Archive for the ‘sitcom’ Category

DVD Review: ‘Hazel: The Complete Third Season’

May 13, 2012

Three seasons and 99 episodes down, two seasons and 55 episodes to go. That’s Hazel, the 1961-66 family sitcom about the titular live-in maid (Shirley Booth) who was the busiest of busybodies yet still was  beloved by her adoptive Baxter family and every curmudgeon she stared down with her down-to-earth advice.

The formula continues for 1963-64’s Season 3 from NBC, whose 32 episodes are new on DVD Tuesday from Shout! Factory.

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DVD Review ‘Hazel: The Complete Second Season’: Colorful comedy

February 20, 2012

Imagine the relief of Hazel fans when Shout! Factory set a Feb. 21 date to issue Hazel: The Complete Second Season on DVD. After all, it’s been 5 1/2 years since the first season appeared, that time from Sony. So give a big shout out to Shout! Factory: Thanks!

The beloved Emmy-winning show deserved a better fate than that of too many series, with earlier episodes being issued digitally but later ones forgotten. (My Favorite Martian Season Three, anyone?)  And this 32-episode batch is a special treat, since it’s the first prime-time sitcom in TV history to be presented in color–and boy, does NBC go for the tints and hues, from Mrs. Baxter’s (Whitney Blake’s) scarlet inside-and-out convertible to Hazel’s (Shirley Booth’s) red hair and little Harold’s (Bobby Buntrock’s) blond locks.

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Melissa & Joey: Season 1, Part 2 on DVD Tuesday

October 3, 2011

With recent news that women have just 1% of the world’s wealth despite being almost half of its work force, there should be rioting in the streets. But at least there’s a show such as Melissa & Joey, which demonstrates that earning ability and domestic ability are not exclusive to one sex or the other.

Instead, in these final 18 episodes of the ABC Family series’ first season, we find Mel (family-friendly Melissa Joan Hart) still involved in politics outside of the house while Joey (nice guy Joey Lawrence) manages the household as nanny for her adopted niece and nephew. The two-disc set will be available Tuesday from Shout! Factory.

Melissa & Joey is good clean fun from two alums of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, a show that’s become increasingly more tawdry. (Would either Hart or Lawrence still do it?) And don’t worry about the two leads hooking up. If this show continues, that may happen eventually, but it’s nowhere near the front burner now. Instead, they’re all about good-natured combativeness.

Hart is a bit overbearing, but if you enjoyed Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, you should enjoy Lawrence’s “manny” (for male nanny) in this.

And turning the tables, as noted, is indeed needed in this imbalanced world. Well done!

‘Mister Ed’ on DVD is a treat–of course, of course

October 6, 2009

What the world needs now, besides love, sweet love, is innocence. And that’s what you’ll get from vintage ’60s TV chestnut Mister Ed, a hit show which aired for five years and 143 episodes, yet till now has had only two compilation DVDs (from MGM)  totalling 41 episodes.

Now the fine folks at Shout! Factory have issued Mister Ed: The Complete First Season in a four-disc set featuring 26 episodes, only four of which appear on the first volume of the aforementioned compilations.

The show, of course, concerned a lovely horse, Ed, owned by an architect, Wilbur (Alan Young). Ed lived in a barn behind Wilbur and wife Carol’s (Connie Hines) sprawling new suburban home, and Wilbur even set up his office there, amid the hay.

Amusing mayhem ensues when Wilbur learns Ed is a talking horse with seemingly as much brain power as the average human — maybe even more. But Ed only speaks to Wilbur, a secret they keep.

Ed was voiced by an uncredited Allan “Rocky” Lane, a one-time star of big-screen westerns. As Young and Hines reveal in a commentary for the show’s first episode, Lane almost lost his job at one point in the 1961-66 series, but was retained — and got a studio parking space — because he was the only one good enough to do it.

Indeed, Ed’s dry humor and gentle sneeers are what powers this show beyond its often typical sitcom silliness. Everything perks up whenever Ed opens his mouth — achieved by getting the horse to chew his bit and make mouth movements that actually looked as if he were talking.

BTW, Bamboo Harvester was the real horse’s name, but as far as I’m concerned, the golden Palomino was and always will be Ed. On the other hand, the Posts’ put-upon nosy neighbor was replaced, when original costar Larry Keating died and Leon Ames took over.

It’s still jarring and wearisome for me to watch neighbors and other folks blithely walk into people’s homes in such early sitcoms. Anyone ever heard of a lock, a knock or personal privacy? But that does tend to move the plots along without a lot of door-answering scenes.

The DVDs have beautiful picture quality, and there’s also a recent interview with Young and Hines. Let’s hope Shout! Factory picks up where this season left off by issuing a second season. That’s when CBS picked up the show originally, after Mister Ed had run in syndication for its first season. Getting new life on a network was quite a rarity.

Indeed, this is one special show. Forget the nonsense of its premise and enjoy the fun of its execution — of course, of course.

I’m referring — of course — to Mister Ed’s theme song, which begins “A horse is a horse, of course, of course.” When you don’t hear it with the first episode, don’t fret. After using an instrumental track for six episodes, the show went with a vocal version sung by song  co-writer Jay Livingston in Episode 7. That one stuck till the end while Mister Ed, for five years, made hay.

Donna Reed Show Second Season sidles into the ’60s

August 10, 2009

And thus, the ’60s began — or almost.

I’m talking The Donna Reed Show: The Complete Second Season, new on DVD from Virgil Films. This season is from 1959-60, which means its latter half actually is set in the ’60s.

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not still stuck in the ’50s, when women knew their only place was in the home–or maybe being secretaries, if they could type–and styles were oh so conservative, and rock ‘n’ roll was largely limited to appalling generic music on TV shows which sounded like kids just learning to play the saxophone. But still, there’s a certain scent of fresh air around the corner, and it starts with the series’ new opening credits.

It’s the same “hurry the kids and hubby to work” scenario of the First Season — and The Munsters, Leaving It to Beaver, The Jetsons, etc. But it’s been reshot for the second stanza with livelier performances, theme music and opening title fonts. Then the shows start showing a bit more daring, as when Donna and Carl Betz fly to NY for a conference (leaving the kids behind!) and he pops sedative pills into her warm milk to calm her down, and she pops more pills (not knowing she’s adding to the mix), and whaddaya know, drug humor ensues. And it’s not even hippie time yet.

Now, I’m not saying this sweet, wholesome show goes all peace, love and communes on us. It doesn’t change THAT much–though the production values do show a new shine. Yet the world was changing at this time, and at least The Donna Reed Show seemed to be changing a bit with it. After all, this season is right on the cusp of JFK’s New Frontier, the first Americans in space and the Beach Boys and Four Seasons. Yes, things are looking up beyond the pallid teen amusements of forever stuck-in’-the-50s Father Knows Best (a show I love for different reasons–not everything about the ’50s was bad).

So sidle up to your big color TV–still not a reality on Donna Reed, but getting closer–and enjoy the b&w glories of a show slightly showing its tilts from superclean but dull ’50s pablum to adventurous ’60s awareness, even if it will always be a long way from hell-raising or hedonistic.

Heck, as the show grows, you never know, but maybe even daughter Shelley Fabares will become a pop star in the process–along with bratty brother Paul Petersen. I swear, these kids are taking over the world. And this season’s Just a Housewife episode just might plant some seeds for women’s liberation.

So what have we got? Thirty-eight wholesome yet slightly less dated episodes on four discs. Guest stars include Esther Williams, Marion Ross, Jack Albertson and Raymond Bailey. And Donna is still the mom everyone loves. Enjoy!

DVD review: Petticoat Junction Season Two howls happily with Higgins

July 7, 2009

For a show that ran seven seasons, Petticoat Junction was understandably predictable yet reliably comforting. As shown on its new second season DVD, lazy yet scheming Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) would always stir up trouble, while rural innkeeper Kate (Bea Benaderet) would ride herd over him and her three grown daughters (Jeannine Riley, Pat Woodell and Linda Henning) not far down the Cannonball train line from the Anystate, USA town of Hooterville — whose denizens also appeared on Green Acres. It’s all good, clean, innocent fun in the well-worn mold of ’60s sitcoms hinging on small-town if not hicks-in-sticks values.

But one thing does change at the start of Petticoat’s season two, and that’s the cast. A new entry arrives, and he’s more furry than funny. He’s Higgins, a smart little mixed-breed dog who’d been adopted by superb animal trainer Frank Inn from a Burbank, CA shelter. Higgins then became a TV star as the resident pooch at Kate’s Shady Rest Hotel.

Oddly, Higgins’ impish character never seemed to gain a name on Petticoat Junction — he was just “our dog” — but he often had more than barking cameos. He even starred in a couple of early season two episodes with plots of his own (one involving a canine commercial). Yet even in small doses, his cuteness added much to an equation which already had begun aging in season two. You want an audience to love your show and keep coming back? Add a dog.

This season and the first also are desirable among fans because, as black and white years, they weren’t part of a later syndicated package. So seasons one and two have largely gone unseen since the series’ 1963-on run.

Higgins would later star in his own movie, 1974’s Benji, a sleeper family hit from Dallas writer-director Joe Camp, who shot it in North Texas. Though the film would spawn sequels, the original was Higgins’ final role. He died the next year at age 15. In fact, Junction co-star Buchanan also was in Benji, and it was his final film, too. Even more, Benji was the final film of Francis Bavier, aka Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show, another icon of ’60s rural innocence.

But enough talk of demise and the end of the trail. Hop aboard the Cannonball and chug along to the Junction, where Higgins, in his eternal youth, awaits us with ears, eyes and paws that are well worth our awwwws.

DVD review: ‘That Girl’ engages without committing

May 7, 2009

Women often moan that men aren’t willing are able to commit — but look who’s talking, at least when it comes to That Girl? The vintage sitcom matched zany, aspiring NYC actress Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas) with the gentlemanly Donald Hollinger (Ted Bessell) in its first episode in 1966, but by the series’ end in 1971, they still hadn’t married.

Oh, they did get in engaged in Season Five, new on DVD this week from Shout Factory. But that didn’t lead to a wedding — just a long series of sometimes wedding-related events over the season’s course, such as Donald botching his proposal by giving Ann a “used” ring.

Thomas, who was an executive producer on the show, reportedly resisted having the two wed — even though the series was ending — because it would send a message to America’s girls that their main goal in life was getting married. Funny, but for many girls that still hasn’t changed, and BTW, the klutzy and forever girlish Ann Marie wasn’t the best role model for being a mature, independent woman who didn’t need men.

That Girl still offers ample frothy fun as it winds down, but it just goes to show how treacherous TV can be when a series keeps going, and going, and going. Either let a couple get together, or break them apart, but don’t let them linger in limbo for too long. Because if a series lasts, as That Girl did for 136 episodes, you’ve got a problem.

ABC’s fine new Castle is too new to succumb to this, and besides, it’s busy deftly sidestepping what looks like an inevitable romance between impudent crime novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and tough NY murder detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). Instead, they stay wary yet secretly intrigued rivals, while in love-life terms, he goes on his merry playboy way and she keeps all men at a distance (more back-story needed here, please).

The ’80s’ Moonlighting also was adept at such banter-driven interplay and a rivalry between sleuths, though Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis’ detective characters did give in a bit, having a fling, at least. But other shows have allowed male-female stars who’d kept a distance actually and finally to tie the knot — only to see the shows die. One was I Dream of Jeannie. Another, Get Smart. They came, they wed, they went.

Come to think of it, maybe Marlo Thomas was onto something by balking at talking wedding vows. But since her series was ending, anyway, I don’t see what harm would have been done by letting longtime lovebirds get hitched at the end. Besides, am I a romantic? Busted!

DVD review: Check into ‘Room 222’ from James L. Brooks

March 24, 2009

Each week, his name appears as executive producer on the longest running and most successful prime-time animated series in TV history, The Simpsons. He directed, wrote, produced and won three Oscars for 1983’s Houston-made tearjerker Terms of Endearment. He is clearly an entertainment industry icon.

And he got his show-biz TV start (after working in TV news) by co-creating  and serving as story editor of a fine little program called Room 222, now new on DVD with a four-disc set of its 1969-70 first season.

The man is James L. Brooks, who used the light approach of an ostensible sitcom (the half-hour program had low-key laugh tracks in its first season, but was really more of a gentle drama) to sell educational messages without seeming heavy-handed. The key was to have likable lead characters, which this show had in Pete Dixon, the cool yet caring teacher, played by Lloyd Haynes; Liz McIntyre, the cool yet caring counselor and Pete’s girlfriend, played by Denise Nicholas; gruff yet warm principal Seymour Kaufman, played by reliable character actor Michael Constantine; and plucky, spunky teacher-in-training Alice Johnson, played by Karen Valentine, to whom the role of America’s sprightly ingenue fell after Sally Field finished with her Gidget phase.

As you can see from that list, the principal (no pun) focus was on teachers and administrators and how they interacted with students, rather than making the students the stars. Today it would probably be reversed. But back then, it worked.

Their Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles looks almost more like a college from the exterior. It has a surprising orderliness and calm sunniness about it, given the turbulent times, but Room 222 was an unusually racially mixed show — sort of like Star Trek on steroids, when it comes to boldly going in that direction. (Haynes and Nicholas played rare African-American leads, not second bananas.) But it wasn’t about race so much as about human beings and universal situations (not fitting in, jealousy, untapped talents, daddy issues, etc.). Still, budding hot-button topics such as drug use, racial conflicts and school violence were tackled, too.

Yes, the show feels awfully dated by today’s standards. But it wasn’t made today. It premiered in the year of Woodstock and the first lunar landing. Give it a break.

Yet while Room 222 is greatly welcome on DVD for its excellent content, I must report that the source material is not good. In the first disc which I’ve previewed, picture quality is very soft in show after show, especially compared to the pristine nature of so many vintage TV series, many of them older than this one. Still, it’s good to have Room 222 in any form.

The show, which ran five seasons, was an immediate critical darling and award-winner. It took home three Emmys for this debut season, including acting awards for Constantine and Valentine and one for outstanding new series.

BTW, other folks got their starts with Room 222 besides a young producer names James L. Brooks, including such actors as Mark Hamill, Bruno Kirby, John Rubinstein and Ed Begley Jr.

As for Brooks, besides The Simpsons, he’s also steered production of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Tracey Ullman Show and Taxi, winning 19 Emmys in the process.

You think Room 222 has a strong pedigree? You’re right. Go to the head of the class — and enjoy.

DVD review: ‘McHale’s Navy: Season Four’ bids us arrivederci

December 2, 2008

Was Italy the kiss of death for McHale’s Navy? We’ll never know for sure, but we do know that when the WW II sitcom shifted from the South Pacific to an Italian coastal village, its new digs lasted for just one season, and then its seamen bid buh-bye to series TV.

That’s not to say McHale’s Navy: Season Four, new on DVD from Shout! Factory, is a washout. For the five-disc, 30-episode set, almost all of the original comedy cast stays intact, having shifted from fighting the Japanese to fighting Germans in Italy, where some new regulars join in. But though this shift allowed for more elaborate exteriors — with back roads, towns and a wider range of scenery — it also led to some excruciatingly bad Italian accents and Italian stereotyping.

Granted, such transgressions were common on TV in the ’60s, before globalism and dawning multi-cultural awareness made non-Americans seem less corny, colorful and quaint and more like — well, everyday people. And you must take that into account when viewing a series such as this, which surely had no mean-spirited bones in its four-season, 138-episode body.

Also look for Don Knotts among the season’s guest stars. The actor who kept The Andy Griffith Show in stitches was able to go briefly from that series during its run in order to guest star elsewhere or make a theatrical film. Andy would make some reference to Barney being “on patrol,” and an entire episode would slip by without a sign of the skinny, ever-agitated deputy.

Come to think of it, TV was extremely accommodating in the ’60s. Both My Three Sons and Family Affair were creatively produced (writing scripts far in advance and shooting far out of sequence) in order to allow stars Fred MacMurray and Brian Keith, respectively, to pursue their careers elsewhere at the same time they were top-billed TV stars.

I suppose McHale himself, Ernest Borgnine, could have done the same thing, having come to TV with an Oscar pedigree from 1955’s Marty. But he chose to stick closely to his series for its run, and I don’t believe he was ever absent from an episode.

As for the entire crew of PT 73, we’ll miss ’em, now that this series reaches its end on DVD. But  three theatrical films with this cast are hovering out there somewhere, and 138 episodes isn’t a bad run for savoring such silliness and shenanigans.

Our thanks go to Shout! Factory for following through with the complete TV run, which so often isn’t the case with vintage TV releases. And our thanks go to Borgnine, Tim Conway, the late Joe Flynn and others for making McHale’s Navy — whether waging wacky war in the Pacific or the European theater — a frothy, lively, fun show that’s stood the test of time.

Review: ‘Donna Reed Show’ DVD is reassuring TV ‘comfort food’

October 29, 2008

So, how do I reconcile being a fan of current shows as subversive or edgy as South Park, The Simpsons and Boston Legal as well as sweet family sitcoms from olden times such as Leave It to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show, whose first season is new on DVD? Simple: I’m eclectic, I’m a  Boomer and just as my favorite flicks include The Exorcist and The Sound of Music, there’s room enough for both.

Sure, I love today’s shows which get into the viewer’s face on social and political issues. But in today’s uncertain world, I also find solace in reassurances of the past.

Donna Reed was, and still is, as reassuring as a bowl of pudding — or, for us Texans, hot chili. (Comfort food can be anything, as long as it comforts.) The squeaky clean Stone clan was the ideal 1958-66 American family, and certainly reflected my own of the time. I was a bit younger than  Paul Petersen’s Jeff, but like him, I was a little brother to an older sister, my dad was a white collar family man and sole bread winner, and my mom, like Donna, was a cheerful housewife and, in her case, a Junior Leaguer. They, and we, were calm, comforting — and dull, perhaps, in many people’s minds. But again, reassuring. And certainly these Ike-era families hung together in love. Anything wrong with that?

For The Donna Reed Show’s 50th anniversary, its DVD debut from Arts Alliance America collects all 37 first-season episodes on four discs, the last of which adds a photo gallery, original TV spot, press release and production notes. It’s a handsomely packaged set which, unlike the likes of Father Knows Best, appears to have preserved the original black-and-white episodes in their entirety, meaning they each run about 26 minutes.

Much like Fred MacMurray before My Three Sons or Brian Keith before Family Affair, Reed was a successful film star who was essentially lured into the budding medium of TV. Heck, she’d won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity (playing a prostitute!) and also had starred in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life. But she also found a home on the small screen, lasting for eight seasons as the perfect mom and housewife in a gentle sitcom which rarely pushed limits and stayed warmly and safely in middle-class America’s comfort zone.

Carl Betz, as her husband, was a pediatrician with an at-home office, while that older sister/daughter was played by Shelley Fabares, who went on to big-screen stardom in three Elvis Presley flicks as well as renewed TV prominence in TV movie Brian’s Song and the series Coach. Fabares and Petersen got to be marginal pop stars via their Donna Reed fame, with Fabares scoring a hit with Johnny Angel. Her ex-husband, BTW, is Lou Adler, who produced, among others, the Mamas and the Papas and Carole King, notably her landmark Tapestry album.

The Stones’ family fun on Donna Reed was as easily digestible as a cracker — and often as thin — but still had that comforting, curl-up-on-a-sofa quality that’s largely missing in popular entertainment today. Call them bland and overly wholesome if you must, but watching the Stones grapple with everyday crises like canceled camping trips and community theater rivalries still does my heart good. I didn’t grow up in a fractured family as in Gidget, My Three Sons or Family Affair. I grew up in a stick-together family like the Stones. If that makes me bland, too, in some people’s minds, then that’s a blandness I’ll take.

Now when does the next new South Park episode air? See? You can’t say I don’t strive for balance.

And, oh yes: While some vintage shows are victims of watchus interruptus (take Hazel, which has had one season released, and that’s it), not Donna Reed. Arts Alliance America already promises to issue the second season of The Donna Reed Show “in time for Mother’s Day 2009.” Hey, I’m feeling even more warm and more fuzzy already. Cookies and milk, anyone?