|Available at Amazon.com|
Ah, the old “release the first season to capitalize on the recent movie remake” trick—that’s the second time I’ve fallen for that this year.
Well, regardless of the reasoning, Get Smart is a classic television show and has been long overdue for DVD treatment. Created by comic geniuses Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon, Get Smart is one of the most clever and downright hilarious spoofs of the spy genre ever made. Thanks to Nick-at-Nite, this series that began in the sixties has been alive and well and remains a fond memory to many people like myself who were born well after the show ended its original run. And with few exceptions, it holds up considerably well to the test of time.
Maxwell Smart—codename Agent 86—works for the super secret spy organization Control. He constantly fights against the group known as KAOS, which is devoted to evil and anarchy; and seemingly despite himself, he usually succeeds. At his core, Smart is a buffoon—a likeable one, to be sure—but a buffoon nonetheless. He fumbles through every episode, making clumsy mistakes and oftentimes amazing leaps in logic, yet somehow he always manages to win the day, thanks partly to luck and partly to a strange sort of competence that only shows up when the situation becomes dire.
Don Adams plays Smart, and he’s undoubtedly the star of the show, but Get Smart wouldn’t have been half as good if it was without its superb supporting cast. Edward Platt plays the much put upon Chief of Control, who often becomes the victim of Smart’s blundering. Platt gives a great sense of gravity and seriousness to the role, making him the perfect straight man for Adams. And underlying the Chief’s frequent headaches and yelling fits, he genuinely likes Smart, underlying a sense of camaraderie that lends the show a great feeling of warmth.
The other major actor, of course, is Barbara Feldon as Agent 99. She brings the perfect combination of beauty, intelligence, comic timing, and gentleness to the role, and she and Adams play wonderfully off each other. I would rate Feldon and Adams right up there with the other great comic duos like Abbot and Costello and Burns and Allen. In fact, the thought of Smart without 99 feels wrong, and surprisingly that almost happened as Feldon reveals in her commentary. All I can say is thank goodness it didn’t, because the show would have lost an incredibly important part, and I don’t think it would have been nearly as funny as it was.
The writing also deserves special mention, because the show had excellent writers on staff—not the least of which being Buck Henry whom served as story editor. The episodes were tightly plotted and full of great one-liners and sight gags.
There is, however, one glaring problem with the show that could be considered minor or major depending on your point of view, and that’s the treatment of other races. There are two episodes in particular that especially highlight this problem: “Washington 4, Indians 3” and “The Amazing Harry Hoo.”
In “Washington 4, Indians 3” a Native American tribe threatens Washington with a super weapon and demand the return of all lands taken from them. The Native Americans dress in deerskins, ride horses, live in teepees on their reservation, and talk without articles—in other words, they were very stereotypically portrayed. Max even dresses up like a cowboy complete with twin six shooters when he goes to investigate. When he finally discovers the super weapon, he sees that it is an over-sized, rocket propelled arrow.
“The Amazing Harry Hoo” has Max and 99 teaming up in San Francisco with the famous Hawaiian detective Harry Hoo (spelled “Hoo in the episode listing, but spelled “Who” in the end credits) in search of Smart’s nemesis, The Craw. Although much is made about Hoo being from Hawaii, he’s obviously of Asian ancestry and talks like Charlie Chan. Now I realize that Hawaii has a large Asian population, but I was always under the impression that it was composed of Japanese, not Chinese, and Hoo fits Chinese stereotypes—not Japanese.
The only saving grace to these two episodes is that Smart ends up looking considerably worse than the stereotyped characters. In fact, the one part of “Washington 4, Indians 3” that I found actually funny was a speech Max gives to try and persuade the Native American Chief not to fire his arrow missile. First he tries to appeal to him by going over the past relations between the United States and the Native American tribes. He trails off once he realizes just what he’s saying, so he tries another track by speaking of the current relations between the two where the US government has forced them to live on tiny tracts of land. Smart then tries to talk about the future, but again he trails off and finally tells the chief to push the button.
“Harry Hoo” doesn’t quite have such a standout moment, but Smart again and again proves his intellectual inferiority to the Hawaiian detective, making his trademark leaps of logic, which Hoo can only describe as “Amazing.” Hoo is also the one who takes down The Craw and saves Max and 99, but really this wasn’t enough to redeem the racially based jokes and obvious stereotyping and neither was Max’s speech near the end of “Washington 4.” Out of the thirty episodes of this season, those were the only two that I didn’t enjoy. I realize that they were produced in a different time with different sensibilities, and I don’t believe that there was any malicious or racist intentions behind the episodes, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they don’t hold up well by today’s standards and are fairly uncomfortable to watch.
But twenty-eight great episodes out of thirty is still a great accomplishment, and while I don’t think I’ll ever watch those two episodes again, I know that I will watch the others many times again because Get Smart is a classic television show full of talented people working at the top of their game. On a side note, if you do watch this DVD set, I would recommend selecting each episode individually instead of just choosing the “play all” option because each episode has an introduction by Barbara Feldon, but you only hear her if you select an episode from the list.
Get Smart has been digitally restored and remastered and it looks great. The video is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio and the audio was in English 2.0 and both are just as good—if not better—as when the episodes originally aired.
“Mr. Big” (Pilot Episode) with Audio Commentary by Show Co-Creator Mel Brooks
I’m not usually a fan of audio commentaries, but I have a huge soft spot for Mel Brooks, so this one fared better than most. Mel tends to ramble a bit and went off topic once or twice, but he had some interesting stories to tell about Get Smart. The most enjoyable part of this commentary, though, was hearing how much he enjoyed watching the show. He laughs quite a bit and gets distracted from his commentary at times by what’s happening on screen. It’s actually quite charming.
“Mr. Big” (Pilot Episode) with Audio Commentary by Show Co-Creator Buck Henry
It’s unclear why Brooks and Henry didn’t do this commentary together, and going in I was afraid that there was going to be a lot of overlap in what they said. There were a few moments of that, but thankfully the two ended up talking about different things. Henry doesn’t ramble like Brooks, and he doesn’t get as distracted, but there are moments when he forgets himself and you can tell that he’s enjoying watching the show. This commentary is worth checking out just to hear the reasons why ABC didn’t pick up the show, even though it was specifically made for the network. It’s classic asinine executive thinking that’s almost breathtaking in its stupidity.
“Kisses for KAOS” with Audio Commentary by Barbara Feldon (Agent 99)
Like Brooks and Henry, Feldon clearly enjoys watching the show. She gives a lot of interesting tidbits about the first season, but she keeps coming back to how she constantly had to find ways to keep from looking taller than Don Adams. It’s obvious she has great memories of working on the show.
When I requested this DVD I was a little worried that the show wouldn’t hold up to my memories. Thankfully it surpasses them. Aside from the obvious problems I had with “Washington 4, Indians 3” and “The Amazing Harry Hoo,” this is a great show that works on a myriad of levels. It’s an intelligent show (Ha! Bet you thought I was going to say “smart,” didn’t you?), and it deserves to be preserved. Highly recommended.
HBO presents Get Smart Season One. Starring Don Adams, Barbara Feldon, and Edward Platt. Running time: 900 minutes. Rated TV-G. Released on DVD: August 5, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.