I Saw A TV Show!
This again, is a kind of childhood memory stretched into a sort of liberal arts course on the humor, style and political satire of the era. It is fair to remember here that a season of television meant almost thirty episodes! And when these shows were an hour of sketch, film-clip, stage and other filler as well as guests, you have a lot of material to look at and judge. Some of their regular products were nothing more than their various players just blurting a phrase. Joanne Worley holding up a necklace and saying “Family jewels”. Much of this stuff isn’t very funny. There is a hard reliance on puns, and phrases that the show repeats or calls back to. “Sock it to me!” usually gets the cute Judy Carne drenched with water. “Here comes the judge!” gets people dancing around chanting. Goldie Hawn, adorable, sparkling and blonde, plays up the giggling ditzy and often gets called “stupid” which, frankly, isn’t very funny. Lantern-jawed Ruth Buzzi is impressive, cartwheeling, prat-falling, taking abuses and delivering her purse-swinging grumpy old lady.
Rowan and Martin themselves host, and act in many of the skits, but their brand of stand-up comedy, a straight man and a nutty man, is far weaker than the Smothers brothers version which always ended with Tommy saying, “Mom always liked you best.” With Rowan and Martin the repeated desire to talk about something loopy an aunt said, or make jokes about an invisible uncle are wholly flat-footed and unsurprising. Dan Rowan often repeats a silly line dropped by Dick, and Dick immediately says, “I didn’t know that!” Which not only isn’t very funny, but it actually just doesn’t work grammatically or logically. One gets the feeling that networks wanted a Smothers Brothers show that wasn’t quite so challenging as Tommy famously took up the thrown censorship glove and fought back. Comparing this sort of humor to something like today’s Patton Oswalt or Maria Bamford, it’s not even in the same genre of study. Rowan and Martin stick strictly to light-hearted absurdity (in the non-philosophical sense). Though, I suppose there’s a more universal appeal of the common eye-rolling schtick. For me, this sort of humor, expanding from old vaudeville and Three Stooges routines, is not only too alien to connect with, it’s generally unmoored to anything human. By that I mean it’s not topical or relatable, you’ll never identify with Dick Martin. But, thankfully, this is only one aspect of a large sampling of somewhat varied humor, while still centering around a common theme of clean and basically unchallenging.
Parts of the show remind me of beloved Monty Python absurdity, but these bits are seldom expanded on. A man in a slicker riding a tricycle just tips over and, at times, this is a favorite bit just because it’s so ridiculous. Another recurring part of the show is an award, a statue of a pointing finger with a bow on it, presented symbolically to some organization or individual of dubious infamy. One was given to a gun company that began devoting itself to producing child-sized weapons.
I was surprised, during the Flip Wilson guest appearance, that the players went into blackface to perform some silly stuff, all but the black stars who switched to white face. I am sure the intent was to gently harpoon the old Amos and Andy style, but its still jarring to look at. Another recurring joke was having one of the dancers at the party dressed as a Civil War confederate officer and saying just miserable racist shiite. This was enough for a rollicking laugh at the time. I think, unfortunately, this was a somewhat optimistic risk to take.
Guest stars ranged from Tony Curtis to Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink from the old Hogan’s Heroes, a terrible show, though Klemperer is terrific), and from Nancy Sinatra (yawn) to James Garner. I really enjoyed Flip Wilson and remember being a fan of his solo show in the 70s as a kiddo. I also always loved regular player Dave Madden who later wound up as the manager of the Partridge Family.
Homosexual humor is much toyed with, especially with Alan Sues hamming up the rather over-the-top enthusiastic homosexual. Sues was a homosexual, and at one point approaches Garner for a kiss, who responds threateningly. Most of this kind of amusement is long passé but even Monty Python dabbled in it. It was too low hanging a fruit (no joke) to pass by I suppose.
A segment where the various ladies go-go dance with body paint on them is an especially sweet one, though, one notes, obviously for the fellows, even when the body paint is just textual references to jokes or pointed terminology of the show. Artie Johnson’s German soldier rising in the shrubbery to say “Veddy Interestink” gets a bit tired. And I saw that he began demanding more credit than the other players later in the show’s life.
It cannot be said that these folks didn’t do a lot of work, song, dance, jokes, costumes, trap doors and hoses were common in each and every show. The show was well integrated almost from the start and should probably get credit for giving stage to so many excellent performers of color. This is running Free on Prime and I’m about to launch into season 3.