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"Ugly Americans" Volume One DVD Review

Ugly Americans: Volume One DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com Ugly Americans: Volume One (2010)
Show & DVD Details

Creator/Director: Devin Clark / Developer: David M. Stern / Executive Producers: David M. Stern, Daniel Powell

Writers: Jeff Poliquin, David M. Stern, Craig DiGregorio, Kevin Shinick, Greg White, Daniel Powell, Aaron Blitzstein

Regular Voice Cast: Matt Oberg (Mark Lilly), Natasha Leggero (Callie Maggotbone), Kurt Metzger (Randall Skeffington), Larry Murphy (Lieutenant Frank Grimes), Randy Pearlstein (Leonard Powers), Michael-Leon Wooley (Twayne Boneraper) / Assorted: Devin Clark, Pete Holmes, Julie Klausner

Recurring Cast Members (Assorted Characters): Mike Britt, Rebekka Johnson, John Mulaney

Notable Guest Voices: Bill Hader (William Dyer), Fred Armisen (Larry King), Kumail Nanjiani (Neilando Patel), Kristen Wiig (Tristan), Jack McBrayer (Kong)

Running Time: 151 Minutes (7 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14 on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Season 1 Airdates: March 17, 2010 - April 28, 2010
DVD Release Date: October 5, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

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In "Ugly Americans", New York City is teeming with freaks, not merely the odd and eccentrically-fashioned, but real freaks of folklore: zombies, demons, wizards, werewolves, vampires, two-headed monsters, yeti, etc. The protagonist of this animated Comedy Central series is Mark Lilly, a human everyman who's new in town.

Mark is a moderately compassionate social worker at the Department of Integration, the government agency that oversees the undocumented types that roam the city. His bosses are demons, the female of whom (half-human Callie) he is reluctantly dating. His closest workmate is a wizard named Leonard. Rounding out the cast of regulars are Mark's zombie roommate Randall and no-nonsense, prejudiced police officer Lt. Grimes.

The social work of protagonist Mark Lilly includes bringing together a werewolf and the man whose arm he bit off. Mark's two bosses at the Department of Integration, Callie Maggotbone and Twayne Boneraper, are both demons, a fact that creates occasional desires among them.

The series has a Mark Groening sensibility to it more like "Futurama" than "The Simpsons." It's the latter, though, that employed developer David M. Stern as writer, creative consultant, and producer throughout the 1990s (most extensively in the early part of the decade). Since then, Stern, who wet his feet writing episodes during the first three seasons of "The Wonder Years", has been a writer and co-executive producer on "Monk."
"Ugly Americans" was conceived by Devin Clark, who previously created Comedy Central's "Atom TV" series, born out of Viacom's repurposed website acquisition.

It's tiresome to find that though animated TV series are being produced in large numbers today (as many for teens and adults as children, it seems), they are remarkably homogenous. The common tone differs from those assumed in the past. Now, each looks to be edgier and more sardonic than the next. It's like animation is an excuse to be wildly off-color and to tell stories in universes populated by awful, unhappy characters. It's all very routine and uninspired. What about "Ugly Americans" is supposed to be remotely appealing?

This series is less minimalist than Adult Swim's typical fare. But it's also less funny. In fact, it's almost never funny. Demons lactating fire. Zombies whose parts fall off. Tree creatures having sex. Much of the humor is dependent on the odd premise, which I'm still not sure I understand. This world mirrors ours, as references to things like Facebook, Google Maps, and Larry King make clear. But the writers aren't really commenting upon society or about anything. They're just coming up with ideas and jokes that amuse them, stringing a few into storylines and starting anew after every 21 minutes of trash.

Being in a relationship with a demon (Callie) gives Mark the occasional bedroom burn. While dining with newly-zombified roommate Randall in New Jersey, Mark can't help but notice the zombie situation outside.

I wonder what exactly the target audience is for a show like this. People easily amused by potty and sex humor, I take it. So we're talking, what, boys aged 16-18? That hardly seems like a big or important enough demographic to sustain a program. But "Ugly Americans" holds onto over half the viewers watching its lead-in, "South Park." That puts it around the 2-million viewer mark, which is a large enough audience on basic cable to explain why Comedy Central ordered seven more episodes in April to begin airing next week.

In anticipation of the show's return on Wednesday, October 6th, the first seven episodes come to DVD on Tuesday, October 5th in the single-disc Volume One. Profanity goes unbleeped, but middle finger animation remains digitally blurred. Here are synopses of the included episodes...

Leonard's famous magician older brother Christ Angel welcomes him on stage in "An American Werewolf in America." Mark temporarily looks after a demon baby, from whom he can only rescue this tail of an otherwise eaten squirrel.

1. Pilot (21:35) (Originally aired March 17, 2010)
The Department allocates part of the social services budget to law enforcement, requiring Grimes to meet a quota of arrested illegals. Mark meets Callie's father on a date in Hell.

2. An American Werewolf in America (21:34) (Originally aired March 24, 2010)
Jealous of his magician brother Christ Angel's success, Leonard tries to entertain. Randall grapples with his cravings for Mark's flesh. A werewolf bites off a man's arm.

3. Demon Baby (21:34) (Originally aired March 31, 2010)
Callie develops strong maternal urges when Mark assumes temporary custody of a demon baby. She even considers marrying Twayne to adopt it.

Leonard helps this magenta blob get dressed and back on his...blobs in "Blob Gets Job." In "Treegasm", New York City gathers to watch two trees do the deed. Blake, a vampire who looks like Robert Pattinson's Edward Cullen, is romantically linked to Lt. Grimes' daughter Tristan.

4. Blob Gets Job (21:34) (Originally aired April 7, 2010)
Leonard tries to help a mysterious blob find employment.
Mark meets Randall's parents in New Jersey.

5. Treegasm (21:34) (Originally aired April 14, 2010)
New York could be doomed if a much-anticipated tree-mating ceremony doesn't go as planned. Randall's penis goes missing.

6. So You Want to be a Vampire? (21:34) (Originally aired April 21, 2010)
Grimes doesn't like his daughter dating a vampire (who happens to look like Edward Cullen). New Yorkers begin turning into Larry King. Randall and Callie do battle.

7. Kong of Queens (21:34) (Originally aired April 28, 2010)
Callie grows attracted to Twayne as he struggles with writing a keynote speech. Mark helps a halved Randall secure a lower body, while budget cuts close the social services department, to the troubling of an OCD-addled Kong.

Police brutality is a job perk for old-fashioned hardhead Lt. Frank Grimes, seen here pounding a vampire in bat form. Alan Whiter reports on the troubling situation that's turning all kinds of New Yorkers into Larry King.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like pretty much all modern shows (a class which Comedy Central ones recently joined), "Ugly Americans" appears in 1.78:1 widescreen on DVD. While the animation is nothing special, the picture quality is expectedly pretty flawless. You'll spot the occasional compression artifact and the rare flicker, but that's about it. The soundtrack is also as satisfactory as modern technology and the Dolby Digital 5.1 format allows it. The front-heavy mix does show some depth with expanding music and infrequent effects. A Dolby Surround track is also offered.

The 5-On Shorts that inspired the series aren't all dated. Isn't Demon Donald Trump's feud with Rosie O'Demon timeless and relevant? This "Equality" poster promoting interspecies brotherhood is one of 23 images seen in the DVD's Art Gallery.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Audio commentary is provided on all seven episodes by developer/executive producer David M. Stern, executive producer Dan Powell, and creator Devin Clark. These three men aren't any funnier here than they are on the show. In addition, they never attempt to carry a conversation for an audience, instead watching, enjoying, and patting themselves on the back. Amidst the laughter, a few insightful comments do emerge, regarding the series' look, structure, and hypocritical standards & practices battles.
But the trio's interest is foremost in acknowledging random gags and background puns. It's always awkward listening to an audio commentary recorded by people who have such a higher estimation of their work than you do.

Most significant among the visual extras are five "5-On Shorts." The DVD doesn't make it clear, but these animated Internet shorts were made for Comedy Central's website back in 2007 by Devin Clark and a few others. They're a forerunner to "Ugly Americans", with some early versions of regular characters even featuring (along with satirical takes on current issues like Laura Bush and the Donald Trump-Rosie O'Donnell feud). Presented like news pieces, the shorts are hosted by reporter Alan Whiter, who interviews the following: "Robots on Immigration" (3:30), "Demons on the Environment" (3:00), "Zombies on the Presidential Candidates" (2:40), "Monsters on Celebutantes" (3:00), and "Wizards on Hip Hop Obscenity" (3:07). Unfunny even overlooking the dated cultural references, it's no surprise that "Ugly" is so lame after seeing what "inspired" it. A sixth short ("5 Aliens on Life Without the Sopranos") apparently remains exclusive to the Atom.com, not appearing here.

The first, biggest and best of the DVD's three galleries, the generically-titled "Art Gallery" holds 23 images, depicting characters, background signs, environments, and promotional tie-in items from the first seven episodes.

Ten "Facebook Photos" are candid character images that I imagine were posted to Facebook at some point.

Experiencing a late-life crisis, Leonard shops for a new wand in this uncolored sneak peek clip. The Special Features menu lists the disc's extras among informative Department of Integration brochures.

An uncolored story reel "Sneak Peek Clip" (5:17) doesn't bode well for the show improving in its second season/volume. It opens with an "Abscess Hollywood" report on the hot new couple: Jessica Alba and long-dead Abraham Lincoln. The relationship is on Leonard's mind as he tries to act young while buying a new wand at what looks like a cell phone store from what looks like the Verizon guy. Hilarious.

"Sneak Peek Art" holds fifteen color stills, depicting characters and settings from upcoming episodes.

The animated menus are creatively inspired by settings from the show, but those equipped with music annoyingly feature unreasonably loud, ghastly, and satanic droning.

In-case inserts have grown so rare that it's practically shocking to see "A Field Guide to Ugly Americans: An Official Publication from the Department of Integration" enclosed here. This 8-page manual educates on such pressing matters as vampire conversions, werewolf attacks, and wizard labor disputes, complete with believable bureaucratic writing. It's more clever than anything seen or heard on the DVD itself.

Threatening demon boss Twayne gets Mark's attention with arms from a brick wall and with the new bone protruding through his chest. Newly-unemployed wizard Leonard is holographically conjured in his tighty whiteys.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Ugly Americans" is many things: grotesque, sophomoric, stupid, nasty, and, as advertised, ugly. What it's not is funny, the one thing that might have made all those other traits tolerable. Watching this set, I was twice amused; once at a passing brochure referencing an always-relevant Bill Cosby spectral parenthood movie and the other mentioning Orangina (which I've just really been enjoying lately). All the other stuff -- tree sex, limb-ripping, parodies of Twilight and "The Sopranos" series finale -- I failed to find the humor in. I've seen worse television shows and I see how this could be worse than it is, but even so, there is little to redeem this wretched mess.

Aside from subtitles, this Volume One DVD provides everything fans should want, including fine picture/sound, an okay collection of bonus features, and even a nifty field guide booklet. For the portion of the viewership who feels that this is worth revisiting, go right ahead. Everyone else can stay far away.

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Reviewed October 1, 2010.



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