The Ben Stiller Show  

thesis selected

Episode 1

This is the first impression we have of Ben Stiller: as Bono, the angst-ridden singer of U2, Stiller affects a convincing accent and startling likeness. As Bono reflects on the early years of the Irish band, we meet their first manager. It turns out he is none other than the man once responsible for The Partridge Family, Mr. Kinkaid (played by the actual series star, Dave Madden.)

Following the opening credits--a fast-paced montage of the cast shot on a hand held Super 8 camera and set to a snazzy Dweezil Zappa score--Ben Stiller introduces himself to the audience. Strolling on the Fox lot, Ben converses with his head writer, Bruce Kirschbaum. Bruce is ambivalent to the U2 sketch, saying he prefers the "movie stuff".

This leads to a movie trailer that is essentially a shot-by-shot parody of Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear". But in this version, an incarcerated Eddie Munster (Stiller) seeks revenge against the network executive (Odenkirk) who canceled "The Munsters" years ago. Eddie Munster affects the same mannerisms as the Robert DeNiro character, squinting menacingly and terrorizing his prey all over town. Like DeNiro, his body is a canvas of tattoos. But rather than biblical quotes, his arms read "Fester is Mine" and "Grandpa Sucks". There's even a very faint tattoo on his right shoulder that says "syndication". Munster even sports the same awful Hawaiian shirt DeNiro wore- over his wide-collared shirt and black bow costume, of course. The trailer ends with the famous thumb-sucking scene, where Juliette Lewis (Garofalo) is hindered by her retainer.

Ben then introduces us to Andy Dick, and they argue over which segment of Ben's "Video Diary" they are about to show. The entry that ends up airing turns out to be shortly after Ben's girlfriend has dumped him and he's "realizing this is an opportunity to be with myself". His girlfriend returns to pick up her belongings, along with her self-defense instructor, Harry. Harry warns Ben to "cut the cord", and ends up beating on Ben until the camera is knocked over and the picture is lost.

Ben explains to the audience that a whole part was missed where he kicked the guy out. This is followed by a brief commercial, that asks "What is Sexy?" and features several young hardbodies cavorting about. The advertiser turns out to be Wilson Garden Hoe.

We return to the "Rockumentary" on U2, where Mr. Kinkaid discusses Bono's egotistical behavior: "He should have named that group 'Me Too', not U2". He then reveals how he helped the band make money in the lean years through "product endorsements". This is followed by a video/commercial for Lucky Clovers cereal, sung to the tune of U2's "One":

Have you had your breakfast?
Why not try the best?
I'm talking about Lucky Clovers--
Why don't you put them to the test? bowl
Won't be enough...
One box, you know you'll eat it right up
They're fun...and so delicious
Eight Essential vitamins and they're magically nutritious
One bowl and it's running low
One box you know it's gonna go...
Did I eat too much?
More than a lot...
You give me one box
Now it's all I got
One bowl and I've got to share it, baby, got to share it...
Lucky Clovers...

Ben introduces Janeane Garofalo, and tries to make a clean segue into a sketch about a "crazy agent". She doesn't play along, so we cut to the Talent Agency of Michael Pheret. Michael (Stiller) is a hyped-up, mile-a-minute sleaze with a blond ponytail and telephone headgear permanently strapped to his skull. He offers career advice to clients Roseanne and Tom Arnold (appearing as themselves) in his typical, stream-of-consciousness manner: "Let's get serious, come on, you guys are too good for comedy. I mean, let's do a disease, all right? Tom, you get sick. Rosie, you come and take care of him. Rosie you get sick, Tom takes care of you. I mean, I don't care, it works both ways, you both get sick, you die, you fall love, whatever. Right?" When Michael stops to take a call and do a quick workout on his stair master, the Arnolds take the opportunity to slip out. Another client, Garry Shandling (as himself), is more interested in the "disease movie" and pitches a plan to Michael to play an obsessive hand-washer.

Stiller and Bob Odenkirk discuss the different shows that have been shot on the studio lot over the years. It turns out that Stage 2, where Stiller shoots, is referred to as "The Morgue" and was previously used by such programs as "Fish Police", "Cop Rock" and "The Dennis Miller Show".

In "The Last Stand of Yakov Smirnoff", the Russian comedian (Stiller) tries to perform his comedy act now that the Iron Curtain has fallen. Unable to use any of his Communism jokes, he begins to sweat under the lights and lose "defectors" in his audience. Even his patented horse laugh and catch phrase "What a country!" receive no reaction. He ends up in the fetal position on stage, muttering: "I'm cold...I'm frightened...what will the new world order bring for Yakov...?"

There is another abstract commercial featuring shirtless men and a sexed-up model for the Wilson Garden Hoe.

Stiller wraps up the show by wishing the audience well, while Bruce tries to think up catch phrases to make the show more popular. His suggestions "What the what the hey!" and "look out below!" are not well-received. The end credits feature scenes that were cut from the episode, including Bono and the band working a Bar Mitzvah.


Stiller's show was scheduled at 7:30pm, running up against the very powerful "60 Minutes". However, Fox had scheduled it back-to-back with their hit comedy "In Living Color". The idea was to give audiences a full hour of sketch shows to counter-program the dramas "Life Goes On" and "Secret Service" running 7-8 p.m. on ABC and NBC.

Stiller's premiere was an excellent example of things to come. The "Cape Munster" sketch made it very clear that we were witnessing a new kind of comedy, one that assumed it's audience would be intelligent and clever enough to understand such parodies. Both the "Cape Munster" and U2 parodies were such realistic variations on the actual product, it would have been easy for someone flipping past the channel to mistake it for the real thing.

The "Wilson Woman", who struts provocatively in the commercials, is none other than Stiller's long-term girlfriend, Jeanne Triplehorn. Triplehorn made a major breakthrough earlier that year as one of the stars of "Basic Instinct". Since then, she's appeared in such films as "Waterworld", "The Firm" and in "Reality Bites" as a Cindy Crawford-esque TV reporter.

In this episode, Stiller immediately sets himself up as the underdog. His "Video Diary" portrays him as a pathetic loser and his scene with Odenkirk reveals his insecurities about being canceled. Stiller obviously knew what he was up against, and was able (or forced) to laugh about it.

Agent Michael Pheret is one of Stiller's best original characters, and he's vaguely reminiscent of the television executive Stiller played in "Reality Bites", also named Michael. They are both the quisessential yuppie, and both have a tendency to stumble over their own sentences when they get riled up.


"Oh, oh, my hands are dirty! Oh, oh, oh, I'm a dirty boy...I can't even go out!" -- Garry Shandling, pitching his idea for a movie-of-the-week on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"Quit the show. What're you going to do, wait 'til you're down with Seinfeld in the middle of the pack, nobody knows who you are?" -- Michael Pheret to Roseanne and Tom Arnold, referring to the floundering "Seinfeld" ratings.


"Very's not like most sketch shows. I really like it. I think."--Laura
Overall Show Quality....8

*(Based on a 10-point scale, averaged among the five participants. No scores were thrown out.)*

Go on to Next Episode


Image map of links