Too Funny to Fail: The Rise and Fall of The Dana Carvey Show

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Too Funny to Fail: The Life & Death of The Dana Carvey Show

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Fresh off a successful run on Saturday Night Live, comedian Dana Carvey was hired by ABC to create a new sketch show. Armed with a writers room that included a Murderer’s Row of up-and-coming talent such as Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis C.K., Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, and more, the show aimed to fly high on primetime. So how did The Dana Carvey Show crash and burn so spectacularly while still launching the careers of some of today’s most respective comedians? The documentary Too Funny to Fail: The Life & Death of The Dana Carvey Show will tell you everything you need to know.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: There are plenty of examples about miraculous showbiz success in Hollywood. But the more interesting stories often come from colossal failures. The Dana Carvey Show is perhaps the best example of falling upwards, and the chronicle of the show’s promising rise and frustrating fall is full of some of the best showbiz anecdotes I’ve ever heard. We’re talking about a show that premiered on ABC by having Dana Carvery as a breast-feeding Bill Clinton, complete with real-working nipples that actually dripped milk. That’s where the show started on a network that had just been purchased by The Walt Disney Company.

The rise of The Dana Carvey Show goes hand-in-hand with the rise of its stars and writers, with the exception of Robert Smigel, who had already enjoyed success on SNL. It’s a joy to hear their first-hand recollections of being recruited for the series, figuring out what kind of sketches they wanted to make, and how they put some of the most oddball, and twisted comedy that primetime television had ever seen. There’s a moment in the documentary that had me laughing so hard that I had to pause it, and it will give you some idea just how out of place this series felt on ABC:

The story of how The Dana Carvey Show came together is a showbiz story for the ages. No one really knew what they had at the time, but as the years have gone on, the team behind the sketch comedy series stands as one of the most incredible assemblies of comedic talent that a show has ever seen.

All the clips from the series show that this series was ahead of its time. There are several premises that feel like they could have easily ended up on Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! or Key & Peele. If it were even more edgy, it might have been an early staple of Adult Swim. After all, this is where The Ambiguously Gay Duo debuted before being ported over to SNL.

The Dana Carvey Show lasted just seven episodes in 1996, and it never even got to air its series finale. So there’s a good chance this flew under your radar all those years ago. But this documentary will have you wanting to seek out the series and enjoying this flashback to a small point in Hollywood history that would help shape the future of comedy.

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