George Carlin: It’s Bad For Ya [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MPI Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (28th December 2009).
The Show

It’s hard to believe that we now live in a world without George Carlin.

Although Carlin is now gone, his memory lives on and he will certainly be remembered for changing the face of comedy forever. His brash, sardonic comedic style was the very definition of polarizing; you either liked Carlin and his often negative, harsh and satirical outlook on life or you didn’t. He was famous for his anti-religious, anti-big-business, anti-Republican, and anti-establishment jokes. His humor often offended those who attended church and had less-than-liberal ideals. His latest, and last special was no different; even in his old age, Carlin was still steadfast in his beliefs and his message and tone changed very little.

He disliked the “Religious Right” but that’s not to say that if you are a like-minded individual who shares certain “leftist” or “atheistic” thoughts that you wouldn’t be equally offended by the man, as his outrageous, often flippant use of every and any four-letter word he could think of might dishearten even the most open minded person. But, I’ll say this, as I can be classified as neither of those groups – I’m not religious or offended by language – I absolutely love his bitting social commentary. Carlin’s life = bullshit mentality is closer to my own motto than I care to admit (although, that statement says it clear and pointedly enough, I guess) and thus his spiel on various topics speaks almost directly to me and I always found myself in agreement with most of his thoughts.

Although he started his career as a stand up comedian who transitioned to comedy albums, in the late 1970's, as his star began to fade, Carlin was approached by the then burgeoning cable network, the Home Box Office. After a few months of negotiations, the network and Carlin ended up signing a deal that required him to produce regular hour-long specials for the network, and so Carlin began writing a new show every two or three years. “It’s Bad for Ya” is his 14th and final special for HBO, licensed to MPI for home video for release on DVD and Blu-ray. Truly, I can’t think of a better send off for the comedian, as the 68-minute program is extremely funny and a very high note for Carlin to end on.

Too be frank, George’s previous two specials – “Complaints and Grievances” (2001) and “Life Is Worth Losing” (2005) were not some of the comedians best. Understandable as during those two specials he was battling addiction, running in and out of rehab, and generally disenchanted with the world (more so than usual). Although there were parts of those specials there were funny, most of the time Carlin came off as an angry man being angry, and not an angry man channeling his hate and spite into art for people to enjoy. Happily, “It’s Bad for Ya” sees Carlin not exactly returning to form, but at least back on top. With his 14th special he finally seems to have found a nice middle; he stopped trying to recapture his glory days and embraces himself wholly, faults, old age and all.

In the special he discusses getting old and how people expect less and less of you as you age (“you can even shit your pants and no one says a thing”); he talks about death, to which he has an amusing bit about the rules that go with erasing someone from your address book after they die, and contemplates the realities of heaven and hell, finally reaching the conclusion that neither exist. He talks about parenting and children, our education system in the United States and the “stupidification” of America. He ponders his mortality, in an extremely reverent bit considering the fact that he would be dead in less than a year of this specials taping. And yet, although he was surely in declining health, and ever aware of his old age, Carlin’s stage presence is excellent in “It’s Bad for Ya.” He seems as lively and energetic as ever, never stopping once in his hour long special for a breather. He’s constantly going; punch line after punch line, one gigantic long running, free flowing dialogue on the absolute culmination of everything he’s ever thought. He’s hilarious and concise, an to paraphrase the specials tagline, Carlin ‘cuts the crap.’ He’s mindful and to the point, as he’s always been, but, ironically, he seems to be in better form in this special than he had been in recent years. It’s a bittersweet conclusion to an excellent career and although I lament that this will be the last thing were ever see from Mr. Carlin, “It’s Bad for Ya” is a nice, solid finale.

Video

Carlin would be proud of (or maybe appalled by, considering his stance on materialism and technology) the 1.78:1 widescreen 1080i VC-1 encoded high-definition transfer that his last comedy special has received on Blu-ray. Sharpness and contrast is genuinely excellent, with all the wrinkles and imperfections of the comedians face standing out. Set on a stage with some sort of office, study or den backdrop, the high-definition video source captures all the detail in the seat covers and cushions, and the various wood grains of the background. The black level is positively superb; although the crowd is shrouded in an impenetrable blackness, Carlin himself, on stage, in his usual black-on-black attire (black shirt and black pants), is well delineated. Not only can one see the crinkles and folds of his outfit as he walks around the stage, but the top and bottom of his getup is notably separated, and in close ups, the fuzz of his sweater is easy to see. Despite being an interlaced disc, I saw no noticed image break up, aliasing or combing errors. Absolutely nothing that outright screamed out, drawing attention to the discs interlaced origins. Likewise, the high bitrate VC-1 encode shows no signs of artifacting and retains a clean presence, something that is a welcomed attribute considering that the HBO broadcast I saw when the special originally aired was (as is the case with most HDTV from the bit-starved service I receive from Time Warner Cable) riddled with macro-blocking and nasty artifacts. All in all, this is a very nice looking disc.

Audio

Although the packaging only states that a plain-Jane Dolby Digital soundtrack is included here, the artwork is in fact, quite thankfully, wrong. Instead, MPI has upgraded the comedy special to the clarity of lossless sound; via an English PCM Uncompressed 2.0 Stereo mix (48kHz/16-bit/1.5 Mbps). The mix is reserved but dialogue is tight, clear and always intelligible which is really the only thing that matters with a stage production like this. Audience laughter and chatter is surprisingly well separated in the mix and even though “It’s Bad For Ya” is indeed a 2.0 mix, when matrixed into a 5.1 or 7.1 array, rears become quite decent and natural. Although it won’t knock your socks off, this is an entirely acceptable track especially when you consider that this is a dialog focused show of a guy just telling jokes on stage.
Optional English subtitles are included.

Extras

“George Carlin: It’s Bad For Ya” arrives on blu-ray from MPI Video with a meager but completely satisfying extras package. Two clips from previous appearances by Carlin are included and are presented in VC-1 encoded standard definition. A further look at the supplements is offered below:

Interesting, candid, and at times extremely funny, “Too Hip for the Room” is an interview with the late comedian, recorded in November 2007 in promotion for his then so-to-be-coming HBO special. Basically this is a highlight reel of 3-hour discussion with Carlin shot for the Archive of American Television. He talks about his early life, the start of his career, his transition from comedy albums to hour long TV special for HBO, finding himself and discovering who he was as an artist, and even talks about his mothers reaction to his act. Like the special it supplements, “Too Hip for the Room” is an extremely fitting send off for the comedic legend. Well worth a watch, although I wish that MPI had decided to include the entire 3-hour discussion, and not just this excerpt. Presented in 16x9-enhanced standard definition. 30 minutes 34 seconds.

Less interesting, but still extremely entertaining is “Carlin on the Jackie Gleason Show.” This vintage TV clip appearance by Carlin showcases his biting wit and acerbic personality, although his act is a far more toned down version of the more modern George we all know today. His comedy is still raunchy, but not nearly as callous or daring as it eventually became, which isn’t all that surprising considering this was shot for a TV audience in 1969. 1.33:1 standard definition. 7 minutes 56 seconds.

Overall

Carlin’s comedy never was for everyone, but fans of his shouldn’t hesitate to pick up his extremely solid final comedy special, which is even better on Blu-ray. Video is sharp and rewarding; a clear upgrade over the DVD and broadcast, and the audio is acceptable considering the limitations of the source. A 30-minute interview with the late comedian bookends an already commendable package. Recommended.

The Show: B Video: B Audio: C Extras: D+ Overall: C+

 


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