When I heard that the CW is reviving MADtv, I had an immediate, That’s So Raven-style flashback to the second-rate sketch show’s most memorable skits: Stuart, the Vancome Lady, Lida and Melina — SNL‘s black-sheep little cousin may have been hit-and-miss quality-wise, and yeah, we’re all in agreement that Ms. Swan, the nail-salon-owning, squinty-eyed, walking Asian stereotype is a problem. (It was a problem back when it originally aired, too.) But dammit, MADtv was funny.
If you just happened to be, say, 11 or 12 when the show was at its peak, between 1999 and 2001, and if you just happened to be, oh, I don’t know, really into television, then MADtv was kind of made for me. Uh, I mean, you. The show’s humor wasn’t terribly sophisticated, but it was wonderfully silly, and the only thing it loved more than dragging out beloved characters for maybe one sketch too many was making fun of the most popular shows on the air. Here are 20 sketches that took aim at the then-current slate of network and cable offerings — or served up contemporary versions of old classics. (Apologies for the quality of some of these clips; blame the ’90s.)
Nicole Sullivan nails Calista Flockhart’s stuttering, breathless tone of voice in this parody of the legal dramedy that ran from 1997 to 2002. (Bonus points for having Robert Downey Jr. phone in his lines from prison; his character was written off the show for a pair of drug arrests in 2000 and 2001.)
This is just one of many Dawson’s Creek parodies that MADtv ran over the years that the show was on the air, from 1998 to 2003. This one has kids talking like teenagers who talk like adults.
And here’s another, this time under the guise of a Dateline segment about a new show that’s supposedly a response to the lack of minorities on TV. But Devon’s Creek isn’t much of a departure from the lily-white slate of network offerings: The show’s host asks one actor on set, played by Debra Wilson, “What are the similarities between you and your character?” “None, really,” she says. I mean, I’m black.”
Pretty White Kids with Problems
With a theme song by Lisa Loeb, the recurring Pretty White Kids with Problems skit is yet another Dawson’s Creek parody (although the intro also lists other “pretty white kids with problems” shows popular in the late 1990s, like Felicity, Party of Five, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as inspiration).
Malcolm X in the Middle
Malcolm in the Middle was really big for a while, guys! Remember?? Before Frankie Muniz got his license and started buying all those cars? Anyway, this one speaks for itself. “You want to know what the worst part about childhood is?” our narrator Malcolm X asks. “White people.”
The Sopranos on network TV
“This program has been edited for content,” we’re warned, which means the most audible word in this skit is “gabagool.” (Also, Will Sasso does an uncanny Tony Soprano.)
Lorraine on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
MADtv loved to trot out the grey-haired, high-waisted-pants-wearing, perpetually confused Lorraine, played by Mo Collins. Here, she’s a contestant on the American version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, with Alex Borstein doing a fabulous Regis Philbin.
Lorraine on The Weakest Link
I told you this show loved to trot out Lorraine — here she is on The Weakest Link, competing against two literal monkeys.
Andie MacDowell on Inside the Actors Studio
Not the real MacDowell, of course, but the real reason to watch this skit — any of its recurring installments — is Will Sasso, who once again proves his impersonation skills with a hilarious version of James Lipton (who is admittedly way too easy to parody). “Oh, did I mention that Dustin Hoffman was there? [Beat.] Because he was.”
George Carlin on Reading Caboose
This recurring parody of children’s educational shows like Reading Rainbow has a twist: two conspiracy-theory-obsessed hosts. In this skit, George Carlin pops in as “Ticket-Taker Sam,” who’s been “riding the rails since mean old Microsoft stole his formula for Windows 95.”
Whose Idea Was This, Anyway?
Again, Will Sasso is the MVP here, with a spot-on Drew Carey impression filled with nervous laughs that just emphasize how little the audience is laughing in this parody of the improv show Whose Line Is This, Anyway? “There are no scripts and no rehearsals, not unlike my sitcom!”
Behind the Music: Party All the Time
The reliably funny Aries Spears does a great Eddie Murphy in a spoof episode of VH1’s Behind the Music that investigates the making of the infamous “Party All the Time” with Rick James (Phil LaMarr).
Sluts and the City
Ok, yes, this Sex and the City spoof is all about slut-shaming the four leading ladies, in today’s parlance. But Nicole Sullivan, Alex Borstein, Mo Collins, and especially Michael McDonald (as Carrie) are great, and while I love the show’s exploration of single gals in their 30s enjoying casual sex, the running gag of the women falling into sexual encounters with every man they meet is pretty accurate. Touché, MADtv. (Also: if you think this is scandalous, just you wait till Game of Thrones premieres!)
Survivor: Cook Islands
MADtv‘s peak coincided with the peak of Survivor, which premiered to monster ratings in 2000. Here, Michael McDonald, playing host Jeff Probst, introduces a twist in the usual competition format: “Every day, we’re forced to live and work with people of different ethnicities. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be split up and compartmentalized like it used to be? Like it is in heaven?” (“Only on CBS, the Caucasian Broadcasting System.”)
The West Wing
Aaron Sorkin’s walk-and-talk style has been much parodied by now, but MADtv particularly nails the repetition of his dialogue:
“There’s a situation on the treaty”
“On the treaty.”
“A treaty situation.”
“I dated a hooker.”
“He dated one.”
Again, the fast-talking dialogue on Gilmore Girls was an easy target for parody when the show came out in 2000 (and still is). This spoof updates the theme song, too: “I will talk/ And talk where you talk/ We can talk talk talk/ We need to talk talk talk, me and you/ Talk talk talk talk!”
Will and Grace
Will and Grace premiered to not-great reviews in 1998, but by 2001, it had earned both critical acclaim and lots of awards. This skit pokes fun at the show at the height of its success, questioning its claim of realistically depicting gay life and calling out NBC’s back-patting promotion. “Thursdays on NBC, where the ‘C’ stands for courageous!”
MTV Cribs with George W. Bush
Here, Will Sasso as Dubya walks us through his crib — the White House: “Welcome to my crib. It’s named White House. You wanna know why it’s named White House? Your guess is as good as mine.”
All in the Family 2001
“This spring, CBS very carefully brings back one of television’s most controversial sitcoms.” Will Sasso yet again brings the fire with a pitch-perfect Carroll O’Connor in this revived version of the classic Norman Lear sitcom.
The Jeffersons ‘99
The Jeffersons are movin’ on up — to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation. The family — “the rightful heirs to Monticello — storms in during a tour of the estate and takes over the house. “Who’s master of the plantation now?”
BONUS ROUND! “No Blacks on the TV Screen”
This isn’t a TV spoof per se, but I couldn’t leave it out. Phil LaMarr does a scarily good Chris Rock in this spoof of the spoken-word track “No Sex (in the Champagne Room),” from his 1999 comedy album Bigger and Blacker. “No matter what the networks tell you,” LaMarr-as-Rock says, “there are no blacks on the TV screen. Oh, there are colored TVs, and black people who got ’em. But you don’t want a TV — you want a job. And there are no blacks on the TV screen.”