“Attention! Harken to my voice! An insidious cult is intent on controlling your actions. I command you to avoid it at all costs! That is all.”

I have something to say. The famous catch phrase “I have something to say!” of the foul-mouthed, libidinous, self-centered Jerri Blank does not make an appearance in the feature film version of the long-canceled, short-lived cable television series Strangers with Candy. To the show’s cult following, represented by the excited and enthusiastic audience at last Wednesday’s OutFest screening at The Egyptian Theater, the presence or non-presence of the show’s usual elements made little difference, since the movie is entirely faithful to the absurd, satirical premise of the show.

How does one go about explaining that premise to the non-initiated? And will the non-initiated even give two shakes of a rabbit’s tail? Certainly, it takes more than an hour-and-a-half for most people to buy into the Afterschool-Special-gone-Dada world of Strangers. It took me watching nearly the whole first season to catch on. I’d describe it thus: the character of Jerri Blank, as incarnated by Amy Sedaris in middle-aged-woman Kabuki drag, is a person who has “made all the wrong choices.” But what choices?

Continue reading about Stranger with Candy, the movie (no spoilers)…For that, some history is needed. Before my time, when television still thought it had a duty to educate while entertaining, it presented special, ethical dilemma dramas aimed at teenagers, aired in the hours after school let out: Afterschool Specials. Each episode dramatizes a lifestyle choice that might confront a teenager: becoming a drug user, having unpopular friends, joining a cult1. Strangers with Candy presents, in the first place, the story of a character who made the wrong decision the first time. Now, middle-aged and released from jail, she hopes to get her life “back on track” by returning to high school. In each episode, she makes the wrong choice all over again — but learns her lesson in the end. Sure, it’s a satire of the Afterschool Special genre, but Strangers is also filled with so much raw absurdity that it could be called Post-Ironic. Miraculously, it may make the points the Afterschool Specials were trying to make while only appearing to mock them.

Is this giving too much credit to the show’s creators and stars, Paul Dinello, the aforementioned Sedaris, Mitch Rouse, and the now blindingly famous Stephen Colbert? Probably. Their intention seems only to create laughter by virtuous displays of bizarre humor, the Afterschool Special set-up providing the flimsiest of throughlines. No matter.

I’m going to do something akin to what David Denby did in The New Yorker review of Nacho Libre. (He reviewed Jack Black instead of the movie he was in.) Instead of talking about the fact that the Strangers with Candy movie is, minus some bad celebrity cameos, pretty much like any given episode of the show, I’m going to review Amy Sedaris. Sedaris’ Jerri Blank is one of the great comedic personas, going back through W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin — even back to Falstaff or Don Quixote. That’s a bold assertion behind which I will stand. At first glance she seems like a knot of pulled faces and general stupidity. As you get to know her, she flowers into pure and innocent ignorance, an Id Kid, intent on instant satisfaction. It is a character whose store of hilarity could not be exhausted in three thousand half-hour episodes, or one thousand feature films.

Maybe it is because our society shuns funny women that Strangers with Candy remains a cult phenomenon. The initiated will applaud the appearance Tammi Littlenut, Iris Puffybush and Sara Blank; bemoan the replacement of Derrick, Orlando, and Guy2. The rest of the world will go on living their lives of quiet desperation.

1. It is believed that Saved by the Bell killed these shows (making Dustin Diamond, in some sense, a murderer).
2. The brilliant and apparently still living Roberto Gari has been replaced by a verbal and therefore unfunny Dan Hedaya.

MORE: Creative Screenwriting interviews Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris. The budget, they say, was $3M.