DVD Review: Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (The Complete Fifth Season)

When a Prisoner of War Camp’s gates close, a trap door opens is not a popular saying. But it was true in the Fall of 1971 when viewers had to check their TV Guide to make sure they were watching the right show and network. CBS had canceled Hogan’s Heroes after six seasons releasing its POW cast. In an unusual move, Richard Dawson and Larry Hovis found themselves invited to join the cast of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. The show was needing new male leads since both Arte Johnson and Henry Gibson had split. Hovis wasn’t a completely fresh face since he’d been able to pop up during the short first season of the show. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Fifth Season contains the penultimate episodes as the show adjusts the casts and the times.

Dawson and Hovis for Gibson and Johnson wasn’t an even trade off. Arte Johnson had established so many characters during his time on the show. Ruth Buzzi’s Gladys seemed to be missing her chances at hitting Arte’s Tyrone F. Horneigh with her purse. Not to mention his German soldier behind the fern. Dawson and Hovis didn’t bring any characters or get the writers to truly create them. Hovis did well as the goofy every man character necessary for the comic bits. They were not the second coming of Lily Tomlin. Both guys got plowed over by the flaming charms of Alan Sues. Which is personally fine. Sues gets to dominate the scene which was pretty risky during the early ’70s. He’s able to be more flamboyant than Paul Lynde stuck in the middle square. Also getting member getting a chance to thrive is Johnny Brown who steps up with ability to get the punchlines out quick during the zingers. The season is heavy on famous guest stars including Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, Carol Channing, Petula Clark, Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Paul Lynde, Liza Minelli, Joe Namath, Vincent Price, Bill Russell, Carl Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Sugar Ray Robinson, Vin Scully, Doc Severinsen and Raquel Welch.

The big moment of the season was the 100th episode which brought back many of the old favorites. Judy Carne, Jo Anne Worley, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Teresa Graves and even Tiny Tim pop back up for the groovy cocktail party and the additional insanity. Things get wild quick when John Wayne arrives to battle longtime announcer Gary Owens for the studio microphone. It’s a fun time for all including Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Arte makes sure we know that we do miss him this season during the quickies. He even lets himself get beat up by Gladys again.

Ultimately season five is a fine season. Compare this with a majority of the comedy/music/variety shows that aired during the early 70s, Laugh-In remains at the top of the list. Perhaps for viewers at the time the cast changes was too much as they turned away from the show. Hovis and Dawson made a good move to flee Stalag 13 for the friendly confines of Beautiful Downtown Burbank.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was shot on standard definition video. The transfers look fine with color and detail that brings out the Op Art sets and crazy ’70s fashions and haircuts. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are fine so the punchlines don’t get drowned out by laughter. The episodes are Closed Captioned.

No bonus features.

Time Life presents Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Fifth Season. Starring: Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Lily Tomlin, Larry Hovis, Richard Dawson and Johnny Brown. Rated: Not Rated. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: July 10, 2018.

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