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by Ian Pugh Speaking strictly as a casual observer of the event, one of the lessons the recent WGA strike taught us was that talk-show scripts are pretty carefully tailored to their hosts' personalities. Consequently, one could finally determine, once and for all, why "The Colbert Report" is superior to its progenitor, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart": When you boil everything down to the bare essentials, it's easier to see that Stewart's treatment of world events, unlike Stephen Colbert's, is primarily composed of sharp chuckles and incredulous reactions. It's a belaboured but valid point that Comedy Central's hour of "fake news" has casually drifted closer to relevance as mainstream news sources continue their downward trend towards pop infotainment and outrageous bias, and by taking on the persona of an ill-informed, blowhard pundit, Colbert merely brings media politics to their logical extreme, presenting news items precisely as they matter to his infallible worldview. His mock inability to detect irony is a sharp, timely condemnation--sharp enough, at least, to send the White House Press Corps retreating to the fossilized, altogether toothless material of Rich Little after Colbert did his thing at their annual Correspondents Dinner. But one of the most important facets of Colbert's act--indeed, one that greatly extends the shelf-life of his shtick--is how he takes the accolades he receives as a satirist and effortlessly folds them to fit the monstrous ego of his onscreen character.
Colbert's heroic battle for freedom against the pinko commies of Hollywood and mainstream media invites many of them to come out of the woodwork, and he is forced to oblige them. It results in a lot of silly diversions, some of which make up the new DVD compilation "The Best of The Colbert Report". A discussion of newsroom gravitas sees Stone Phillips reciting nonsensical sentences with perfect solemnity; Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem discuss the feminist ethic while baking an apple pie; and Sean Penn trades metaphorical barbs with Colbert on a game show hosted by Robert Pinsky. Unfortunately, because this best-of concentrates on stroking Colbert's comically bloated self-image almost to the exclusion of more "straightforward" news reportage, it doesn't really evoke the experience of watching "The Colbert Report". Though it wisely includes the opening minutes of the show's very first episode and the introduction of "truthiness" (the idea that facts are irrelevant against your gut feeling, it's Colbert's mission statement, vital to understanding every bit of satire that comes after it), only one full episode of "The Colbert Report" can be found on the disc, and it's a guitar shred-off between Chris Funk of The Decemberists and Colbert, who is "replaced" at the last minute by Peter Frampton.
Furthermore, any dips into the deeper stuff are defeated by the sampler format. While many of Colbert's best running gags and established traits--his long-standing war against bears, his claims that he is physically incapable of perceiving race, and the calls to his viewing audience to follow his every mad whim--can be found in the sketches herein, fracturing this material into five-minute bursts simply cannot capture the breadth of his disgust for callous punditry. As such, Colbert's interview with his real/fictional inspiration, professional hatemonger Bill O'Reilly, packs less punch in this form than it did on the show proper. Even a few bits culled from the "Better Know a District" segment, in which members of Congress are forced to perform somersaults around Colbert's wilful ignorance, are too arbitrary to make much of an impact. As it stands, I'm really glad to own "The Best of The Colbert Report": an efficient survey of how a comedian's appropriately absurd tactics have convinced political activism to adopt a much-needed sense of self-deprecation, it preserves a series of moments I wanted to collect from the moment I saw them. Unfortunately, it readily fails as an introduction for the neophyte; you need to invest a long-term interest in the program to truly understand why this man is at the top of his game, and why he's so important to the discussion of media ethics. Perhaps it's best to see this package as just another part of the act, a self-conscious indulgence in "Colbert's" boundless egotism--and, of course, a mighty blow struck in the name of America.
The full-frame image on Paramount's "The Best of The Colbert Report" platter starts out a little blurry but sharpens up over time, while the DD 2.0 stereo audio is perfectly adequate for such a talk-heavy show. Technically, there are no extras; a shruggable deleted scene from Colbert's interview with D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Norton can be found under the "Better Know a District" sub-menu. A block of "DVD Previews" for "Christmas Time in South Park", "The Sarah Silverman Program.: Season One", and Demetri Martin. Person. cues up on startup. Originally published: February 19, 2008.
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