Stella is a television program airing on Comedy Central created by, produced by, written by, and starring Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain as themselves, the Three Guys. Pitched as
dumb comedy in a suit, Stella is, in fact, very smart comedy in a suit.
According to their website, Black, Showalter, and Wain met at New York University in 1988, and while there helped to form The State, a comedy troupe that ended up becoming a television program on MTV. After it tanked, the three worked together sporadically (including being mainly responsible for Wet Hot American Summer) until 1997, when they formed Stella, a standup comedy group that appeared at The Fez, a nightclub in New York City. They performed there for seven years, and their show became known as an extremely funny one to see or perform in, featuring a constant supply of well-known guests, including
Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller, David Cross, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. In 2005, they were given the chance to turn their comedy into a show. And that they did.
The show, like many other successful sitcoms, has nearly no backstory at all: the Three Guys live in an apartment together in the city. Their three best friends, rivals, and complements are the Three Girls, who live in the apartment directly below them. Although at least one of the Girls has a job, none of the Guys has one, except within individual episodes. Their lifestyles are completely at odds with their financial situation: they have a delightfully well-appointed apartment, a constant rotation of good suits, and any number of any other commodities.
Dialogue in Stella is somewhere between a series of clichés and fabulous one-liners. The typical exchange between characters moves so fast and switches paradigms so frequently that it’s hard to find any slow passage that lasts more than a few seconds. The show expects you to come to the table having seen any number of inane sitcoms and buddy movies, and moreover expects you to be sick of them. By slapping together clichés and turning them on their head, the show uses a technique which serves it quite well: no matter how confident you are in where the dialogue is headed next, even odds are that you’re wrong. The humor in the show is composed of equal parts of absurdity and surprise.
The Three Guys are charmingly naïve; other than that and a few specific quirks, their personalities are highly mutable in order to accommodate the humor. In some episodes, they behave like twenty year olds with an overdeveloped sense of Xtremity and a desire to make something of themselves; in others, they may as well be fourteen year old girls trying to prove that they’re just as good as everybody else; in others, they’re just generic twenty- or thirty-somethings with nothing good to do. This decision on the part of the writers is not at all detrimental; these paradigm shifts are executed smoothly, no matter how quickly they happen.
The absurdity element of Stella shows itself most strongly in the plots. Each episode takes the Three Guys through lifestyle changes that should take place over the course of years; they can basically go anywhere and do anything that they want. We’ll move from them rewriting their novel from memory in the course of forty-five minutes to a high-speed rickshaw chase through perilous city streets. Utterly important to enjoying the show is a healthy sense of irony and an appreciation of ludicrosity and contrivance — without it, you’ll be left whining about a lack of believability.
At this point, the future of Stella is in doubt. Comedy Central has officially decided not to renew the show for a second season, despite the best efforts of petitioning fans. Although Stella plans on appearing onstage again in the future, the odds are against our seeing the show back on the air.
Looking back over what I have written, I see that I have not done a very good job of selling the show. That, I believe, is inherent in its premise and approach. I must urge you to see this show before it disappears forever; see it and enjoy it. Its writers are masterful at crafting a sort of intelligent humor that is so rare that one forgets it exists.
After the Three Guys are evicted from their apartment, they buy fake moustaches and try to fool their landlord into giving it to them again.
Michael Ian Black runs a campaign for President of the Board at their apartment building so that the rules can be changed to allow the Three Guys to have more fun. David, completely disgruntled, is hired to assassinate Michael.
- Office Party
The Three Guys invite themselves to Amy’s office party, where they are humiliated by her bosses. They don fake moustaches once again in order to get back at them at the company picnic, and end up being hired to manage The Big Account.
- Coffee Shop
After hearing the Three Girls fighting, the Three Guys tell them the story of how they were almost driven apart when they each began working at a different coffee shop.
- Paper Route
After running over their paperboy, the Three Guys take over his paper route while he’s in the hospital.
- Meeting Girls
Michael and Michael each get a girlfriend, and almost lose their friendship with David.
The Three Guys get lost in the woods while camping, and are befriended by the lost Mountain Man.
After talking to their favorite novelist, the Three Guys write a novel of their own, only to have it stolen.
To save money, the Three Guys begin growing vegetables in their apartment. Unfortunately, they flood the Three Girls’ apartment and overplant the land, and are forced to get jobs as migrant workers to pay for the damage.
- Amusement Park
What should have been a fun day at an amusement park courtesy of the Three Girls ends up getting the Three Guys checked into a mental institution.