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What Louis Armstrong once said of jazz--"If you have to ask what it is, you'll never know"--also applies to The State, MTV’s first sketch series that ran for three seasons in the 1990s. I couldn't begin to tell you why a word-for-word, cackle-for-cackle recreation of The Cannonball Run's blooper credits is bat-guano brilliant. But it is. The seamless ensemble is 11-strong; Some you will recognize (Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Robert Ben Garant of Reno 911, and Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter from Stella and Michael and Michael Have Issues), but The State is of much more than before-they-were-famous interest. It is a breakneck-paced, ceaselessly inventive show that holds up 14 years later. As did Your Show of Shows, sketches mostly steer clear of topical references that would date the series. How to characterize The State? Like Monty Python's Flying Circus, punch lines are optional. Unlike Saturday Night Live, the troupe was less interested in creating marketable recurring characters than they were in goofing on a concept (witness Ken Marino's Louie, "the guy who comes in and says his catchphrase over and over again"). Insipid television is an irresistible satirical target. There is a cereal commercial that gives new meaning to the phrase "idiot box,” and a faux-promo for an Abraham Lincoln bio that plays more like an E! Channel True Hollywood Story. Funny enough, but Ernie Kovacs was goofing on TV 40 years earlier. What The State brings to the party is inspired absurdity. In one sketch, a homeowner confronts his postman who delivers tacos instead of the mail. In another, two singers perform a Barry White-style ode to "240 pounds of pudding." Arguably the high point of the series is a show-stopping musical production number, "Porcupine Racetrack." The State has long been revered by hipper comedy aficionados, but not so much by the mainstream press. Included among this set’s generous extra features is one of the show’s original promos that highlights the scathing reviews the show had received (negative two stars from The New York Post!). Other extras include ensemble commentaries, the pilot episode, unaired sketches, and some hilarious appearances on other MTV shows, including The Jon Stewart Show and the spring break special, Shut Up and Laugh, Panama City in which the leotarded troupe performs a, shall we say, extended Shakespearean scene. The loss of the show’s original soundtrack of popular rock songs due to prohibitively expensive music rights could make devotees of this series red and blue. But it shouldn't be a deal breaker. There is little else about The State that is generic. --Donald Liebenson