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Series / Stella (US)

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Watching Stella is a jarring experience. Featuring three guys from The State, one of whom teaches romantic comedy screenwriting at NYU, one who is a permanent fixture on VH-1's I Love the Exties' series, and another who plays The Warden on Superjail!, you can only watch it expecting a very specific, very strange sense of comedy. Stella is about as close as American television gets to absurdist Britcoms like Father Ted, Black Books and Spaced, while still maintaining its own sense of pseudo-Borscht Belt Vaudevillain shtick that only Americans can appreciate fully. The comedy of Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black and David Wain is definitely not for everybody, and if it's for anybody at all, they're not really enough to keep a television show running for very long.

Stella did not start out as a television show, but as a live stage variety show with the three comedians performing small segues between acts. Eventually, they began filming short films on their own starring the characters of themselves not actually as themselves, and they developed a demand. Most of the shorts feature cameos by well known comedians and future stars such as Bradley Cooper, deeply disturbing humor and plenty of Ho Yay. Not surprisingly, the show had a single ten-episode season on Comedy Central, a slavishly devoted cult following and a reputation for being one of the most intellectually stupefying experiences ever made for American television.

The concept is simple: Michael, Michael and David are wacky, surreal versions of themselves who live in a fabulously well-appointed Brooklyn apartment, dress in business suits in all occasions and don't appear to do anything at all to pay for it. They spend their time in wacky sitcom plots, most of which are derived from 1980s era culture, and spend 22 minutes per episode making most other artists of Surreal Humor look like amateurs. They are not meant to be likable characters at all. That is exactly what they planned.

This show is about deconstructing tropes, so this list is far from conclusive. Just about any trope that applies to sitcoms, romantic comedies or '80s teen flicks is used in Stella to some degree. In this regard it is similar to the 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer, which the trio and many of their fellow The State alumni are also responsible for.

Not to be confused with the British TV Show of the same name.

Stella provides examples of the following tropes:

  • An Aesop: Every single episode is ultimately about the power of friendship. Seemingly subverted, but also played oddly straight, every time.
  • Alter-Ego Acting: Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black and David Wain as "Michael Showalter", "Michael Ian Black" and "David Wain".
  • Anti-Hero: Black tends towards this. He's usually the first to suggest illicit activities.
  • Aside Glance: The most over-the-top, lampshaded versions of all time.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "Write a song or build a bridge or write a song about a bridge."
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In one episode, the guys approach the camera to talk their dilemma over with the audience. During this, it cuts to the other characters looking baffled at their behaviour, not seeing a camera or hearing the viewers respond.
  • British Brevity: The show had a total of 10 episodes, and is unlikely to ever be picked back up.
  • Butt-Monkey: David Wain's character. That he's the Butt-Monkey AND The Casanova is deliberate.
  • The Cameo: Tons, with a particularly big role from Sam Rockwell.
  • Catchphrase
    • After locking eyes with a woman, David Wain will whisper, "What are we doing?" to prompt some immediate face-sucking.
    • Showalter's "We don't have... this money."
    • "I want you inside me." (always from a guy)
  • Chekhov's Gunman: At the end of the last episode made, "Amusement Park", it is revealed that all of the characters that Phil Lord played in previous episodes (which were at first just a case of You Look Familiar) were actually all the same character, observing the three to prepare a "virtual reality" friendship test for them, that was commissioned by the girls.
  • Cloudcuckooland: No other characters manage to out-crazy Michael, Michael and David, but they all seem to share the same fragile grip on reality, and even the ones who seem relatively normal never notice or remark on just how weird the guys really are.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The whole damn show, all the time, never turning off.
  • Cursed with Awesome: David's bafflingly well-appointed, incredibly successful coffee shop making him miss his friends.
  • Dead All Along: Turns out to be the case of the mountain man in "Camping", after the guys mistakenly believe that they killed and ate him. The ranger informs them at the end that they were actually eating burgers and french fries (just roll with it) and that they really did kill a guy, but he was just some loser backpacker, so nobody cares.
  • Dissimile: "I like my coffee the same way I like my women: Strong, black, and proud."
  • Distaff Counterpart: Jennifer, Stacy and Amy, the girls that live on the lower floor. They're slightly more functional compared to Michael, Michael and David, but they have a similar dynamic between them and can be just as immature.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Showalter's general response to aggression, literally.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The guys are capable of going through plot points in the space of an afternoon, from start to finish, that could support an entire season on most other shows.
  • The Ghost
    • A running gag in the stage show is for one member to make an offhand reference to "Marcus." Another member asks, "Who the fuck is Marcus?" The original member just shakes his head in equal bewilderment, saying, "I know, I know!"
    • Gary Meadows starts out at a ghost, but shows up several episodes later played by Sam Rockwell.
  • Green Aesop: About the dangers of over-farming land. Wait, no. Over-farming the floor of your apartment.
  • Healing Factor: The guys.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: The extremely rare ménage à trois version, no less.
  • Horrible Camping Trip: The "Camping" episode nose-dives wildly into this within less than a minute of entering the woods.
  • Incredibly Lame Fun: When the boys couldn't go to the amusement park, they decided to improvise fun rides with what they had at their home; naturally, their alternatives don't quite match up to the real thing, but they make do.
  • Ineffectual Loner: Michael Showalter, nine times out of ten.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: Most of the show. Unless it doesn't, which happens quite often as well.
  • Look Behind You: A novelist with writer's block manages to distract the guys and steal their manuscript by shouting "Oh my gosh! A baby deer!", despite the fact that they weren't even outdoors. Long after she's gone, they're still discussing whether or not there really was a deer.
  • Sorry, I Left the BGM On: Used oddly when David starts macking on the real estate agent to the sultry sax refrain from "Baker Street". No source is provided for the music in-show, but it's apparently still diegetic; when we cut to Michael and Michael arguing on the patio, the song can still be heard blaring from inside the condo.
  • Made of Iron: In the Rule of Funny sense. They sometimes get themselves or others in accidents that would kill them in real life, but they don't miss a beat in the show.
  • Money to Throw Away: The guys fantasize about being wealthy enough to toss wads of cash out of a moving limousine. They later become rich off their farming and do just that, and then immediately regret it when the bank forecloses on their apartment/farm because they threw away all of their money and couldn't pay off their loan.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: And David Wain, to the point where some instances swap his name with a different one (see the end of "Paper Route").
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. There are two guys named "Michael", but they're easy to tell apart.
  • Porn Stache: Fake ones, purchased from a mustache seller played by Sam Rockwell.
  • Rule of Funny: The only consistent rule.
  • Short-Runners: One season, ten episodes, the end.
  • Shout-Out: Twice to Wet Hot American Summer in the Janeane Garafolo episode.
  • Start My Own: Michael Ian Black and David's response to Showalter working at a coffee shop.
  • Surreal Humor: The constant use of the Rule of Funny helps too.
  • Tableau: How the guys answer the door.
  • Troperiffic: Largely the point.
  • Throwing Out the Script: Parodied in the second episode.
    "You know, I was going to come up here today, read this fancy speech I had written, then I was going to stop in the middle, crumple it up, throw it away, start speaking from the heart. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to read from my prepared remarks instead."
  • Twist Ending
    • As it turns out, their landlord is really Mengele. The Nazi one. May also count as Refuge in Audacity.
    • And that's just The Pilot. this trope is later parodied further in "Camping". Throughout the episode, they befriend a wise mountain man, but wind up "accidentally" killing and then eating him. At the end, the ranger reveals the twist that the mountain man was Dead All Along and that they had only met his ghost; his explanation is accompanied by hilarious altered flashbacks which show the mountain man wearing a white sheet signifying he was a ghost, as well as the trio eating hamburgers and french fries instead of the mountain man's cooked remains (they really did kill a guy, though). Finally in the last episode made, "Amusement Park", it is shown that the entire episode's events were part of a virtual reality friendship test that was "so real, it was reality", as well as the accompanying revelation about Phil Lord's character shown under Chekhov's Gunman.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Played with. The guys cause all sorts of mayhem and most of the time they barely even notice, let alone care. Other times they feel terrible about it and do their best to fix the problem, as seen when they accidentally run over a young paperboy and take over his route to make it up to the kid while he recovers (they also gift him with an antique harpsichord). Whether they try to make amends or not, however, things always work out for them in the end.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Michael, Michael & David and the girls in the apartment beneath theirs alternate between busting each other's chops and going to surprising lengths to do nice things for each other.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: When she corners the trio, we find out the weakness of Janeane Garofalo's character is baloney from a sandwich Showalter had been carrying. Not to be outdone, she stops them from chasing her by hanging an "Out of Order" sign on their rickshaw, knowing they'd be too afraid/stupid to call her bluff.
  • Word Salad Title: The comedy group changed their name from Midnight Expressions to Stella, named after the unborn daughter of the club manager who gave them their first gig.