Archive for the ‘vintage TV’ Category

‘Mister Ed: The Complete Series’ DVD Review: Anything But Neigh

December 5, 2014

Mister Ed

Naysayers — or is that neighsayers — will tell you that ’60s TV sitcoms such as Mister Ed were mind-numbingly corny. I’d retort that they were classics of innocent entertainment.

And that’s why I’m heartened that Shout! Factory is finishing what it started by releasing the entire series of Mister Ed in a box set, due Tuesday.

That includes the previously unissued Season 6 (truncated at 13 episodes as ratings slipped away), and complete versions of eight episodes which were shortened due to poor source material when Season 1 was first issued. (In later rerun syndication, ’60s series often went from 25 to 22 minutes to make room for more ads.)

So here they all are — all 143 episodes in glorious black-and-white featuring hapless architect Wilbur Post (Alan Young), wife Carol (Connie Hines) and Wilbur’s secret conversationalist pal, Mister Ed (in the credits, “Himself,” though he was superbly voiced by Allan Lane).

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DVD blog review: ‘Leave It To Beaver’: Season Three — as good as it gets

June 15, 2010

Many may wonder why a TV series that began 53 years ago would command much interest today. But Leave It To Beaver was special. Among a horde of family-oriented sitcoms of the ’50s and ’60s, it stood out as one with a nod to contemporary edge, thanks to kids who manipulated parents, spoke slang and made non-dire havoc, all while still keeping one foot in the comfy confines of middle class America’s home and hearth.

Beaver, in fact, became so popular and iconic that today, when someone needs a pop-cultural reference to families in more innocent times, they don’t mention The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show. They mention the Cleavers: parents Ward and June (Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley) and sons Wally and Beaver (Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers).

When Universal issued the first two seasons of Beaver’s six-year run in 2005 and 2006, fans were ecstatic. But then the run ended. No more Beaver  on DVD for four years.

Now, Shout! Factory has taken up the torch by issuing not only the complete 39-episode third season, due on DVD today, but also, as of June 29, the entire six-season run, in a separate set. That way fans will have a choice–especially those who have the first two seasons on DVD already.

Shout! already has shown a dedication to finishing the job it started (it’s half-way through issuing Mister Ed’s six seasons, too), so you can fully expect to see single-season sets for Beaver’s fourth through sixth seasons. In fact, Season Four’s DVD already is on the schedule, for release Sept. 14. A big shout-out to Shout! Thanks!

That goes for picture and sound quality, too. Beaver’s third season discs sport fully restored and remastered episodes, taken from new high-definition transfers of original film elements. For a season a half-century old, it looks and sounds as good as it gets.

Season Three is a landmark of sorts, in that it takes the Cleavers into the ’60s — and also into a new house. Their first home wasn’t bad, but their new one is handsome and expansive, reflecting the trappings of new post-war affluence, from Ward’s book-lined study to an appliance-filled kitchen to a large (for then) TV prominently seen in the den.

The only false note is that, in this vast two-story house, the two kids still must share a single bedroom. But that worked better logistically for the show, since it helped keep Wally and younger brother Beaver together.

The new house, BTW, wound up being used also in Marcus Welby, M.D., and it remains a fixture on the Universal back lot. Of course, we’re talking exteriors, not interiors, which were built on studio sound stages.

The supporting cast remains much the same for Season Three, with Larry Mondello (Robert Stevens) again talking Beaver into doing stupid things, and Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) again fawning politely for Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver before insolently rebelling for all things adult when alone with their kids. Beaver keeps making mistakes, Ward keeps getting mad but patiently teaching right from wrong, June keeps showing compassion, and Wally keeps being a supportive older brother who’s smarter than Beaver but still clueless with girls.

Guest stars include Beverly Washburn, a girl you may recognize from Disney’s classic Old Yeller of 1957. Madge Blake again plays Larry’s mother, though the actress is old enough to be his grandmother; she’d go on to play clueless Aunt Harriet in Batman starting in 1966.

It’s odd how so many shows of this era cast older people in parts better played by younger ones. Today, it’s the reverse. Blake was 59 when she first appeared as Larry’s mother, while the kid playing Larry was 10. She’d have been 49 when she gave birth to him–right.

But in other ways Beaver is timeless — a warm family sitcom without being cloying. It was dawning modernity ahead of its time, but still anchored in a world where kids were essentially innocent, and they played outside instead of burying their faces in video games. Sweetly amusing and highly nostalgic,  is as good as vintage family sitcoms get.

Landmark TV western Bonanza on DVD looks great, gets better

September 13, 2009

Fans of Bonanza, rejoice. The landmark TV western finally has an official, formal, studio-sanctioned DVD release, with two volumes comprising its first season, which aired 1959-60. Sold separately or as a full-season set, they’re newly available Tuesday, Sept. 15 from Paramount.

Bonanza’s landmark status derives principally from one big thing: It was the first network TV show — ever — to be shot entirely in color. Bonanza led the way for turning NBC into the “peacock” network, brandishing its emblem and its color status for all viewers to know, if not fully appreciate, even while most watched on b&w-only sets.

From the start, the show had strong production values in other ways, too, including handsome exterior shoots and impressive sets. It also recruited top names for guest stars. The pilot episode, for one, has film actress Yvonne De Carlo — in five years bound for The Munsters — as an actress/singer visiting Virginia City.

Want more landmark status? Bonanza was the second longest-running western series ever, with 14 seasons. (Gunsmoke is first with 20.)

Yet on DVD it’s been a no-show till now, aside from 31 episodes bridging seasons one and two which fell into public domain and have been sold on the cheap by a variety of labels. Now Bonanza is getting its due, with beautifully packaged discs (which even list location sites) and prints which include such treats as network bumpers.

Only trouble is, Bonanza from the get-go wasn’t the same show as it came to be. The all-male Cartwright family led by patriarch Ben (Lorne Greene) was a greedy, darkly vigilant, ever suspicious and quick to belligerence bunch. Sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) were quick to pick fights, and despite owning 1,000 square miles (!) of choice Nevada real estate in the mid 1800s,  the ranching Cartwrights didn’t take kindly to anyone crossing their Ponderosa’s massive borders, or selling their lumber for a fair price. These men seemed almost mean.

Fortunately, by season three they’ll have lightened up and become the more benevolent wealthy landowners that later were created from the start for The Big Valley (which had its own token violent hothead in Nick, played by Peter Breck, but was otherwise a kinder, gentler show throughout). In Bonanza seasons to come, it won’t hurt to have a few more women in the mix, too. When a show’s premise is an all-male family where three wives have all died, you have to wonder a bit. Too macho, that’s for sure. And the blithe racism toward Chinese underlings is “velly” tough to take, too.

Sure, Bonanza was a product of its times, and you have to allow for that. But we’re all now products of these times, too, and the show’s initial insensitivity doesn’t wear well. Still, in many ways, and in seasons to come, it’s a quality if not classy production which stands the test of time, so be patient with season one. Evolution is in the works.

Besides, that theme song is one of TV’s greatest ever. It even has lyrics, as you’ll learn later on. “We got hold of a pot of gold Bonanza.” Saddle up!

Jetsons Season Two DVD: An Astro-nomical treat

June 2, 2009

OK, as we know, you can’t go home again. But you can remodel that home, which is sort of what the creators of TV’s The Jetsons did when they brought back the show in 1985 after a 22-year hiatus.

The original futuristic animated sitcom aired for 24 episodes from 1962-63, then began a long run of reruns. In ’85 it returned with new but comparable animation, as well as most of the old voice actors, some of whom sounded a bit different, being older, but close enough. Now, the first 21 episodes of this belated “Season Two” are new on DVD from Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. as The Jetsons: Season Two, Vol. 1.

Besides those shows, there’s a featurette on the transition called The Jetsons: Return to the Future.

I have mixed feelings about these shows. Though they’re largely faithful to the originals, they are not exactly like them in visual presentation, and in some ways don’t try to be. The movements are punched up in different ways, and sometimes the personality wavers. Astro may cry a tear or two, but he doesn’t erupt into pitiable, bawling fits as he did on the ’60s show. There’s just a smidgen less charm, that’s all.

But that said, there’s plenty of innocent fun in the vein of the original, and it’s awfully good to see a fine program which had such a brief TV run get new life this way, much as I applauded the ’70s return of Star Trek as an animated series. Anything is better than a big heap o’ nothing, and in this case The Jetsons’ “anything” is a reliably amusing sendup of what’s really a quaint and cute view of the future. George, Jane, Judy and Elroy also are a much more appealing family unit than, say, the bickering Flintstones of that show’s early years. And what can I say? As a Houstonian, I’m a big fan of the big, lovable dog named Astro, from whom you could argue our hometown baseball team got its name (though the Astros would cite, instead, Houston’s Johnson Space Center and the real astronauts who live here).

At any rate, Jetsons, it’s good to have you back — and let’s hope your label follows up with the remaining 20 shows of Season Two, then the 10 shows of Season Three. Meanwhile, don’t forget 1989’s Jetsons: The Movie, also on DVD.

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.