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"Too Funny To Fail: The Life & Death of the Dana Carvey Show" Review

How often have you seen sports teams stacked with talent fail to make the playoffs or movies made by talented people with proven track records just fall on their faces? Plenty, probably. Even with that in mind, in retrospect it seems impossible that the short-lived The Dana Carvey Show couldn't have been anything other than a smashing success though as the Hulu Original documentary Too Funny To Fail: The Life & Death of the Dana Carvey Show aptly shows, talent, verve, and boldness wasn't enough and everyone involved realizes that they pretty much did it to themselves.

In 1995 Dana Carvey was a hot property. Between a brilliant run during Saturday Night Live's 2nd Renaissance where he created iconic, still-quoted characters as the Church Lady, Hans & Franz, Grumpy Old Man, defining impressions of George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot and saw him alongside Phil Hartman, Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Jan Hooks and Victoria Jackson, later pairing up with Mike Myers as Garth to Myer's Wayne which led to two Wayne's World movies, he was The Man.

So when he and SNL writer Robert Smigel (who also created/performs Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog) were shopping a prime-time comedy sketch show, it's easy to understand why ABC eagerly agreed to air it and gifted it a golden time slot after the #1 show Home Improvement. They then went out and gathered a Murderers' Row of performers and writers including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis C.K, Charlie Kaufman (writer of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), Dino Stamatopoulos (Star-Burns on Community), and Robert Carlock (showrunner on 30 Rock co-creator of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) to bring the party to life with a bold and innovative sketch comedy show.

Or at least that was the plan which exploded within minutes of the first episode's opening sketch which featured Carvey as Bill Clinton breast-feeding a baby (fake), puppies and kittens (real) after having eight functioning breasts added to his body. ABC thought they were getting Church Lady; they got....something else. Panic struck and sponsors bailed. While they tried to right the self-torpedoed ship, they were doomed.

With interviews with the biggest names involved - oddly, Carvey gets less screen time than Carell and Colbert - and lots of brief clips from the show, Too Funny To Fail memorializes the trainwreck. While it would be tempting to blame a timid network or the show being too ahead of its time, the participants freely cop to not understanding the environment they were airing in. (Smigel hadn't even seen Home Improvement until they'd been on a month and when he finally watched the show he realized just how catastrophically they'd erred and created an audience-banishing mismatch.)

If it had been on late at night or on cable, it probably would've lasted longer. As it was, it was impressive enough to those who saw it - a teen-aged Bill Hader bought a VCR just to tape it - that it launched Carell's and Colbert's careers with The Daily Show because producers loved a sketch they'd performed. Carvey himself is sanguine about the experience as it freed him to go back to his first love of standup and raise his two sons.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on Hulu.


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