punch line) are nearly as off-putting as her looks. But anyone who still feels the pain of high school has to stop avoiding Strangers With Candy.
(3 out of 4 stars) A tart satiric confection with a hard center

From The Valley Advocate's "Halos and Horns 1999" year end summary of the best and worst that society has to offer.

Strangers With Candy: Billed as the "after-hours afterschool special," Comedy Central's Strangers With Candy is the weirdest and most rebellious half-hour comedy to emerge since Fox's dearly-departed Get a Life, the stirring story of a 30-year-old live-at-home paperboy. Jerri Blank (played by the brilliantly buck-toothed Amy Sedaris) is another live-at-home adult -- in this case, a 46-year-old high school freshman who's also a former runaway, drug addict and sexual adventuress. In an era of milquetoast comedies with pretty, anorexic stars at their centers, the no-holds-barred Strangers gives reason for hope.

·  The Florida Times-Union

Comedy Central's `Strangers with Candy' a twisted teen tale.
I want more "Candy." I want it now. Premiering Wednesday, the campy new Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy is wickedly, wildly, wonderfully perverted television.

·  The Badger Herald - University Wisconsin

'Strangers with Candy' gives dark glimpse into teen reality

(U-WIRE) MADISON, Wis. -- Do you remember all those after-school specials that taught the dangers of drugs, teen pregnancy and licking a light socket? Well, they're back and no longer geared toward the latchkey kids we once were. Comedy Central's "Strangers with Candy," which airs Mondays at 9 p.m., is one of the most intelligently written shows on TV today. That statement would be a lot stronger if TV today didn't consist of 1950s throwback prime-time game shows and the WB, but, believe me, "Strangers with Candy" is a rose garden in the decomposing landscape of network programming.

·  "Clark's Cultural Corral" by Clark Humphrey at

You're In High School Again
Film/TV essay, 4/14/99

High school, the modern grownup theory seems to go, is most fondly remembered by those who were either too spaced out at the time (either naturally or chemically) to notice what was really going on at the time or by those who were never as popular or powerful since. That notion hasn't stopped the making of movies and TV shows about really hot, beautiful, and fun-lovin' teens. But, since the mid-'80s, the theory has informed a handful of productions with a sense of the underlying terrors and pressures beneath the surface of even the most "wholesome" middle-class adolescences -- while giving grownup actors the chance to act all goofy and immature on screen.

These films and shows have allowed their adult stars to play faux teens who are really authors (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), undercover cops (the filmed-in-Vancouver series 21 Jump Street), mob-escapees (Hidin' Out), or simply adult women who need to go through the ol' teen traumas one more time as a learning experience (Peggy Sue Got Married, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, Nadine's storyline in Twin Peaks).

Now, we've got two of-age actresses reliving their supposed "simpler times" and finding them not all that simple. One's a big-name star in a bigtime movie. (You can tell it's a bigtime movie, because the closing credits list 53 actors and 54 excerpted pop songs!). The other's a little known improv actress, co-creating and starring in a cable series that's either a surrealistically-improbable sitcom or an over-the-top sketch extended to 13 half hours.

First, the big expensive one. Never Been Kissed combines the Romy and Michelle theme of fixing teen-socialization mistakes after the fact with the Fast Times shtick of the undercover reporter assigned to learn what Those Kids Today are really like. Onetime Seattleite Drew Barrymore leaves little scenery unchewed as a meticulous, presumably virginal Chicago Sun-Times word-wrangler who gets to live as a high school senior for one semester and do all the things she never got to do in her real teens -- to drink at a kegger, to eat pot-laced cake, to dump the nerds' clique to become one of the popular girls, and to snag a hunky English teacher for her very own. There are a few more plot complications than that, but they're not important. What's important is Barrymore's incessant mugging, accompanied by syrupy string music that bellows up whenever the brief snippets of rock songs (for the all-important tie-in "soundtrack" CD and accompanying music videos) aren't playing. It's an inconsequential little future Showtime time-filler, despite (or because of) the Barrymore character's insistence that it's all a major life-and-death matter. On the other hand, if you cut some of the mild sex talk, you'd have a suitable (if too long) ABC After School Special in which our plucky heroine learns some valuable life lessons and everybody lives happily ever after.

Conversely, with a little more sex talk it might have come closer to Strangers With Candy, Comedy Central's current attempt to build on its South Park noteriety. Billed as "The After-Hours After School Special," it's a vehicle for star Amy Sedaris to do the second-adolescence shtick for broad laffs. The setup: She's a 42-year-old dropout, who's grown a little old for her happy-go-lucky life of drinking and whoring; so she decided to go legit, move back in with what's left of her birth family, and start all over again in school. Playing the role as a cross between Jan Brady and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous, Sedaris grins perkily as she instigates a different social faux pas (sometimes leading to a death, or worse) in each episode, trying desperately to become popular with the "normal" girls young enough to be her illegitimate daughters (of whom she just might have a few). As you might imagine from a Comedy Central series, Strangers With Candy wouldn't have ever passed the Standards and Practices offices of the old broadcast networks. But it's more than just un-PC. It's genuinely funny. (Which is a lot more than can be said of a lot of would-be "outrageous" attempts at un-PC humor these days.)

Our lesson at the end of the day: Some comedies, like some schoolgirls, try too hard to fit in by aping the moves and clothes and attitudes that are supposed to make one popular. But some comedies, again like some schoolgirls, win something much more important than popularity by just being their own lovable, outlandish selves. Never Been Kissed is the prom queen who'll soon become an obscure memory. Strangers With Candy is the one who seems the wallflower today, but everyone in future years will claim to have been her best friend.

"A sociopathic sitcom from Comedy Central" Wednesday April 7, 1999 by Pete Schulberg at The Oregonian

Has Comedy Central gone too far? "South Park" was raunchy, but is it only downhill from there? You tell us. Critic's Corner Forum

The promotional blurb reads " 'South Park' -- Strange. 'Strangers With Candy' -- Stranger."

Couldn't have said it better myself about Comedy Central's first non-animated sitcom that dares to poke fun at those after-school specials designed to teach kids the difference between right and wrong.

Comedy Central thinks it's best to dwell on the humor-inspiring wrong.

Truly, this darkest of dark comedy series about a 46-year-old high school dropout/loser/sociopath who returns to school as a freshman makes the raunchy and politically incorrect "South Park" seem like an inspiring episode of "Touched by an Angel."

You may never look at cable the same way again. Boundaries? What boundaries? Good taste? Say what? Decency and values? Gotta be kidding.

And kid is what "Strangers" does best by shocking all sensibilities and creating laughs from such happy-go-lucky topics as drug abuse, alcoholism, mental disorders, abortion, child abuse, teen-age pregnancy, illiteracy and eating disorders.

In its own twisted and taboo-bashing way, the series proves to be as outrageous as anything you'll see on TV. The satire is heavy-duty, but more often than not, it works.

"South Park" was the master in setting the new and controversial standard (it starts its third season tonight, featuring a "Getting Gay With Kids" choir), so I suppose it was just a matter of time before Comedy Central came up with something that would advance the trend of "unacceptable as acceptable."

"Strangers With Candy" (it was originally titled "The Way After School Special") is the brainchild of Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello and Mitch Rouse, all alumni of Chicago's famed Second City improvisational troupe.

Sedaris stars as Jerri Blank, the self-described "user, boozer and loser," who hung with "dealers, cons and 18-carat pimps" as a youth and eventually ran away from home. Thirty-two years later, she's back living with mom and dad, looking for a second chance at Flatpoint High.

"I'm still doing the wrong thing," she says in the first episode. "But at least I'm doing it the right way." Well, no, as we discover quickly.

After three days and based on a bad test score on a geography pop quiz, Jerri is told by her social studies teacher (Colbert) that she's in danger of failing the course. "If I don't graduate by the time I'm 50, I'll be the laughingstock of Flatpoint High," Jerri declares.

And of course, she already is. Seems that although nobody really pays much attention to her age or looks (make no mistake, the woman looks 50), they do make fun of her. As hard as Jerri tries to be liked and popular, the more her shallow classmates shun her.

Jerri's crazed solution? To concoct some harshly potent mind-altering drugs and offer them to her cliquey classmates. One unfortunate girl named Poppy ends up in a coma. And worse, as it turns out.

"Go with what you know," Jerri keeps telling herself. And what she knows is everything undesirable.

But she's in good company. The school principal, Mr. Blackman (Greg Holliman), is an autocratic master of the mind game, getting results like no principal we've ever known; Jerri's stepmother (Deborah Rush) flits around with various social activities, ignoring the troubled Jerri; her father (Robert Gari) is seen in assorted catatonic states that resemble advanced stages of rigor mortis; and her 16-year-old half-brother despises her.

By the second episode, the series enters still another plateau of depravity. As part of a class project in motherhood, Jerri is given a real baby to take home and care for. But our nonhero is more interested in partying. So, naturally -- or unnaturally -- she ditches the infant at a playground.

Can't wait for the belly laughs about eating disorders. Review by Ann Marie Cox

THEY SAY tragedy plus distance equals comedy, which explains Life is Beautiful, Dan Quayle's presidential bid, and most high school reunions. But the formula is not foolproof -- witness "Strangers with Candy," Comedy Central's new series about Jerri Blank, a 42-year-old addict and ex-con who decides go back to high school (Flatpoint High, home of the Concrete Donkeys).

Much has already been made of the series' straightforward embrace of all the things children are taught to avoid, and its rejection of everything we were supposed to learn. Its overarching caveat is that for all her chronological maturity, Jerri has learned few of life's lessons -- indeed, seems barely able to dress herself. In buck teeth and a bad haircut, clothed in fringed jeans and a vest, Jerri returns to high school even more of an outcast than when she left; just as eager as she ever was to fit in and just as clueless as to why she doesn't. (Inviting her class to a party, she tempts them with this singular cry: "There's going to be hot fruit!")

To be sure, there is humor to be had here: In the first episode, Jerri attempts to make friends by mixing up a homemade hallucinogen she calls "Glint," also known as "The Devil's Harelip." And as a premise, "Strangers with Candy" benefits from both cultural momentum and blindingly obvious source material. Adolescent reinventions of our current escapist fantasy of choice (Never Been Kissed, She's All That) abound, and high school itself has become a kind of all-purpose moral tableaux -- from the large-type Shakespeares running slipshod over the multiplex to "Dawson's Creek."  And as for skewering the saccharine morality plays of after school specials, well, the only real surprise is that it hasn't been done before.

YET FOR all the richness of its targets, the show is curiously flat -- a broad parody whose sharpest moments stem from social non-sequitors and squeamishly inappropriate one-liners, as when Jerri announces: "I have to leave class early -- I'm getting my uterus scraped." Perhaps flatness is to be expected, as the show's creators (Amy Sedaris, who plays Jerri, Stephen Colbert, formerly of "The Daily Show," Paul Dinello and Mitch Rouse) are veterans of "alternative comedy," a genre whose distinguishing characteristic is that it is rarely, you know, funny. Sedaris in particular has made a career out of humor that doesn't make you chuckle so much as it makes you really, really uncomfortable. David Sedaris, her brother and sometimes-collaborator, has written about her performance art-like approach to family gatherings, as when she upset their appearance-obsessed dad by wearing a thigh-enhancing "fatty suit" (she also wears it on the show). Perhaps more pointedly, there's also the story about her preparing for a magazine photo-shoot by asking the make-up artist to make it look like she had been "beaten up bad." Taking to the streets afterwards, she'd respond to people's questions about her injuries by simply telling them "I'm in love! Can you believe it? I'm finally in love!"

Now, that's a funny story, but is it a funny thing to say? In recollection -- and understanding that the bruises aren't real -- it's an easy laugh, but Sedaris' real (and demented) genius was that she meant it to be funny then. Like MTV’s abrasive auteur Tom Green, Sedaris mines for comedy that point where all of our social skills fail us, that moment when we are confronted with a situation so aggressively amoral, bizarre, or maybe just plain gross that we have no idea what to do.

"Strangers with Candy" is an entire series built around creating exactly such moments -- so of course it's set in a high school. Where else are the social networks stretched so thin, the rawness of human reaction to uncomfortable situations so close to the surface? Yet "Strangers with Candy" doesn't pay much attention to the way real people might react to its manic audacity -- the actors are deadpan enough to be considered autistic (in fact, one of the show's running gags is that Jerri's father is in a state of permanent catatonia. Ha. Ha.).

SO FAR, critics have mostly responded to the show's supposed "outrageousness," though anyone who still thinks drug references and abortion jokes are "outrageous" must have stopped watching TV when the real After School Specials went off the air. Almost universally, it's been hailed as a future "cult hit," a phrase that should generally be translated as "I didn't get it." In truth, the show’s most daring move is to proceed into rather unrealiable comic territory without the benefit of a laughtrack.

And while the lack of a laughtrack is by no means completely unique (it's one of "Futurama's" few saving graces), "Strangers with Candy's" dependence on awkwardness, its recollection of moments when you don't know if you should laugh, makes its absence more pronounced. Someone once called "Beavis and Butthead" the first "meta-comedy" -- a show whose humor stemmed from laughing at the people who would laugh at that kind of humor. "Strangers with Candy" inverts this proposition: it's a show whose humor stems from not laughing at people who aren't laughing.

Ana Marie Cox is a writer in San Francisco and a contributing editor at Mother Jones.

"'Strangers With Candy': Lessons in laughing" from Jefferson City News-Tribune  Monday, April 26, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) -- Jerri Blank has much to teach the nation's youth.

Keep them away from her!

Then sit back and share some twisted wisdom with this self-described "boozer, user and loser" -- and laugh helplessly.

Jerri is the hard-knocks heroine of "Strangers With Candy," a weekly morality play meant to echo, in all the worst ways, TV's youngster-targeted "After-School Specials." You remember the drill: A complex problem reduced to rite-of-passage melodrama and, at hour's end, a pat resolution.

No wonder "Strangers" is on Comedy Central, where it airs Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EDT.

Jerri, our prototypical troubled teen, is actually 46 years old. A runaway for 32 years (some spent in the slammer), she is now picking up where she left off: as a freshman at Flatpoint High.

"This time," declares Jerri, "when I make the wrong choices, I'm doing it for all the right reasons."

Recent "Strangers" episodes have found her grappling with drug abuse, teen-age pregnancy and alcoholism -- and gaining from each experience clearly stated (if preposterous) life lessons.

Her issue this week is prejudice. The shiny new braces on Jerri's teeth make her a social pariah at Flatpoint. She's shunned by everyone. Everyone, that is, but Jerri's loyal, lovely locker pal -- whom the principal, for no sane reason, suspects is mentally retarded.

The principal pressures Jerri to expose the girl.

"Why me?" asks Jerri, and the principal replies, "You've got those braces." Retarded people, he states absurdly, "tend to be drawn to shiny objects."

Will Jerri, herself a victim of prejudice, betray her only defender? Or will she stand up to her principal's mindless, groundless bigotry?

Jerri muses: "I thought she was dangerous and different. Then I found out, she's just like you and me."

Never mind. Since permission for Jerri to go on a class trip hangs in the balance, her locker buddy plainly must be sacrificed. Jerri has learned a valuable lesson.

"She completely lives in the moment," says Amy Sedaris, who, with a "fatty suit" supplementing her pixieish frame, plays Jerri. "For her, no choice is informed by anything but immediate need."

Then, switching in and out of character as Jerri (complete with the overbite and plaintive look), Sedaris enacts a telling exchange:

"Jerri, what do you hope to do with your life?"

"Uh ... go to my locker."

"No, no! I mean, what are you gonna do, wa-a-y down the line?"

"Open it."

Stephen Colbert, who plays the reptilian teacher Mr. Noblet, bursts out laughing.

"For all the terrible things Jerri's been through, and all the terrible things she's done, she's actually very innocent," he says. "She's learned nothing from life. She has swum downstream, and not a single barnacle on her."

If there's something discomfiting about Jerri (especially since she's meant to be a role model), that's where the humor originates. So says Paul Dinello, who plays art teacher Mr. Jellineck.

"Uncomfortableness makes other people weep, but it makes us laugh," he explains. "If someone on a TV show said, 'I lost the baby,' we would probably start giggling."

"That's why I like Lifetime movies," says Sedaris.

A bit giddy from fatigue, she has joined the equally sleep-deprived Colbert and Dinello for an interview at their Greenwich Village office. Right now, the trio goes virtually around the clock. Not only do they star in "Strangers With Candy," which they created, but they also write each episode.

How do they keep up? "It helps that we have an improvisational background," Dinello observes.

The three met a decade ago as members of Chicago's Second City improv troupe. Ever since, they have been close friends and eager collaborators, including a stretch as members of the Exit 57 sketch-comedy ensemble for its Comedy Central series.

Along the way, they've done other projects individually. Dinello acted in several films. Colbert is a correspondent on Comedy Central's "Daily Show." And besides winning awards for her stage work, Sedaris has held on to her gig as a waitress at an East Village diner, where currently she schedules other people to cover her shifts.

On "Strangers," meanwhile, it's collegial comic bliss.

"We get to work together and say whatever we want," Dinello sums up.

"You even forget this is actually gonna be on TV," says Sedaris. "'Omigod, people are gonna watch it this week!' I mean, you just forget."

Forget that, maybe. But no one could forget the bracing moral of the story: You CAN have your cake and eat it, too ... and Amy will be happy to serve it.

"Middle-aged wasteland" by Joyce Millman at

A 46-year-old loser goes back to high school in Amy Sedaris' Comedy Central series "Strangers With Candy."  April 5, 1999

In Comedy Central's twisted new series "Strangers With Candy," celebrated New York playwright, comic and waitress Amy Sedaris plays Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old former teenage runaway, junkie, hooker and jailbird who returns home after 32 years determined to have the "normal" adolescence she never had. She enters high school (as a freshman), where she grapples with typical high school problems like unpopularity, bad grades and teachers who have it in for you for no reason. But Jerri is undaunted. Drawing on the valuable lessons she's learned from her life as a "user, boozer and loser," she finds that there's no problem that can't be solved by drugs, sex or a plausible alibi.

If you're thinking that "Strangers With Candy" sounds like the unholy spawn of "Get a Life" and "My So-Called Life," you're on the right track. Created and written by Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, who were all involved in Comedy Central's mid-'90s skit comedy series "Exit 57," "Strangers With Candy" puts an absurdist spin on all the familiar crises of TV adolescence by having them experienced by a very weird adult. Like Chris Elliott in "Get a Life," Sedaris makes her character sublimely oblivious to the ridiculousness of her situation -- Jerri's a freak, but she doesn't know it. And Sedaris and her collaborators parody some of the same '70s TV sources Elliott mined in "Get a Life," especially ABC's "Afterschool Specials" ("Strangers With Candy" was originally going to be called "The Way After School Special"), those morality plays that sucked kids in with their topical teen issues and then either scared their pants off or confused them even further.

In "Strangers With Candy," Jerri copes with a different dilemma every week, spoofily portrayed in thuddingly obvious "Afterschool Special" fashion -- upcoming themes include eating disorders, drugs, racism, divorce, illiteracy and unwed motherhood. The giggly, dark premise is that Jerri gets terrible advice from the grown-ups she goes to for guidance and ends up learning all the wrong lessons -- which, in the skewed universe of "Strangers With Candy," are the right lessons. In the first episode Wednesday, Jerri tries to get her classmates to come to a party she's throwing, but is cruelly rejected until the extremely sensitive art teacher, Mr. Jellineck (Dinello), tells her to "dig deep inside and see what makes you unique -- dig around like a badger in a trash can and go with what you know!" So Jerri mixes up a batch of crank for the homecoming queen, who promptly ODs, after which Jerri dedicates her party to the girl's memory and gets a full house.

And the April 14 episode is a devilish spoof of those TV movies where high schoolers were forced to tote around sacks of flour or eggs as if they were babies as a lesson in the consequences of unprotected sex. In the "Strangers With Candy" version, the sex education teacher hands Jerri a real baby, which she can't give back until she learns the most valuable lesson a girl can learn about single motherhood. It's only after Jerri, sharing the baby with another girl, becomes jealous of her partner's focus on the kid and starts acting like an abusive boyfriend that she realizes what that lesson is. (Sorry, it's so cleverly sprung, it wouldn't be right to give it away.)

Comedy Central's first live-action original non-skit series, "Strangers With Candy" is one of the most inventively bizarre shows in a long time (right up there with HBO's recent trial run of the mock-rock duo sitcom "Tenacious D"). "Strangers With Candy" manages to sustain the "Afterschool Special" joke with its smudged, '70s neo-realistic look, generic pseudo-pop background music and Jerri's throwback wardrobe, which is so hideous I suspect it came from somebody's actual closet, not a Hollywood costume shop.

But while Jerri uses language that would make even Cartman blush, the humor of "Strangers With Candy" is so bone-dry that some "South Park" fans might end up staring at it in Beavis and Butt-headlike confusion. "Strangers With Candy" is not for kids, but that's not surprising, given Sedaris' impressive résumé of brainy-silly stagecraft. With her brother, author, playwright and National Public Radio commentator David Sedaris, Amy Sedaris wrote the Obie Award-winning 1996 play "One Woman Shoe," which she also starred in. She also appeared off-Broadway in Paul Rudnick's "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told" and is working on a Seattle staging of "The Little Frieda Mysteries," which she wrote with her brother. (She is also famously employed as a waitress at Marion's in New York's Bowery.)

Jerri Blank is an inspired creation, both childlike and haggard, and although Sedaris puts her face through buck-toothed contortions to play her and wears some of the most unflattering eye makeup this side of a "Phyllis" rerun, her all-too-human failings are oddly endearing. When Jerri seeks solace from the mean kids at school and her bitchy stepmother (Deborah Rush) and bratty, more popular half-brother (Larc Spies) at home by throwing herself across her bed and talking to the ashes of her late mother, she's every confused, lonely, misfit teenage girl on TV -- you can almost overlook the matronly curlers and cold cream. There's a semiserious message to "Strangers With Candy" -- you're never too old for a second chance. But Sedaris and her co-writers also know what most of us would use that second chance for. "This second time through high school, I'm a little bit wiser," Jerri states proudly into the camera. "I'm still doing the wrong things, but at least I'm doing them the right way!"

"'CANDY' LEAVES SOUR TASTE" by Michele Greppi at

FLATPOINT High is a school for future "Jerry Springer" sadsacks.

The saddest is Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), a 46-year-old freshman back on campus after 32 years as a runaway "user, boozer and loser."

Jerri looks like a distant relative of Swoosie Kurtz in Tammy Faye Bakker makeup and clothes that were tossed out by the Goodwill thrift shop.

"Strangers With Candy" aspires to be the anti-after-school special.

Instead, it's just a flat and unfunny rip-off of "South Park" refracted through a prison prism and executed in a style that makes cable access look Oscar-ready and all of the "Heathers" ready for sainthood.

Jerri confronts a new dilemma each week and learns a sick sort of lesson.

But the real lesson of the first two episodes of "Strangers" is that sophomoric smut and smirkiness gets really old really fast when it talks down to a generation (or two) raised on "Porky's," "Police Academy," "National Lampoon," "Caddy Shack" and any movie with Rodney Dangerfield or Pee-wee Herman in it.

At Flatpoint High, the principal ( Greg Holliman) is a stentorian despot. The teachers (Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello) are sexually ambiguous and active. Jerri's best friend (Orlando Pabotoy) is most affectionately called "pan-faced chimp."

At home, there's a corpse-like dad (Roberto Gari), a social-gadfly stepmom (Deborah Rush) and a step-brother (Larc Spies) who lives to taunt Jerri.

"I hear Ann's coming to your party," he says tonight.

"Ann who?" bites Jerri.

"Ann Visible," says step-bro.

And Ann Onymity will be right behind her and ready to go home with any or all members of this ensemble.

from TIME

The Arts
Strangers With Candy
Comedy Central, Wednesdays

Apr. 12, 1999
It has been a year and a half since South Park premiered and five months since it cracked basic cable's Top 10. So where will Comedy Central's next breakout hit come from? Don't look to Amy Sedaris, who co-created this leaden satire of after-school specials. Sedaris also stars as a 46-year-old who has returned to high school after 32 years as "a boozer, a user and a loser." Just what did the network find funny? The name of the school's African-American principal, Mr. Blackman? The catatonic geriatric behind the wheel of a car? Maybe Sedaris' single comic affectation, a grotesque overbite? Take Mom's advice: Avoid Strangers with Candy.

Commentary from

"Tasteless programs still funny"

World should survive `South Park', `Family Guy'

Mean little creatures are afoot in television.

We're way beyond the trickery of Little Rascals, Dennis the Menace, even Bart Simpson.

We're talking Stewie, the infant monster on The Family Guy (returning to Fox at 8:30 p.m. Sunday). Even in an inept but good-humored family, baby Stewie stands out for his hostility and his occasional attempts at matricide.

Then there's the gang at South Park, which starts a new season at 10 tonight on Comedy Central. Foul-mouthed, uninhibited, embracing bad taste and hostility wherever they find it, they've become poster boys not only for adults who get the satire but for children who like to watch cartoon kids talk the way real children shouldn't.

That's generated a lot of end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it talk around both South Park and Family Guy, most of which has to do with the idea that they're in bad taste and therefore not funny.

But that's an old argument in humor, one best summed up by the works of Mel Brooks. In his cult movie The Producers, he was absolutely tasteless and deliriously funny. But in his later movies he was still trying to be tasteless, but he'd forgotten how to be funny.

Society is still safe from South Park and Family Guy because their tastelessness is in service of humor, at least some of the time.

I've laughed at both shows, and been shocked by both, including tonight's South Park (in which the gang joins a musical group to help save the rain forest) and Sunday's Family Guy (where, among other things, Stewie is so sick of eating broccoli, he schemes to destroy the world's supply).

The problem comes when producers assume that they have to meet the new tastelessness level in TV, or that being in bad taste is the same as being funny.

For example, while Futurama, the new series from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, has plenty of good gags, it seems to throw in the gratuitous tasteless joke almost as if such humor is expected.

And that brings us to Strangers with Candy.

In a way, it's an evolutionary step beyond the current crop of little-brat shows, including South Park, which it follows at 10:30 tonight on Comedy Central.

The network calls this its ``first-ever live-action narrative series,'' which is another way of saying it's a sitcom, albeit a twisted one. Boasting several veterans of other Comedy Central series, it stars Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank, who is trying to start over in high school after being a drug abuser, alcoholic and teen-age runaway.

Of course, she's 46 now. But she's still thoroughly incapable of dealing with regular life, let alone the kind they practice in her high school. Sedaris and the other actors walk straight-faced through ever more bizarre situations.

You've heard the stories about high school students who are taught about parenting by getting an egg or another fragile object to take care of. Jerri is given an actual baby. And when she can't handle it on her own, another student joins in, playing mom while Jerri takes on the role of dad with macho, abusive enthusiasm.

If there's a point where comedy goes too far, this may be it. It's well thought out and fully conscious of the details of the after-school specials it aims to parody. The actors are convincing in their roles. The episodes might sound funny as you described them to co-workers the next day.

But the actual watching of the show is more horrifying than funny. Jerri comes across as a little too real. Exaggerated cartoon characters, even awful brats, are more comfortable to watch.

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