This 4 DVD set includes 11 star packed episodes from the third and final season of the hour-long variety show, uncensored, just as they were originally meant to be aired. The guest list reads like a '60s who's who, including comedy stars like George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Jackie Mason, Jonathan Winters, David Steinberg and musical performances by The Doors, Ike & Tina Turner, Donovan, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Judy Collins, Liberace, Joan Baez, the cast of Hair and more.
O, Brothers, where art thou? That's what fans have long asked about the DVD release of the controversial, infamously cancelled The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
. In his thoughtful and candid audio introduction, Tommy Smothers admits he was reluctant to release the show on DVD, thinking it might be best left to memory as "a fantastic show of its time." He needn't have worried. No mere '60s time capsule relic, these 11 episodes from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
's final season are still as funny and entertaining as remembered. After 40 years, the political and social satire and bold anti-war stance are still sharp. With its mix of old-school show business and counterculture comedy, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
revolutionized the staid variety show format for a new generation, and ultimately paved the way for shows such as Saturday Night Live. When the clean-cut brothers got their own variety series, no one expected them to make waves. But at a time when TV's most popular programs offered pure escapism, head writer Mason Williams (and a staff that included Steve Martin and Bob "Officer Judy" Einstein) wanted to push the show in a more subversive direction, and Tommy, who only played dumb opposite his brother, sought and was granted (he thought) creative control from the network. By this third season in the tumultuous year of 1968, the brothers and the show were fully and unapologetically politicized. In the season opener that kicks off this set, their appearance has radically changed. Gone are their signature blazers, and both sport mustaches. With "beeping censors lurking in the wings," the Smothers defiantly sing, "We're still here." Among this set's many highlights: Harry Belafonte's performance of "Don't Stop the Carnival" juxtaposed with footage of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, which the censors did cut, forcing a noticeably upset Tom and Dick to fill in with an audience Q&A (also included as an extra); the benchmark sketch, "A Fable for Our Time," featuring impressionist David Frye going medieval on Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon; a surprise appearance by George Harrison; a charming Donovan sing-along to "Happiness Runs"; and the episode never aired by CBS (and the one said to have gotten the show cancelled) featuring David Steinberg's "Jonah" sermonette. The fourth disc is devoted to deadpan ensemble member Pat Paulsen, whose grass-roots campaign for the White House is chronicled in "Pat Paulsen for President," a special narrated by Henry Fonda. Many happy hours will be spent watching the treasure trove of bonus features, including the Comedy Hour
reunion at the 2000 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, never-before-seen "Paulsen for President" outtakes with Robert F. Kennedy (his footage was cut in the wake of his assassination), a delightful bit in which performers from Barbara Feldon and Nancy Sinatra to Jackie Mason hum the Hour
's cheerful theme song; contemporary interviews with performers, and footage of the brothers' post-cancellation press conference. Worth the wait, this is one of the year's best DVD sets, and one that does this landmark show justice. --Donald Liebenson