It’s no longer a mad, mad, mad, mad MADtv world.
AFTER 14 SEASONS (yes, 14), MADtv will air its series finale this month. And it appears as though few critics will miss it. The New York Times even declared that the show has “yielded only a handful of noteworthy alumni and fewer memorable sketches.” Perhaps MADtv had that coming -- payback for the hubris it has displayed in competing directly against Saturday Night Live (SNL), the iconic sketch-comedy show, and in borrowing the name of a legendary humor magazine. And, to be sure, even MADtv’s best-known graduates -- Artie Lange, now one of Howard Stern’s sidekicks; Orlando Jones, the 7Up guy; Alex Borstein, of Family Guy; and Frank Caliendo, of the recently canceled Frank TV -- don’t exactly compete with Will Ferrell for box office.
But the critics have missed something: consistency. MADtv has been the steady counterpart to SNL’s long-ball hitters, the Tony Gwynn to SNL’s Mark McGwire. Still, you’d have to be among the three million people who’ve tuned in each week to know that. “For the people who’ve known about it and watched regularly,” says cast member Arden Myrin, “MADtv has been sort of like being in the secret-handshake club.” What those club members will remember is the steady delivery of base hits the show provided. There was Nicole Parker as Britney Spears, singing a “Womanizer” parody called “I’m More Wizer,” and Will Sasso’s skit about what The Sopranos would be like if it were to air in syndication on family friendly Pax TV (heavily censored and extremely brief). There were occasional home runs, too, like Keegan-Michael Key’s blustery Coach Hines, Caliendo’s John Madden, and any of the skits in which Bobby Lee took his clothes off, of which there were plenty.
“Bobby is a champion exhibitionist,” Key says, laughing. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Maybe he’s allergic to wool.”
To its credit, MADtv’s current cast isn’t bitter that its dependability has often been overlooked. “I think we’ve done some really good work through the years,” Key says. “I just wish more people could have seen it.” Adds Myrin, “The upside of being under the radar has been that we could take more risks. Of course, that’s also meant we would fail more spectacularly.”
Here’s the good news in all of this: Even though MADtv will be gone, the current cast’s diaspora will place funny people all over TV and film. Myrin is a regular panelist on E!’s Chelsea Lately. Key has a deal with ABC and will likely appear on that network’s fall schedule. Lee might keep his clothes on in the big-screen comedies Wedding Palace and Hard Breakers. Jordan Peele appears as Kelvin Melvin on Comedy Central’s Chocolate News. And Parker takes a dramatic turn in the upcoming indie short Weathered.
So if you’re sad that you can’t get MADtv anymore, take solace in knowing that there’s always room for consistent hitters on entertainment’s ever-changing roster.
SATURDAY NIGHT SHOWDOWN Loyal to that other late-night sketch-comedy show? We consider how three of the most memorable MADtv skits, past and present, stack up against similar Saturday Night Live favorites.