Box sets are in demand for holiday giving, but they often dip way below the consumer radar other times of the year–especially those sets “not available in stores.” Perhaps that’s why Time Life is once again promoting it’s award-winning TV-on-DVD boxed set “Get Smart,” which was released last year right before Christmas. The bad news for fans of the show is that all five seasons of the original show are still only available in this pricey ($199.96) boxed set from Time Life (Have your credit card handy; our operators are standing by). But the good news is that it’s a great set, with all sorts of surprising bonus features and high-quality transfers. It’s one of the best TV-on-DVD sets I’ve seen. DVD producer Paul Brownstein (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”) really outdid himself with this sumptuous set.
“Get Smart” is quite the package to review, though, with 138 original episodes on 25 DVDS and some nine hours of bonus features, for a total of roughly 3950 minutes, or 65 hours of viewing time! And would you believe I watched all 65 hours?
Would you believe 12 hours?
What about 12 episodes, a serious skim through the bonus features, and a half-hour daydream involving me and Agent 99?
“Get Smart” debuted on NBC on September 18, 1965 right after “I Dream of Jeannie,” and by the end of the year it became the #12-watched show in America, making stars of Don Adams and Barbara Feldon in the process. Almost overnight, Agent Maxwell Smart, a.k.a. “86,” had people all across the country mimicking his three trademark catch-phrases: his “would you believe” gags, the “sorry about that” which followed every major goof-up, and “missed it by THAT much” to show how close he usually wasn’t.
Max was the anti-Bond, a bumbling and slow-on-the-uptake CONTROL agent who still somehow managed to get the best of his evil counterparts from the secret organization called KAOS. If the Bond films were tongue-in-cheek action dramas, and two other popular TV shows–“I Spy” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”–were mostly campy, “Get Smart” was a full-blown parody created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. It was silly, but it was also right-on.
There’s a fun site out in cyberland called Jumptheshark.com, where fans can vote when their favorite TV shows took a turn for the worst. Though a majority (284 votes) think that the show never “jumped,” I’m with those who think it went downhill when Max and his sidekick, Agent 99 (Feldon) got married in the fourth season. The show dropped to #22 its second year, and fell completely out of the Nielsen Top-30 it’s third, which put the studio in panic mode. What do you do when a show skids? You schedule a wedding or have someone get pregnant. In this case, both things happened, when the big-wigs should have just let this show continue to be the hilarious send-up of spy caper films that it was. Not only did fans have to watch Agents 86 and 99 get married the fourth season, but they had to endure 99’s twins the following year. Those two seasons are weaker than the first three, but even so, there are still funny episodes to be found.
It’s appropriate that Time Life is marketing this set. While they’re not exactly the Norman Rockwell Institute, the Time Life folks do have a reputation for selling family-friendly sets of books over the years. My kids had never heard of “Get Smart,” but they laughed as heartily as I did at some of the gags.
Example? When Max is being outfitted with the latest spy gadgets, the Chief (Edward Platt) explains that KAOS agents have a way of making people talk, and that the big pill in his spy-kit will bring a painless death in just 20 seconds. Any questions? he asks. “Just one,” Smart says. “How do I get them to take it?”
The fear, when you revisit a beloved TV show, is that you might have outgrown it or that society has changed so much that the old show is now so excessively dated that it’s unrecognizable. Not so, heree, I’m happy to say. “Get Smart” still plays in Peoria (and Bloomington).
After a black-and-white pilot that’s a little worse for wear, the show looks great in color. I’d forgotten how funny it was, and, yes, how dumb. But the writers, directors, and producers were a detail-oriented bunch, and it’s recognizing spy clichés and conventions in every episode that make it almost as much fun as the star cameos that catch you by surprise every now and then. Bob Hope as a waiter? “I Spy” star Robert Culp turning up in an episode titled “Die Spy”? James Caan in “To Sire, with Love”? Ted Knight (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) in “Pussycats Galore”? Comedian Bill Dana in “Ice Station Siegfried”? You never know what you’re going to get, and that made for a highly entertaining series. And who could forget “Love Boat”‘s Bernie Kopell as a KAOS leader Siegfried?
Even with that desperation move to marriage and babies, most of the episodes still hovered in the 7-8 range for “smart” parodies of the Bond films and TV spy series . . . in an innocuously dumb sort of way.
As with all older TV shows, “Get Smart” is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. There’s no information on it anywhere, but from what I remember seeing on TV, these episodes appear to have been significantly cleaned-up . . . with the exception of the pilot, which is still pretty rough. There’s grain in all the episodes, sure, but very little of it considering this series came out in the Sixties. Colors are especially bright.
A word on packaging: Some of these boxed sets are too cute for their own good–big bulky affairs that make you wonder where in the world you’re going to store it. Thankfully this one comes in a compact sturdy cardboard box that, when you open the flap, exposes two more flaps that look like a phone booth (Smart’s entrance into the CONTROL headquarters, you may recall). Inside that are the five season packages, each housed inside a plastic slipcase.
Shows from this period were recorded in Mono, and you get just enough clarity in this set to make you regret that “Get Smart” used a laugh track. Clear as a BELL canned laughter. Seriously, though, it’s a decent soundtrack for Mono.
Here’s where I could get carpal tunnel syndrome just listing all the bonus features, much less commenting on them:
5 eight-page booklets with liner notes written by Dave Ketchum (Agent 13) and Alan Spencer, contributor to the feature film “Get Smart Again.” The episode guides in each of these booklets is handy too, though they’re not too detailed.
138 episode introductions by Feldon, which are nice at first but then get kind of old. I mean, what is there to say?
Audio commentaries for specific episodes: “Mr. Big” pilot (Mel Brooks, Buck Henry), “Kisses for KAOS” (Barbara Feldon), “A Man Called Smart” (Leonard Stern), “How to Succeed in the Spy Business without Really Trying” (Bernie Kopell), “99 Loses Control” (Feldon, Henry), “The Little Black Book, Pt. 2” (Don Rickles), “To Sire with Love” (Caan), and “Ice Station Siegfried” (Dana). I listened to a bunch of each, and it’s interesting to hear these folks reminisce . . . or try to remember.
On-camera interviews (in the 15-20 minute range) with Feldon, Henry, Bruce Bilson, Kipell, and Stern. Pretty decent.
5 featurettes (“The Secret History of Get Smart,” “Barbara Feldon: Real Model to Role Model,” “Spooks, Spies, Gadgets and Gizmos,” “Code Words and Catch Phrases” and “The Fans of Get Smart.” Even the last one isn’t bad, considering it shows the impact the show has had over the years. But the one on Feldon interested me most. Ahem.
A blooper reel–for a show like this, it’s always fun to watch.
A 2003 Museum of Television & Radio “Get Smart Reunion” seminar featuring Adams, Feldman, Kopell, Stern, and Bilson. This one is rare, because the original seminar was closed to the public. One of the best of the bonus features, too.
Don Adams 75th birthday roast at the Playboy Mansion-what a time capsule!
Footage from Don Adams’ 2005 memorial service-this one is a bit maudlin, and one I could have done without.
Footage from all 7 Emmy award wins and acceptance speeches-again, one of the best of the bonus features.
An assortment of TV commercials and product endorsements starring Feldon and Adams.
5 “Interactive features”: a CONTROL Entrance Exam, Max’s Apartment, The Chief’s Office, Agent 99’s Purse, and Max’s Sunbeam Tiger.
Clips from Adams’ guest appearances on “The Bill Dana Show,” “The Andy Williams Show,” and “Milton Berle’s Wild Wild World of Comedy.” The Dana show is a particular gem, because it was here that guest-star Adams first unveiled his “would-you-believe?” joke while playing Det. Byron Glick.
Footage of the NBC 1965 season preview, hosted by Adams, is a real treat for TV lovers, as is a clip of Adams finding out on the air that his wife has given birth, and NBC Broadcast Standards memos. Great stuff!
Footage of Adams and Feldon as Rose Bowl Parade Grand Marshals. Eh.
And an ultimate clip-reel that’s really very good. In fact, I’d suggest starting with this as a way to whet your appetite for the 138 episodes.
Truthfully, if “Get Smart” were available in separate seasons, I probably would have bought only the first three and let the final two stay on the shelves. But just as truthfully, this is one of the best TV-on-DVD sets I’ve seen, and it’s nice to have all 138 episodes and all these wonderful bonus features.