Probably an essential key to understanding Gen-X American college humor, The State was MTV's first true Sketch Comedy. Featuring a cast/crew of eleven twentysomethings which first coalesced as an improv/sketch group at NYU, it brought some of the most gleefully Dadaistic comedy in history to the airwaves. The show ran for four seasons before the creators made an ill-advised decision to jump to CBS (who canceled them after one special). A surprising number of the group have since gone on to greater things, frequently working together on such shows as Reno 911!, Viva Variety, Stella, and Stella's spiritual successor Michael And Michael Have Issues.
Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Wildly subverted. Doug is embarrassed by his dad for seemingly no reason other than he's a teen and unconsciously believes rebellion and being misunderstood make one cool. His dad is one of the coolest, most down-to-earth people in the world, to the point where his friends quickly prefer to hang out with his dad over him.
One sketch involves Michael Ian Black complaining that The State doesn't get to be in the audience of Unplugged, pointing out the (supposed) employees who kept them out sitting in Unplugged's audience.
Blatant Lies: The sketch in which a husband denies he's cheating on his wife, even as his mistress storms in on them. Avoids Implausible Deniability because his two-faced fast talk actually works.
Bowdlerize: "Tenement", an adaptation of a Eugene O'Neill-esque one act play, which replaces all the original profanities with unusual euphemisms.
Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: One "Hi, we're The State" sketch, in which the cast goes over all of the good deeds they do, and points out that they don't do any of the terrible things possibly attributed to them. Except sell babies on the black market ("...and we're not even sure it's really all that bad.").
Executive Meddling: Crosses the Line Twice Louie was written at the request of executives for a character with a catch phrase. He was made as ridiculous as possible in the hope that the matter would be dropped. Instead the group ended up liking the character and placed him in future sketches.
The team explains on commentary that the show was originally launched because MTV wanted their first foray into the "sketch show" genre, so the first season was very much about what the network wanted. They felt since MTV was a MUSIC NETWORK (Hey, imagine that!), that the sketches should occasionally have to do with a music theme. This explains the sketch where Slash from Guns n' Roses is in the woman's kitchen. This got less prevalent as the show progressed, by the 3rd and 4th season the gang was pretty much allowed to do whatever.
Five-Man Band: Although the group consisted of eleven people, certain members did tend to fall into certain archetypes.
Gag Penis: An infamous appearance on MTV Spring Break's Shut Up and Laugh where the cast acted out a scene, supposedly from Shakespeare's Macbeth, that contained an uncomfortable amount of focus on the ludicrously tight leotards worn by the cast.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: As long as Louie was clearly shown carrying a pair of golf balls, the network was willing to shrug it off as innuendo.
Ham-to-Ham Combat: The argument in "Hepcat" between Hepcat and his father, in which each line of dialogue is a melodramatic showstopper, despite not following from the previous line.
Home Version Soundtrack Replacement: Since The State was on MTV, they got to use a lot of popular songs during their run. Most of it had to be replaced with sound-alikes when the DVD came out. There was even an insert written by the members of the group about how they worked to make it as close as possible.
I Am Who??: Parodied with a sketch where the proprietors of an orphanage tell an orphan that he's actually a super-powered alien named Tozog. He's not. They never are.
Muppet Cameo: Played with in one sketch. Characters call out for help with simple tasks (like counting to 10 or tying their shoes) and a Sesame Street-like muppet appears to help out. The character then kills the muppet, so they can eat it.
Nonverbal Miscommunication: The International Sign For Choking -> The International Sign For My Friend Is Choking, I Don't Know The Heimlich Maneuver, Can You Call For Help -> The International Airport Sign For I Did Not Understand Your Last Message, I Was Raised In The Mountains Of Japan And Am Not Familiar With All The International Signs -> Japanese Kabuki for My Friend Is Almost Unconscious -> Tibetan Dance for The Waiter Is On Fire -> The International Sign for I Am On Fire -> the Pueblo sign for I Hate Accountants -> The Accountant Dance of War -> The International Cry of It's OK, Big Misunderstanding, Everything's Fine, Except For The Guy At Table 4, Who's Unconscious -> signals to the busboy to get a stretcher for Table 4 -> the busboy gets Table 4 a year's supply of radishes -> the customer at Table 4 stops choking
Intentionally invoked by Michael Patrick Jann and Todd Holoubek; both preferred standing behind the camera to acting.
Parodied with one opening monologue by David Wain, where he states that he doesn't get as much screen time as other cast members, but enjoys expressing himself through his behind-the-scenes editing work... followed by the opening credits being very noticeably re-edited to feature him as much as possible.
Tired of Running: Played with in a sketch where a prison escapee turns himself in several years after the search for him has been called off. The prison still has the unguarded wide-open gate he walked out through.
Lampooned in a sketch where the art community rallies around the idle notebook doodles of a bored 15-year-old girl.
Subverted with a sketch where a panel of snooty experts, asked to define "art", rapidly conclude that it's "like, paintings and stuff."
What Happened to the Mouse?: Totally inverted in the "Where's The Mousey?" sketch, where we see what happened, as a huge stuffed mouse crashes onto a family's dining room table, while they keep shouting about "the mousey" but admitting they don't know why.