October 6, 2008

‘Smothers Brothers,’ ‘My Three Sons’ Among DVD Releases

By Chris Hicks Deseret News

TV from the 1960s leads off this roundup of programs that have come to DVD.

"The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3" (TimeLife, 1968-69, four discs, $49.95). This is the show for which Tom Smothers was honored with a special Emmy a couple of weeks ago, a comedy-and-music variety program with the brothers' patented smart- guy/dumb-guy sibling rivalry -- which no one has ever done better.

But this "Comedy Hour" also became famous for taking on political targets, especially two of the leading issues of the day -- racism and the Vietnam War -- which caused quite a stir at CBS, infuriating the censors and eventually resulting in the the Smothers Brothers being fired.

The emphasis here is on some of the hot-button episodes (all from the show's final season, though these are the first to be released on home video). But don't think that detracts from the hilarity that was inherent in the program. This is funny, biting stuff ... and by today's standards, remarkably tame.

Comedy guests include Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Jackie Mason, Jonathan Winters, David Steinberg and Steve Martin, who was a writer on the show. And, of course, Pat Paulson, whose faux presidential campaign was a staple. Some of the period's great musical acts also show up -- Harry Belafonte, George Harrison, The Doors, Donovan, Ray Charles, Cass Elliott, Joan Baez.

Featurettes include interviews with Belafonte, Newhart, Rob Reiner (also a writer on the show) and others, with new introductions by the Tom and Dick Smothers, as well as audio commentaries by Tom.

True, this is informative and especially interesting for history buffs ... both in terms of recent national history and the history of television. But first and foremost, this is highly entertaining and frequently very funny stuff. Let's hope more will follow -- including full-season sets!

Extras: full frame, 11 episodes with introductions and post-show discussions, deleted scenes, audio commentaries (by Tom Smothers), special programs: "Pat Paulsen for President" and "Aspen Comedy Festival 2000: Smothers Brothers Reunion," featurettes, interviews, press conference, promos, photo galleries; 16-page booklet

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"My Three Sons: The First Season, Volume One" (CBS/Paramount, 1960-61, three discs, b/w, $39.98). Like Robert Young in "Father Knows Best" (which overlapped with this show), Fred MacMurray was the perfect dad, in this case a widower raising three sons (Tim Considine, Don Grady, Stanley Livingston), with help from his crusty father-in-law (William Frawley). These earliest episodes of the long- running series are amusing and nostalgic, and predate those currently shown locally on Channel 11 (which are in color and feature William Demarest, who replaced Frawley in the fifth season).

Extras: full frame, 18 episodes

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"Trial & Retribution: Set 1" (Acorn, 1997-2000, four discs, $59.99). A bit like "Law & Order," this British series give us police detectives investigating a murder case, which eventually goes to trial. But here the emphasis is solidly on police work ... although in the second two episodes also delve more deeply into the lives of the chief protagonists, a hard-nosed police veteran (David Hayman) and the female detective (Kate Buffery) with whom he begins an affair. These four two-part episodes (each about 3 1/2 hours) are engrossing but overlong and occasionally -- especially the third -- quite gruesome and graphic.

Extras: widescreen, four episodes, featurette, text biography/ glossary

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"Edward the King" (Acorn, 1973, four discs, $59.99). Timothy West stars in this British miniseries, which chronicles the rise of Edward VII, who impatiently waited 60 years to become king while being thwarted by his mother, Queen Victoria. But he was better than that, and he knew it. Fine cast includes Felicity Kendal, Francesca Annis, Robert Hardy, Charles Dance and John Gielgud.

Extras: full frame, 13 episodes, audio commentaries, introductions, featurettes, photo galleries, trailers

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"The Jewel in the Crown" (A&E, 1984, four discs, $39.95). This is a reissue of the critically acclaimed and popular miniseries about the final days of England's occupation of India focusing on an English woman whose affair with an Indian-born journalist acts as the catalyst to a series of tragic events. This is a wholly satisfying and typically lush production, with Peggy Ashcroft and Charles Dance among the sterling cast.

Extras: full frame, eight episodes

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"Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series" (CBS/Paramount, 1987- 90, 16 discs, $89.98). The popular soap opera/thriller about a man- beast (Ron Perlman) who lives in an underground world beneath New York City and the idealistic lawyer (Linda Hamilton) he loves gets the "complete series" treatment with new bonus features.

Extras: full frame, 55 episodes, introductions, interactive game, promos, eight video love letters

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"The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2" (A&E, 1989-97, $9.95). Six hysterical "Mr. Bean" episodes, with Rowan Atkinson's most popular character getting into trouble in school, on the golf course, etc. Fun for fans who don't already have the complete set.

Extras: full frame, six episodes, four Mr. Bean skits from "Comic Relief UK"

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