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"Hiring you boys based on your performance in the potato sack race was the worst decision I ever made!"
—~ Some C.E.O.
Michael Black: The gall -- the unmitigated gall -- of those girls!
Watching Stella is a jarring experience. Featuring three guys from The State, one of whom teaches romantic comedy screenwriting at NYU, one who is a permanent fixture on VH-1's I Love the <decade>s' series, and another who plays The Warden on Superjail!, you can only watch it expecting a very specific, very strange sense of comedy. Stella is about as close as American television gets to absurdist Britcoms like Father Ted, Black Books and Spaced, while still maintaining its own sense of pseudo-Borscht Belt Vaudevillain shtick that only Americans can appreciate fully. The comedy of Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black and David Wain is definitely not for everybody, and if it's for anybody at all, they're not really enough to keep a television show running for very long.
Stella did not start out as a television show, but as a live stage variety show with the three comedians performing small segues between acts. Eventually, they began filming short films on their own starring the characters of themselves not actually as themselves, and they developed a demand. Most of the shorts feature cameos by well known comedians, deeply disturbing humor and plenty of gay subtext. Not surprisingly, the show had a single half-season on Comedy Central, a slavishly devoted cult following and a reputation for being one of the most intellectually stupefying experiences ever made for American television.
The concept is simple: Michael, Michael and David are wacky, surreal versions of themselves who live in a fabulously well appointed Brooklyn apartment, dress in business suits in all occasions and don't appear to do anything at all to pay for it. They spend their time in wacky sitcom plots, most of which are derived from 1980s era culture, and spend 22 minutes per episode making most other artists of Random Humor look like amateurs. They are not meant to be likable characters at all. That is exactly what they planned.
This show is about deconstructing tropes, so this list is far from conclusive. Just about any trope that applies to sitcoms, romantic comedies or 80s teen flicks is used in Stella to some degree. In this regard it is similar to the 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer, which the trio and many of their fellow The State alumni are also responsible for.
This show provides examples of:
- An Aesop: Every single episode is ultimately about the power of friendship. Seemingly subverted, but also played oddly straight, every time.
- Alter Ego Acting: Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black and David Wain as "Michael Showalter", "Michael Ian Black" and "David Wain."
- Aside Glance: The most over-the-top, lampshaded versions of all time.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: In one episode, the guys approach the camera to talk their dilemma over with the audience. During this, it cuts to the other characters looking baffled at their behaviour, not seeing a camera or hearing the viewers respond.
- British Brevity: The cable show had a total of 10 episodes, and is unlikely to ever be picked back up.
- Butt Monkey: David Wain's character. That he's the Butt Monkey AND The Casanova is deliberate.
- The Cameo: Tons, with a particularly big role from Sam Rockwell.
- Catch Phrase: After locking eyes with a woman, David Wain will whisper, "What are we doing?" to prompt some immediate face-sucking.
- Showalter's "We don't HAVE.... this money."
- "I want you inside me." (always from a guy)
- Chekhov's Gunman: At the end of the last episode made, "Amusement Park", it is revealed that all of the characters that Phil Lord played in previous episodes (which were at first just a case of You Look Familiar) were actually all the same character, observing the three to prepare a "virtual reality" friendship test for them, that was commissioned by the girls.
- Cloudcuckoolander: The whole damn show, all the time, never turning off.
- Cursed with Awesome: David's bafflingly well-appointed, incredibly successful coffee shop making him miss his friends.
- Dawson Casting: One episode features the guys taking a paper route. All of the fellow paperboys (and girls) are easily in their mid 20's with no attempt to hide it. However, the kids who bully them are actually children.
- Dead All Along: Turns out to be the case of the mountain man in "Camping", after the guys mistakenly believe that they killed and at him. The ranger informs them at the end
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Showalter's general response to aggression, literally.
- The Ghost:
- A running gag is for one member to make an offhand reference to "Marcus." Another member asks, "Who the fuck is Marcus?" The original member just shakes his head in equal bewilderment, saying, "I know, I know!"
- Gary Meadows starts out at a ghost, but shows up several episodes later played by Sam Rockwell.
- Green Aesop: About the dangers of over-farming land. Wait, no. Over-farming the floor of your apartment.
- Healing Factor: The guys.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: The extremely rare menage a trois version, no less.
- Horrible Camping Trip: The "Camping" episode nose-dives wildly into this within less than a minute of entering the woods.
- Ho Yay: The pre-Comedy Central shorts played this up a lot with an everpresent enormous dildo, but it was a precondition by the network that the so-called "gay humor" stop. They didn't stop and the thus the show did.
- Incredibly Lame Fun: When the boys couldn't go to the amusement park, they decided to improvise fun rides with what they had at their home; naturally, their alternatives don't quite match up to the real thing, but they make due.
- Ineffectual Loner: Michael Showalter, nine times out of ten.
- My Friends and Zoidberg: And David Wain, to the point where some instances swap his name with a different one (see the end of "Paper Route").
- Porn Stache: Fake ones, purchased from a friend of the gang.
- Shout-Out: Twice to Wet Hot American Summer in the Janeane Garafolo episode.
- Start My Own: Michael Black and David's response to Showalter working at a coffee shop.
- Troperiffic: Largely the point.
- Throwing Out the Script: Parodied in the second episode.
"You know, I was going to come up here today, read this fancy speech I had written, then I was going to stop in the middle, crumple it up, throw it away, start speaking from the heart. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to read from my prepared remarks instead."
- Twist Ending: As it turns out, their landlord is really Mengele. The Nazi one. May also count as Refuge in Audacity.
- And that's just The Pilot- this trope is later parodied further in "Camping". Throughout the episode, they befriend a wise mountain man, but wind up "accidentally" killing and then eating him. At the end, the ranger reveals the twist that the mountain man was Dead All Along and that they had only met his ghost; his explanation is accompanied by hilarious altered flashbacks which show the mountain man wearing a white sheet signifying he was a ghost, as well as the trio eating hamburgers and french fries instead of the mountain man's cooked remains. Finally in the last episode made, "Amusement Park", it is shown that the entire episode's events were part of a virtual reality friendship test that was "so real, it was reality", as well as the accompanying revelation about Phil Lord's character shown under Chekhov's Gunman.
- Word Salad Title: The comedy group changed their name from Midnight Expressions to Stella, named after the unborn daughter of the club manager who gave them their first gig.