Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Clerks: The Animated Series Uncensored - 2 Disc Collection (2000)
Studio Line: Buena Vista

Based on Kevin Smith's cult comedy classic, this outrageous anthology brings together every hilarious episode of Clerks: Uncensored -- including 4 never before seen anywhere! It's the continuing adventures of clerks Dante and Randal, two guys just trying to make the best of menial labor! With constant interference from the outlandish Jay and Silent Bob -- follow the clerks' wildly improbable antics from one riotous episode to the next! Filled with big laughs and hysterical jabs at popular culture -- anyone who enjoys fun, irreverent comedy won't want to miss it!

Director: Steve Loter
Cast: Brian O'Halloran-Dante Hicks; Jeff Anderson-Randal Graves; Jason Mewes-Jay Phat Buds; Kevin Smith-Silent Bob; Alec Baldwin-Leonardo Leonardo
DVD: 2-Disc set; standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 25 chapters; rated R; 130 min.; $29.99; street date 2/20/01.
Supplements: Introductions To Each Episode by Jay and Silent Bob; Animatics; Audio Commentary with Executive Producers Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier and Dave Mandel, Supervising Director Chris Bailey, and Actors Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes; Character Development Featurette; "The Clerks Style" Featurette; "Super Bowl" TV Spot; Film Festival Trailer.
DVD-ROM Features: Script/Storyboard Synchronized Viewer; Character Profiles; Weblink to DVD Destination Site.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B/A

Talk about a quick death! Despite a cult fan base already in position and promotion offered during the Super Bowl, the animated spin-off of 1994’s indie hit Clerks barely made it onto the air. The first episode appeared on May 31 2000, while the second hit the waves a week later.

And that was all she wrote! Although six shows had been completed, the other four were ignored, and Clerks Animated went quickly into the TV netherworld, never to be heard from again.

Or maybe not, since now we’ve received a marvelous little DVD set that includes all six episodes of the ill-fated series plus a slew of other materials. Titled Clerks Uncensored, this package lets those of us who never even knew the show existed get a look at what Kevin Smith wanted to do.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Smith’s work over the years. Early on I developed a knee-jerk negative reaction to Clerks - it seemed like just so much slacker dopiness. Of course, that was before I actually watched the movie, and once I saw Clerks, I had to admit that Smith actually made a rather funny flick.

However, my second excursion into Smith-land wasn’t as sunny. The follow-up to Clerks - 1995’s Mallrats - was almost totally abysmal. It was hard to believe that obnoxious and puerile piece of work came from the same person. Nonetheless, Smith got back on track with 1997’s Chasing Amy. Probably the best of his four films to date, CA was amusing but it also had some depth as well, unlike the more superficial offerings seen in his first two flicks.

Lastly, 1999 brought Dogma, a controversial and intermittently good movie. This was the most uneven of the bunch, but it had its moments. At the very least, it was much better than Mallrats.

Anyway, I’d classify myself as a fan of Smith’s work, but not much of one. Nonetheless, I was interested to see what kind of material we’d find in the Clerks animated series; would it resemble the highs of its inspiration, or would this be more insipidness along the level of Mallrats?

In the end, it’s a bit of a combination of both, though I generally thought the shows were fairly amusing. On the positive side, the series offered some pleasantly irreverent material and it moved along at a good clip. Surprisingly, probably the best part of the shows was their voice talent. Reprising their roles from the film Clerks were Brian O’Halloran as Dante, Jeff Anderson as Randal, Jason Mewes as Jay, and Smith himself as Silent Bob. (Granted, the latter doesn’t say much, so Smith’s vocal cords aren’t exactly tested.) All of those participants had definitely grown as performers since 1994; for all its wit, Clerks was a poorly-acted film, and those who were in it now showed stronger skills.

Nonetheless, they’re consistently upstaged by professionals, especially due to a terrific performance from Alec Baldwin as evil billionaire Leonardo Leonardo. Based on his consistently terrific appearances as a guest host on Saturday Night Live, I always wondered why Baldwin didn’t do more comedy, and he seems to have found his niche as a voice-over artist. He’s simply hilarious as Leonardo, and his parts in these episodes really adds a lot to them. Unfortunately, Baldwin can’t be heard in all six, but he’s in the majority of the shows.

In the negative realm, I thought that Clerks depended far too strongly on “clever” pop culture references. At times it seemed as though the writers figured that simply alluding to some movie would make the program a witty send-up of that material. This isn’t the case. When a show like The Simpsons scores on a reference, it’s because they do something creative with it. It’s not enough to simply have Homer reenact a climactic film scene; there needs to be some sort of twist.

Too many of the references in Clerks were too simple, and they also seemed excessively obvious. Maybe this is just because Smith and I are from the same generation, so we’ll have the same touchpoints. Still, I didn’t think there was much challenge to the asides; they appeared easy and without much cleverness.

Although some will disagree, I thought that little in the shows seemed tasteless. Allegedly the main reason the program was axed so quickly stemmed from disinterest among sponsors; they didn’t want their products promoted during such an “out-there” show. However, I didn’t see much that I thought “pushed the envelope”, although there’s a spoof of the Challenger space shuttle disaster that seemed extremely crude and vulgar; I have no idea why those involved thought that subject was ripe for the comedic picking.

That terrible misstep aside, most of Clerks Uncensored provided a fairly entertaining experience. I can’t say that I laughed my socks off, but I generally found the shows to be watchable and entertaining. Ultimately, the quick death of Clerks is a shame just because we’ll never know if it could have become very good.

If you watch the early episodes of virtually any long-running comedy - from The Simpsons to Seinfeld to Friends - you’ll note that the earliest shows really weren’t terribly solid. Oh, they’re usually not bad, but it’s clear that it took these programs many months to mature and come into their own. Would Clerks have done the same? Maybe, maybe not, but we’ll never know. At least we can check out the six completed episodes and enjoy them for what they are.

The DVD:

Clerks Uncensored appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on these two single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As a whole, these episodes of Clerks looked pretty good, with most of the flaws I witnessed apparently due to the crude animation.

Sharpness usually seemed acceptably crisp and well-defined, though the extremely thick lines used for many of the drawings made it difficult to see clear boundaries. Some softness interfered on wider shots; at those times, I though the image could appear a bit fuzzy. Nonetheless, most of the shows were fairly detailed and accurate. Occasionally I saw examples of jagged edges, but moiré effects caused no problems. I also detected no signs of any source flaws.

Colors were a bit subdued but they seemed to be fairly accurate. I got the feeling that the semi-bland hues resulted from production design decisions, as I saw no indications that they came from poor reproduction; when we need to see brighter tones, they looked vivid and clean. Black levels also were dark and deep, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy. Ultimately, the DVD replicated the source material accurately.

The Dolby Surround soundtrack of Clerks provided a mix of limited depth, but it nonetheless seemed pretty solid for this kind of material. However, the positives I’ve attached to the track stem from its quality, not from the soundfield itself. The latter seemed pretty restricted. Music spread nicely across the forward channels, but effects and dialogue were almost totally kept in the center speaker. At times, those elements moved to the sides and panned across the channels, but those occasions were infrequent. The surrounds provided mild ambiance but added little else; this mix stayed very strongly to the front.

Happily, the quality of the audio helped balance out the limited soundfield. Dialogue occasionally displayed a little edginess, but most speech seemed natural and distinct, with no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and clear, and they showed no signs of distortion; they adequately reproduced the desired sounds. Best of the batch was the music heard during the shows, as the songs and score seemed bright and dynamic. Those elements displayed some nicely deep and tight bass and really added a solid punch to the proceedings. Clerks doesn’t offer a killer soundtrack, but the audio seemed sufficient for the material.

On this two-DVD set, we find a terrific complement of extras. Each disc includes three episodes of the show, and each of those starts with a newly-videotaped introduction from Jay and Silent Bob. These look surprisingly bad, but they’re moderately amusing, and they make a nice little addition to the set.

Another extra that spreads across both DVDs is an audio commentary from Kevin Smith, fellow executive producers Scott Mosier and Dave Mandel, supervising director Chris Bailey, and actors Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Jason Mewes. All seven were recorded together in the same session. Not surprisingly, Smith provides the most dominant presence, though Mandel actually challenges that status and vies for the crown of “Most Talkative Participant”. Most of the others’ remarks are spread pretty evenly through the rest of the track with the exception of Mewes, who only chimes in on a few random occasions.

This track is typical of those that accompany View Askew productions; each of those has been a group affair, and all of them - with the notable exception of the obnoxious track for the film version of Clerks - have offered a solid and compelling experience. The commentary for Clerks Uncensored is no exception, as we get a fun and lively discussion of the short life and miserable death of the show.

As is always the case with Smith, he and the others are quite frank about their thoughts, and they clearly indicate how they feel about their poor treatment from the unnamed network whose initials combine the letters “A”, “B” and “C”. (I guess there was a contractual stipulation that the offending channel not be named, for the only item bleeped out on this profane and naughty track is O’Halloran’s mention of the network.) The commentary moves in stages. Early parts are devoted to the origins of the show and how it fared on TV, and middle tracks tend to focus on the production process itself. The later episodes are a little less compelling at times as the participants start to run out of material. However, they still merit a listen for some occasional sparks, such as the rant Smith offers about a network exec he loathes. Despite some sags, the commentary is a pretty solid affair that I largely enjoyed.

One very unusual extra found on Clerks Uncensored will actually let you use the oft-neglected “angle” button on your remote. Running through all six episodes of the show are “animatics”. These are filmed storyboards that put each show into rough order; they’re matched with dialogue and other aspects of the audio mix to give the animators a crude idea of how the program will go. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of feature, but I think it’s a very generous addition nonetheless. Usually we find only a few snippets of this sort, so to get animatics for all six episodes is a genuine treat.

Next up are two fun featurettes. “The Clerks Style” lasts three minutes, 35 seconds, while “Character Development” runs for 10 minutes and 20 seconds. Both cover fairly similar ground as we hear Smith, Bailey, and Mandel discuss the visual evolution of the show. The shorter program looks mostly at the general art design for Clerks Animated, while the other piece focuses on the various characters and how their visual styles were established. As the three men speak, a mix of show clips and sketches appear on the screen. I enjoyed both of these programs, especially when we learn the actor originally cast as Leonardo Leonardo.

There are also two ads for the show. We get a “Film Festival Trailer” that appeared at some unnamed convention, and also the “Super Bowl TV Spot”. “DVD Credits” provides three screens of listings for the good folks who produced this fine package.

“Sneak Peeks” includes promos for other products. We get ads for Clerks (the movie), Chasing Amy, Princess Mononoke, and A Hard Day’s Night. Unlike many Buena Vista distributed DVDs, however, these do not appear automatically at the start of the disc; you can only access them through the appropriate menu.

Finally, the package includes some DVD-ROM features. “Destination Site” simply takes you to this site where you’ll find some Clerks Uncensored links. The site promises additional features in the future, but they aren’t there as of March 3 2001.

“Character Profiles” provides cool mini-biographies of five main characters: Dante, Randal, Silent Bob, Jay, and Leonardo. Each of these includes a mix of sound bites - from one for Bob up to seven for Jay - plus some factoids and even a little character turnaround that lets you view the person from all sides! In addition, there are small pictures of some minor participants at the bottom of the screen; we find little images of Mr. Plug, Charles Barkley, Lando, the Monkey and Giggling Girls. Very cool stuff!

The last DVD-ROM addition is also fun. The “Enhanced Script Viewer” includes three different aspects. There’s the final program in one box, while storyboards run beneath it. On the right side of the screen you’ll find each episode’s script. It’s a fun and informative way to watch the show, and I thought it added a lot to the DVD.

The animated TV version of Clerks died before its time, but at least we get to take in its six salvos on this excellent DVD release. I thought the shows displayed erratic quality, but I found them to be generally entertaining and amusing. This 2-DVD set presents them with solid picture and sound plus a wonderful complement of extras. It’s a very generous package that’s well worth its list price of $29.99. Kevin Smith fans will want to grab this winner immediately, and others should give it a look as well.

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