HBO // 1965 // 900 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // September 3rd, 2008
Missed it by that much.
Previously only available on DVD in a pricey complete series boxed set from Time-Life, Get Smart is now being re-released in much more affordable single-season sets by HBO Video. Let's take a look at Season One.
A television fixture from 1965 through 1970 (and beyond, thanks to syndication), Get Smart presents the adventures of inept Agent 86, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams, Inspector Gadget) and his winsome partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon, Get Smart, Again!). Smart and 99 work for CONTROL , an ultra-secret American spy agency that spends much of its time and energy battling rival spies from the evil KAOS. Smart is always at the center of the action -- outwitting villains (usually by accident); talking on his shoe phone; and frustrating the snot out of his boss, The Chief (Edward Platt, North by Northwest), by insisting that they use the perpetually malfunctioning Cone of Silence during top secret briefings.
Get Smart: Season One is a four-disc set that contains the first 30 episodes of the series' 138-show run:
* "Mr. Big"
* "Diplomat's Daughter"
* "School Days"
* "Our Man in Toyland"
* "Now You See Him, Now You Don't"
* "Washington 4, Indians 3"
* "KAOS in Control"
* "The Day Smart Turned Chicken"
* "Satan Place"
* "Our Man in Leotards"
* "Too Many Chiefs"
* "My Nephew the Spy"
* "Aboard the Orient Express"
* "Weekend Vampire"
* "Survival of the Fattest"
* "Double Agent"
* "Kisses for KAOS"
* "The Dead Spy Chronicles"
* "Back to the Old Drawing Board"
* "All in the Mind"
* "Dear Diary"
* "Smart, the Assassin"
* "I'm Only Human"
* "Stakeout on Blue Mist Mountain"
* "The Amazing Harry Hoo"
* "Hubert's Unfinished Symphony"
* "Ship of Spies, Part 1"
* "Ship of Spies, Part 2"
* "Shipment to Beirut"
* "The Last One in Is a Rotten Spy"
The brainchild of Buck Henry (The Graduate) and Mel Brooks (The Producers), Get Smart is just plain funny. Its laughs are the epitome of old school simplicity, trading on Max's bumbling and general incompetence. Each 30-minute episode is a veritable clinic in quips, puns, slapstick, light political satire, and references to spy dramas from James Bond to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The distinct fingerprint of each of the show's creators is apparent in the comedy -- Henry's in the characters' deadpan obliviousness to the absurdity of their world, and Brooks's in a steady stream of ridiculous gags, like the impractical shoe phone, the deep cover shenanigans of Agent 13, and a canine secret agent named Fang (Hymie the robot -- an obvious Brooks invention -- doesn't appear until the show's second season).
Despite the quality of the writing, the show would likely be forgotten by now if not for Don Adams's career-defining turn as Maxwell Smart. The former stand-up comedian so thoroughly inhabited the skin of Agent 86 that he largely doomed himself to typecasting for the remainder of his career. The show's funniest moments are Smart's meetings with the Chief. Edward Platt's gruff but avuncular spy boss (who we eventually learn is named Thaddeus) tries his darnedest to model the patience of Job, but is inevitably driven to the end of his rope (and fuse) by Max's dunderheadedness and steadfast insistence on adhering to CONTROL's guidelines, however impractical. It's in these scenes (clever variations of which appear in each and every episode) that we see the perfect melding of Henry's sharp lampooning of bureaucratic buffoonery and Brooks's love of wordplay, slapstick, and the absurd. The ongoing antics surrounding the more-trouble-than-its-worth Cone of Silence alone are practically worth the price of this set.
The full force of Adams's deadpan characterization comes across best in his scenes with Agent 99. Here, Adams carries the full weight of the comedy with Feldon acting (or, more accurately, reacting) as a tame straight-woman and piece of girl-next-door eye candy. This is not to say that Feldon's performance is bad or that her presence is unnecessary. She delivers exactly what she needs to -- an innocent sexual energy that contrasts nicely with the espionage silliness. She's the perfect feminine foil to Max's peculiar style of blundering masculinity. Agent 99 is every bit as essential to Maxwell Smart as Emma Peel is to John Steed.
For a show that's been around for over four decades, Get Smart looks spectacular on DVD. The pilot episode, "Mr. Big," is the only of the series to be shot in black and white. As a result of the stock used, it has more grain than the other episodes but is otherwise clean and pleasant to look at. The other 29 episodes in this set sport strong detail and the sort of eye-popping color typical of Technicolor television shows of the early- to mid-'60s (see also, Star Trek and Batman). Source flaws like nicks and scratches are minimal. Some minor haloing from edge enhancement is occasionally discernible, but it's far from a showstopper.
Supplements are thin. Henry and Brooks provide separate commentaries for the "Mr. Big" episode, while Barbara Feldon does the same for "Kisses for KAOS." Feldon's track, which is essentially a loving tribute to Adams, is the most charming of the three. All three are interesting. Feldon also provides audio introductions to each episode, accessible if you make your selections from the Episodes menu rather than using the Play All feature. The introductions are plot summaries, so it's best to avoid them if you've never seen the episodes.
Though Get Smart holds up well for a show that's over 40 years old, it does feel painfully dated in a couple areas. An oppressive old-school laugh track detracts from the humor instead of reinforcing it. But that's merely a sign of how passé laugh tracks have become. After a few episodes, I got used to ignoring them again.
More bothersome is that a few of the episodes resort to stereotyping that'll make you cringe even if you're not a fan of political correctness (the Native American characters in "Washington 4, Indians 3" are especially backwards and lame).
Readily available for less than 20 bucks, Get Smart: Season One is a steal -- especially considering this classic television comedy was made in a day when seasons consisted of a whopping 30 episodes. Grab this set and you'll be facing 900 hilarious minutes of Maxwell Smart's adventures...and loving it!
Sorry about that, Chief.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 900 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries for Two Episodes
* Introductions to Each Episode by Barbara Feldon