MADtv, Fox’s effort at the sketch comedy game, first aired to audiences in October 1995. It soon became a staple of the network for over a decade. While it never made the cultural impact of its contemporary, Saturday Night Live, the series managed to entertain audiences and launch careers for 14 seasons. That’s certainly no easy feat.
The CW put together a 20th anniversary reunion special for the program and surely due to the success that this homecoming received, the network officially brought the show back for its 15th year. With MADtv’s new season offering a brand new cast as well as plenty of familiar faces, we thought it’d be fitting to run down 14 of the series’ very best sketch offerings—one for every season!
Sopranos on PAX
This sketch latches onto the great trend of when cable TV aired in an edited form on syndicated network television as a means of grabbing some of the audience, even if the shows would end up horribly edited in the process. This pushes that topic to a crazy degree when The Sopranos is edited beyond recognition. Every other line breaks before an expletive with “gabagool” being one of the few words that makes it through the censoring. You’d think this joke might get old, but the sketch powers through an entire episode of The Sopranos, something that it can accomplish due to just how little of the episode is able to be shown. It’s a masterpiece of endurance and editing.
Also, Will Sasso’s Tony Soprano is a revelation and reason alone to watch this sketch.
“Tune in again next week from 9 to 9:03.”
Neighbor Camcorder War
This sketch is such a ridiculous idea. People are just taping people to the point that it’s crazy. It’s unhinged right from the moment it starts and it even feels like something cyclical straight out of Mr. Show. So much of this sketch is just people threatening each other, while on camera, and it’s great.
Kenny Rogers’ Jackass
This line of sketches sees the pairing of the ultra-popular series of the time, Jackass, with Sasso’s ridiculous portrayal of Kenny Rogers. These things go surprisingly well together, as you keep watching Rogers’ terrible ideas get twisted into “charming” stunts. These may not be the deepest stunts, but are more so just a showcase of how broad Sasso is capable of getting and how he can hold the bulk of a sketch on his shoulders.
Extreme Makeover Home Edition Deluxe Extreme Makeover Edition
MADtv was always eager to attack different pieces of television, reality or otherwise, but this is certainly one of their crazier deviations. Sure enough this sketch highlights how on Extreme Makeover Ty Pennington and his crew seem to make the show more about themselves than the family they’re helping, but there’s also plenty of unexpected chaos going on here.
Moments like Keegan-Michael Key’s character revealing he went blind by his grandmother leaving a peanut butter sandwich on his face and birds eating his eyes out, or the bonkers visual of them all living in a teacup are all highlights.
Malcolm X in the Middle
“You want to know what the worst part of childhood is? White people.”
MADtv would consistently nail how to mix pop culture parodies with social commentary—usually race issues—and this sketch is a prime example that you’d think would get more attention. The piece mixes Malcolm in the Middle’s cutting edge (for the time) unique perspective on growing up and all of its obstacles with Malcolm X’s own distinct outlook on life. The results being something so ridiculous, yet kind of stupidly obvious, that you’re upset that you didn’t think of it yourself.
I love that this sketch doesn’t try to swap Malcolm’s entire family. They’re still the lower-middle class white family from Fox’s popular sitcom, only inexplicably Malcolm X is living with them. It’s the right approach and it works well.
Stole My Parking Spot
Parking spots are serious business. The heights Yvonne Criddle takes in this sketch are a testament to MADtv’s absurdity.
East Side Locos Tagging
This sketch once more takes a simple idea and pushes it to the absolute max with the topic this time being gang tags. The juxtaposition here presented between style and this ridiculous territory makes this piece even stronger, too.
Trapped in the Cupboard
Believe it or not, an R. Kelly parody is on here! More than anything the sketch acts as an opportunity for Jordan Peele to show off his impression and lyrical ability. This parody ends up becoming all about R. Kelly talking about the contents of his cupboard as he tries to figure out his breakfast and what he’s going to eat.
As the epic of this “urban opera” expands, we see Peele’s R. Kelly working through everyday stuff like going to the supermarket and doing all sorts of errands on his quest back for cereal and re-stocking his cupboard. This mundane approach to the song is so silly that it works, with Peele’s performance anchoring it all.
Rather than just being a typical “acting class” sketch and hitting those tortured, pretentious artist clichés, the segment specifically looks at extras. It tries to take their background minutiae and elevate it to an art form. It’s a great idea to see real scenes going on in the class, while these students just walk around in the background while trying not to stand out. They pick these “extra pieces” like monologues, focusing on achievements in backgrounding.
Besides the strong concept, the sketch is also just a pretty perfect example of the smarm that acting types give where a lot of peacocking is done over the smallest brushes with celebrity.
This sketch begins as a simple enough lampoon of Steve Jobs and the long list (which is only longer now) of Apple products that he’s had a hand in. Then however, the sketch transforms into a commentary on America’s situation with Iraq at the time. Constant doublespeak reflects the stream of poor decisions made to inflame the US’s war efforts, while also “cleverly” reflecting selling points on Apple’s new product. It’s a great blend of subject matter in order to say something “informed”, but it also takes the easier route when possible and feels like it isn’t as groundbreaking as it could be.
This is apparently the “Holy Grail” of MADtv sketches from a lot of online communities and fandom. That being said—while this is one of MADtv’s better efforts, the humor feels a lot more heavy-handed now. A shoehorned, “There is no exit strategy” is meant to play as brilliant and kind of just feels forced. I’m not meaning to attack this sketch, it’s just kind of interesting if this is largely seen as their best effort when if you were to single out other sketch show’s strongest material you’d maybe be left with something with more staying power. I think a lot of the other sketches on this list not only manage to say more, but are even funnier in the process. That being said, the weird legacy of this sketch is enough to guarantee its inclusion here.
Deal or No Deal Man Up
This duo that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele would play a number of times in the series became fast favorites due to their infectious energy. This sketch is perhaps the superstitious duo at their most unleashed, while also being the most dated of the “Man Up” sketches, so it seemed like the right choice.
These guys very much feel like prototypes to the valet duo on Key & Peele, with these characters riffing on superstition rather than movies. These performances are honestly too much fun. They’re so theatrical and in sync, and it’s easy to see how they could sell themselves so well and why this sketch would be an element that they’d want to bring over in some capacity to their new show.
Also, here’s a bonus “Backstage Man-Up” which is maybe just as good. It puts Shakespeare and theater archetypes under the spotlight beautifully, but the quality of the video is just so inferior. Anyways, enjoy the bonus!
Renting a Movie With Larry
This sketch is just an example of how great Michael McDonald is as the piece allows him to run loose. There are plenty of examples and characters from the series that could showcase this, but this sketch is one that perhaps hasn’t been crammed down your throat. McDonald goes far in this one and you can see the rest of the cast struggling not to break at his madness. It’s also nuts to see the note of attempted murder that the sketch ends on, with there being no way a sketch would end like that now. A lot of these sketches highlight how dated the show now is, but this acts as a stark example of what a different time we live in now, comedically.
“What are you two abortions saying about my boy, Guarini?”
No Blacks on the TV Screen
This is truly a great sketch that I hadn’t seen until recently and it just blows me away. It takes one of SNL’s own, Chris Rock, and has Phil LaMarr do a pitch perfect impression of him. This sketch highlights what MADtv does best by combining a sublime parody with a biting social issue, targeting the topic of the lack of black people on network TV at the time. The sketch makes some great points all around while continuing to authentically ape Rock’s spoken word track, “No Sex in the Champagne Room,” from his Bigger and Blacker album.
Santa Claus is Caught
This sketch presents such an extremely simple idea like a child seeing Santa Claus, and then undercutting their extreme excitement with the brutal realization that Santa has to kill them. “April, I’m not a hit man. This is just Christmas business,” St. Nick tells Stephanie Weir’s frightened child. Weir’s childhood excitement paired with McDonald’s calculating, blunt Santa is the perfect mix. She keeps pleading for her life while he operates with the efficiency of some sort of cleaner, talking about his past murders and “accomplishments.”
Certain detours in the sketch see Santa kindly offering April the option of seeing her death coming, or it being a surprise. Or letting her have a few minutes of playing with her Christmas toys before finishing things. The sketch’s ending—which I won’t give away—is also perfect and a wonderful twist to everything. It shows off just how sadistic a monster Santa really is.
With original cast members willing to reprise their iconic roles, it should be interesting to see if any new pieces involving classic characters will be added to this list in time. It’s just nice to have MADtv back. More sketch comedy is never a bad thing.
MADtv’s new season airs Tuesdays at 9pm on The CW.