“It’s worth making the point that when we were making this, we thought we were making totally mainstream comedy,” Michael Ian Black earnestly posits during the DVD commentary track for “Camping,” the sixth episode in the first and only season of “Stella.” It’s tough to gauge to what degree such a comment should be taken as jest. Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain, the trio who make up the sketch comedy troupe of the same name, are the consummate class clowns. Black’s statement seems like the butt of some kind of Kaufman-esque bit—surely no one can mistake “Stella” for mainstream comedy.
Don’t get me wrong, the unique brand of buffoonery is hilarious—in the most instinctual, gut-vibrating way imaginable—it just isn’t all that difficult to deduce why the show didn’t last beyond its 10th episode. The troupe straddles the line between stupid-smart in a way that few have before. It’s certainly not plain stupid—the trio behind Wet Hot American Summer couldn’t pull that off if they tried—nor does it quite fit the self-aware stupidity popularized by the Adam McKay/Will Ferrell filmic duo or the characters of Sacha Baron Cohen. Rather, “Stella” is stupid comedy unaware of its own smarts, or at least violently rejecting them.
The premise is as follows: three guys in suits bungle the outlandish situations they regularly find themselves in, using their powers of intelligence, which actually borders on mental retardation. No wonder the vast majority of the college-aged viewing audience, looking for a fix of super-hip indie comedy, scratched their bedheads in utter confusion at the skunk tails the trio have stuffed into their suit pants.
“Stella” wasn’t destined for long-term success, which seems the best for all those involved. As much faith as I have in the trio’s brilliance, it seems difficult to imagine that the guys would’ve been able to keep their own hyperbolic stupidity fresh into another season. Hell, as they readily admit intermittently throughout the DVD commentary, they were beginning to exhibit signs of duress halfway through the first one. No worries. Thanks to this new age of hyper-nostalgia, partially ushered in by the advent of TV series DVDs, it’s possible to have a cult hit the year after your show is cancelled, which seemed to be the fate of “Stella” from the beginning. A two-disc, 10-episode, shrink-wrapped package is exactly the perfect size for preserving the show’s wonderful, if noticeably flawed, legacy of dangerous idiocy.