This week, as we have done very occasionally, we switch over here at Retro Roundup from retro music to retro TV shows, in this case our favourites, in no particular order and the type I would not hesitate to buy on DVD and/or Blu-ray. And some are a bit of a cheat, by the way, including the first dealt with here:
The Three Stooges: What?! The Three Stooges wasn’t a situation comedy, it was a series of short subjects featuring Moe, Curly and Shemp Howard, Larry Fine and Joe Besser produced by Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1959. No matter, the shorts became a TV staple starting in the late 1950s, and have been on our screens ever since. The fast-paced slapstick and cartoonish violence, and the wonderful personas of each of the Stooges, is the reason for this longevity, whether on TV or on home video releases. The series faltered beginning in the 1950s, when plots were repeated and old footage was reused. But there were still some inspired shorts, even in the later Joe Besser years. And my all-time favourite Stooges short is not even one featuring Curly Howard — it’s the hilarious and perfectly executed Brideless Groom, in which poor Shemp has to get married by a deadline to receive an inheritance. Two notes about this short — it’s one of four that are in the public domain, which means it’s been released on numerous DVDs in lesser video quality, and poor Shemp had his nose broken when a female co-star landed a perfect punch, at Shemp’s instigation. Now, that’s dedication.
Dallas– I’m not huge on soap operas, although for a brief period in the early 1980s, I got a bit hooked on Another World and its short-lived spin-off Texas. I watched the latter because I though it would be another Dallas, but it wasn’t really. Dallas is amongst my favourite TV shows not only because of the stellar acting (particularly of Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, Barbara Bel Geddes as Ellie Ewing, Linda Gray as J.R.’s long-suffering wife Sue Ellen and Ken Kercheval as J.R.’s bitter rival Cliff Barnes) but also because of the mostly interesting stories, and the fact one finds oneself caring about most of the characters, even J.R., who was not a one-dimensional baddie. In fact, one of my favourite moments of the series was when J.R. acknowledges family patriarch Jock Ewing has died in a helicopter crash, and he looks to the sky with a mournful smile. It makes you love the guy, at least until his next dastardly scheme, during which you love him even more, just in a different way. Notwithstanding the many cast changes, and even the infamous season in which it turns out in the closing episode that Bobby Ewing did not die after being hit by a car, I feel the show never lost its quality over 13 years it was on. The only caveat to that is that the Ray and Donna Krebbs plotlines slowed things down and were even slightly irritating, but maybe the viewer needed a breather from the constant scheming.
Batman – Yes, the original 1966 series, “in color”— as the pre-intro intro proclaimed. Let me list the ways this is one of my favourite TV shows. 1. To me, Adam West is Batman, and Burt Ward is Robin. I’ve never felt completely comfortable with any other actors taking the roles. 2. The villains were cast and performed perfectly, at least until the third season when the writing let them down. Cesar Romero as the Joker and Frank Gorshin as the Riddler were nicely maniacal, Julie Newmar as Catwoman provided the perfect combination of sexual tension and wry humour (Eartha Kitt as Catwoman was good in the third season, but the two just-mentioned elements were missing) Burgess Meredith provided lighter humour as the Penguin, Victor Buono was nicely over the top as King Tut and David Wayne was wonderfully dastardly in his two appearances as the Mad Hatter. 3. The fight scenes were my favourite as a kid, as I did not always get the subtle humour of the show at that time. They were wonderfully choreographed, but even as a kid, I could tell it was a stuntman and not Burt Ward in the long shots. It was more difficult to tell with Adam West because the cowl provided good cover. 4. While the show faltered in the third season because of lesser writing, budget cuts and a change in format from cliffhangers to less than exciting endings, the aforementioned Buono was always great, particularly in the episode where he ends up in the Batcave and definitively discovers (through mathematical calculations using his fingers) that Batman is Bruce Wayne. I love that I have the complete series on Blu-ray, where the colours really pop.
Get Smart– Again, the series was perfectly cast, with Don Adams as bumbling but successful Agent 86 Maxwell Smart of Control — he was a master of comedy; Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 and Edward Platt as the long-suffering Chief of Control, and amongst the villains, Bernie Kopell as Siegfried stood out, proving the same type of wry humour (but obviously no sexual tension) that Newmar provided as Catwoman. And again, you find yourself caring about the characters. Finally, I liked Smart’s red convertible Sunbeam Tiger so much that it inspired me to choose a red Honda Civic as the first car I purchased.
Honourable mentions: The Flintstones, the Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Hour (which I watched for years Saturday afternoons on CBC, just before curling) and Bewitched.
Next time: Retro Roundup’s favourite TV theme songs.