By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 25, 2006; 12:00 AM
"Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes (Uncensored)" (List price: $24.99)
Release Date: July 25
Is there such a thing as "Chappelle's Show" without Dave Chappelle? The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is yes.
After two enormously successful seasons and a pair of best-selling DVDs, the popular sketch comedy series came to a screeching, much-publicized halt last year when Chappelle, who had signed a $50 million contract with Comedy Central, suddenly bolted and went to Africa. Despite hope that somehow the network and comic would reconcile, the relationship never recovered. The bad news: The third season was only partially complete, which meant the network could not deliver another full serving of Chappelle. The good news: The third season was partially complete, which meant Comedy Central had something.
That something -- a handful of completed sketches -- was enough to form three final installments of "Chappelle's Show," dubbed "the lost episodes." Having already aired on Comedy Central, where they will undoubtedly rerun from now until approximately the end of time, the new DVD preserves the last, gasping breaths of the series in unedited (read: cursing is not bleeped) form. Which raises a couple of questions that even die-hard fans may have a hard time answering: Should you buy a DVD with only three measly episodes on it? And if you do, are you backing Chappelle by continuing to support his comedy, or only helping Comedy Central earn more money off his name?
It's difficult to adequately answer that second question, although it seems like Comedy Central has every right to release the material since it was created on their watch. But I can confirm that the DVD delivers more genuine laughs than I expected. The sketches in the three episodes, like most "Chappelle's Show" material, get funnier upon multiple viewings. And the two-plus hours of extras -- five unaired sketches, deleted scenes, bloopers, a making-of featurette and three commentaries from writer/producer Neal Brennan and show regulars Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings -- provide additional hilarious moments from that tumultuous third season.
Anyone who hopes the DVD will dish some real dirt about Chappelle's departure is bound to be disappointed. Although the commentaries are entertaining, they only address the elephant in the room in indirect ways. ("People are like, when's the last time you saw Dave?" Murphy shares while commenting on an "Addams Family" parody in which he, Chappelle and Rawlings each portray a different monster. "I'm like, the last time I saw Dave, he was a werewolf.") But while the DVD may play it safe, the comedy never does, as proven by the controversial racial pixie sketch and an unaired bit called "Presidential Cadence," in which Chappelle uses politician-speak to convince a roomful of strippers that lap dances should be free. It's edgy, hilarious, slightly crude and completely "Chappelle's Show."
Evidence of the comedian's growing discomfort with his success is everywhere on the DVD, but perhaps most striking in the show's final broadcast sketch in which a Wizard of Oz-like entity proposes several absurd ways Chappelle can capitalize on his fame (a movie called "Lil Jon in Love" is just one). The segment ends with a final shot of our hero standing on a yellow brick road, turning around and walking away from Hollywood. While Dave's devotees may feel his pain, this DVD may also make them wish he'd at least consider paying the Wizard a visit.
Wayne Brady Bonus Point: The former star of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" made a memorable cameo during "Chappelle's Show's" second season, in which he took over the show against Chappelle's will. In a case of life imitating comedy, Brennan says that a member of the staff suggested Brady should serve as a replacement host for the lost episodes. But, as Brennan explains during a commentary track, "that didn't feel right." Instead Murphy and Rawlings were tapped to introduce the sketches instead.
Worst Bonus Point: "The Fabulous Making of 'Chappelle's Show 3ish'" is mostly a waste of time. And the makers of this bonus feature seem to know it. "A lot of times, these DVD extras really blow," the Robin Leach-esque narrator announces. Yeah, no kidding.
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