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It's impossible to think of comedy without thinking of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Few other names are as synonymous with slapstick, improv, and situational comedy than this duo who first worked together in 1936. Bud and Lou gave us the straight man and bumbling sidekick delivery that formed the core of their work in burlesque shows, serial radio, feature films, and The Abbott and Costello Show which ran for two seasons from 1952-53.
All 52 episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show are included with this release, spread across eight discs, allotting the first four discs to Season One and the remaining four to Season Two:
Aside from the odd episode I caught here and there over the years, this was the first opportunity I've had to sit down and watch the entire run of The Abbott and Costello Show. While the formula stays the same from episode to episode, each show featured a different storyline that allowed Abbott and Costello to shine with their signature mix of misunderstandings, physical comedy, and rapid-fire exchanges. What really made the series work was not only the skills of its headliners, but also the talented supporting cast, each solid comedians in their own right: Sidney Fields (Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine), Gordon Jones (The Shaggy Dog), Joe Besser (Africa Screams), and Hillary Brooke (The Man Who Knew Too Much). While Seinfeld's supporting cast only played one character throughout their series' run, you can easily see how Abbott and Costello's formula and cast inspired Jerry and his creative team as they developed their own "show about nothing."
Bud and Lou's first known radio appearance was "The Kate Smith Hour" in March 1938, where they debuted their now-legendary "Who's On First" routine. Both hailing from New Jersey, Abbott and Costello's voices were a bit too similar and hard to distinguish on radio, so Costello adopted the higher pitched and more childlike voice he is known for today. The duo developed their signature style of the bumbling Lou and the hard-nosed Bud during their time on radio and it wasn't long before they'd honed their act to near perfection. As their popularity increased and their fan base grew, Universal recognized the team's potential and signed them to a long-term deal that resulted in 36 films between 1940 and 1956. Somehow, amidst their busy film schedule, they also managed to create a television series recognized by many as one of the 100 greatest shows of all time; a well-deserved accolade indeed.
Even though they got their start in the often risqué world of burlesque, Abbott and Costello's style of comedy was always clean, never resorting to crude or vulgar material for laughs, unlike many of today's comedians. Their family-friendly content never seemed to hurt their careers, even boosting their fame due to a broader range of appropriateness and appeal.
Restored and remastered, the black & white episodic content fares remarkably well, considering the source material is now nearly 60 years old. There are remarkably few blemishes or damage visible and while a bit on the hot side at times, the whites are clean with a decent amount of contrast between a wide range of greys and blacks. I was expecting the video presentation to be soft or distorted, but was surprised to find the picture quality above average throughout. While somewhat limited by the nature of the original sound elements, the 2.0 mono audio mix does the job, remaining mainly clear, aside from the odd pop or crackle.
As extra features go, the tip of the iceberg begins with the self-explanatory "Classic Routine Reel" from Disc Four of Season One, and two short offerings of "Lou Costello Home Movies: At Home" and "Lou Costello Home Movies: In Europe" on Disc Four of Season Two. Where the set really shines is in the full disc of supplemental material sure to delight fans and newcomers alike. Hey Abbott!, a 1978 TV special about the duo hosted by Milton Berle, gets a bit schlocky at times, but does a fair job of paying tribute to two of comedy's greatest sons. After tragically losing his son Lou Jr. around his first birthday, Lou formed a charity foundation to benefit underprivileged children that is the subject of the 1948 short film "10,000 Kids and a Cop."
Costello's daughters Chris and Paddy weigh in with an extended interview segment that can be viewed as a whole or by subject area. The two ladies share a wealth of information about their father and "Uncle Bud" that provides some insight into the men behind the legend. Finally, "Lou Costello Home Movies: Holidays and Celebrations" shares some more intimate moments with the Costello family. What's that you say? Not enough? How about a 44 page commemorative book that accompanies the set? The duo's history, supporting cast profiles, and detailed episode summaries are all gathered here in an attractive, bound booklet that is, to be sure, better than your average DVD insert.
Jerry Seinfeld cites Abbott and Costello as two of the inspirations for his career and his award-winning TV series; it's easy to see why. Abbott and Costello were far more than the sum of their parts, leaving behind a significant volume of work that delights and entertains both new viewers and long-time fans to this day.
The Abbott and Costello Show: The Complete Series is guilty of
delivering pants-wetting hilarity and an ab workout that puts Billy Blanks to
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Studio: E1 Entertainment
• Classic Routines
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