George Burns was a legendary comedian and actor and arguably the greatest straight man of the 20th century. His arched eyebrow and his cigar smoking became his trademarks in an illustrious career that spanned over three-quarters of a century. This collector's- DVD- set- preserves- his- most- memorable- TV- specials- and- features- many- of- the- greatest- names- in- entertainment including: Bob Hope, Ann-Margret and Johnny Carson.
It's all about Old Skool, and just old, period, in George Burns - The TV Specials Collection
, a four-disc set featuring nine shows recorded from 1976-1986. In nominally celebrating various milestones in the veteran comic's long career (there are commemorations of his 80th birthday, his 90th birthday, his 80 years in show biz, and his "100th birthday"--the last of which was taped in 1979, when he was actually a mere 83), these shows all rely on pretty much the same formula: Burns, with his big round glasses, toupee, and ever-present cigar, cracks a few jokes (some quite funny, many pretty stale), tells stories about his Vaudeville days, half-sings a few jaunty tunes, interacts with a parade of celebrity guests, and leers at beautiful, well-proportioned young women. There are old pros like Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Walter Matthau, Shecky Greene, Don Rickles (inevitably), a mummified George Jessel, and Johnny Carson (whose few ad-libbed asides with Burns are among the more amusing moments), along with some then-hot TV stars (Linda Evans, John Schneider). There are performances by some of the era's most homogenized pop singers, like the Osmond Brothers, Andy Gibb, and the Captain and Tennille. There's even a trip to Nashville (coinciding with Burns' early-'80s quasi-country hit, "I Wish I Was 18 Again"), where the kitsch runs rampant and and the corn is ripe. On the plus side, Burns, whom Hope calls "the Peter Pan of the prune juice set," is surprisingly sharp throughout, his timing and rapid-fire New York delivery intact. There's a nice bit with Madeline Kahn standing in for Gracie Allen (Burns' longtime wife and partner) that serves as a reminder that he was one of the all-time great straight men, and a few entertaining dance numbers. By and large, this is TV at its most bland and middlebrow, but celebrity gazers looking for few easy laughs won't be disappointed. The set includes no bonus material. --Sam Graham