Dennis Miller: The HBO Specials

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It’s a shame what’s happened to Dennis Miller’s career. After graduating from Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” anchor chair, Miller went on to fame and fortune with some killer HBO specials, crappy movie work (Disclosure, The Net, Bordello of Blood), a weekly TV show (Dennis Miller Live), and a memorable stint from 2000-2002 in the booth with Al Michaels and Dan Fouts on ABC’s Monday Night Football. After the 9/11 attacks, Miller’s politics and comedy took a hard right turn, with the previously sharp counterculture comic rolling over for the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

But let’s go back to those killer HBO specials. On April 7, Standing Room Only Entertainment released all seven of Miller’s specials — from 1988’s “Mr. Miller Goes to Washington” to 2006’s “All In” — as a three-disc DVD package imaginatively titled Dennis Miller: The HBO Specials. Despite Miller’s decline (or maybe because of it), the early material still packs a punch. Miller’s delivery was always distinct, in that the comic reveled in long strings of high-concept word associations that often added up to big laughs. (Check out the air travel rant from 1990’s “Black and White” for one example among many.) Those early specials, including 1994’s “They Shoot Specials, Don’t They” and 1996’s “Citizen Arcane” are still among the best HBO comedy specials every produced.

After 1994, Miller focused on Dennis Miller Live and his HBO special output declined. Still, it’s hard for me to rectify the edgy Miller of the early ’90s with the bloated, self-important comic who more recently has shown up on CNBC and gotten chummy with Bill O’Reilly. In the end, I wonder what kind of critique the young, acerbic Miller would give to the old, sold-out one?

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