Even love can't keep this DVD set together. Judge Cynthia Boris cringes her way through The Captain and Tennille: Ultimate Collection
"Love. Love will keep us together…"
They were just what the music world was waiting for: a happily married couple, not terribly flashy or glamorous—just two people with great talent made twice as nice by the depth of their love. And if that's not smarmy enough for you, then get a load of this, The Captain and Tennille: Ultimate Collection. Nine hours of music, dance, comedy, and hat jokes (which can't be called comedy by any stretch of the imagination).
Facts of the Case
In the early 1970s, husband and wife team Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille financed their own record and earned themselves a place in music history. Their self-released, The Way I Want to Touch You earned them a contract with A&M Records where they promptly recorded a title that went straight to number one on the charts. The Captain and Tennille (as they were billed) became a household name with their song "Love Will Keep Us Together." This bright and bouncy tune won them a Grammy for Best Record of the Year and became their signature piece, a statement about their wholesome and happy marriage. Unlike most musical duos, Toni did all the singing. Daryl (the real musical genius of the two) played keyboards and was the backbone of the arrangements, very much like their contemporaries The Carpenters.
In 1976, ABC offered the couple their own variety special, hoping that they had found the next Sonny and Cher. Were they able to capture that particular blend of marital hijinks, smart alec banter, humorous sketches, and eye-popping musical numbers? Read on, my friend, read on.
Let me start off by saying that musically, I like The Captain and Tennille. I bought their records. Even after thirty years, I was able to sing along with most of the songs on this DVD. Their music is old fashioned; it is light pop in the style of Neil Sedaka and Barry Manilow and it's pretty much timeless (except perhaps "Muskrat Love," which is still just a weird tune about two woodland creatures getting it on). This show, however, is not timeless in the least. It's extremely dated, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Captain and Tennille variety show is a perfect collection of hot tunes from 1976. You have Leo Sayer vibratoing "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing." Heart pulls you in with "Dreamboat Annie," and England Dan & John Ford Coley are still swoonable when they sing "Nights Are Forever Without You."
Initially, the show was very much a duplicate of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Opening number, witty banter, close number, intro guests. Sketch, sing, sketch. Big dance number and bye-bye. This tried-and-true plan falls flat on its face. Tennille and Dragon were uncomfortable performing the comedy sketches on the show, and complained that there wasn't enough music (they were after all musical performers, not comedians). After a few episodes, the sketches were cut down and the musical performances were beefed up, which raised the watchability factor a few notches. Guests who could sing, like Dionne Warwick, were brought in over guests who couldn't, such as Pat Morita (Happy Days). A "concert" segment was added where Tennille performed several tunes by a particular composer.
You must give credit to the series for trying to break out of the mold and raise the variety series bar. You can see that they were attempting to put art back into television with ballet dancers performing against a misty backdrop, salutes to master songwriters such as George and Ira Gershwin, and even a poetry reading by Leonard Nimoy. They also get creative points for their visual interpretations of classic pop tunes.
The packaging on this DVD set is a nice gold and red with large '70s flower motifs. The three discs are in a Digipack which slides into a slip case. It has nicely written liner notes, but no additional booklet (a song book with lyrics would have been great). Packed inside the slipcase is a bonus CD with the Captain and Tennille's holiday single, "Saving Up Christmas" (not their best work).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm sorry to say, there's a lot to rebut in regard to this DVD set. First and foremost, it is incomplete (which is why it's called The Ultimate Collection and not The Complete First Season). There were twenty episodes in the series, but we only get eleven in this pack. There's no rhyme or reason for the episodes that are missing, so I can only imagine it was a question of rights. The second episode (which featured one of my '70s favorites, David Soul) is absent, as is their Christmas episode—and many more.
Second—let's talk about the Tennille sisters. I gotta figure that Barbara Mandrell had her sisters on her show, so this was just balancing the scales—but no. Sorry. It looks like a bad case of nepotism. Toni's two sisters singing backup and later forming a trio in a Mr. Sandman pajama party number just doesn't cut it at all.
And finally—oh my—can you say "pimping"! Watching the first few episodes on this DVD set is like watching one long commercial for ABC. People who have no business whatsoever being on a musical variety show stop by to promote their TV series. Charlie's Angels make a play for Daryl. The kids from What's Happening! come to clown, and Welcome Back, Kotter's John Travolta sings a duet with Toni. Redd Foxx was pimping his new show, Penny Marshall put in her two cents, and half the cast of Happy Days shows up to say hello as well. On the upside, it is kind of fun seeing these '70s stars outside of their assigned roles. But it's a small upside, and one we could have done without.
Schmaltz! Look it up in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of this DVD set. It's dated, it's embarrassing silly in spots, and the costumer should be shot. (Daryl Dragon in feathers! He is NOT Elton John. And sorry, but Toni Tennille is not Cher.) ABC took a truly classy musical act and turned it into a circus. Now before you start sending me emails saying, "The Captain and Tennille is a truly classy musical act?," listen up. If all you've ever heard was "Love Will Keep Us Together," then you've never really heard The Captain and Tennille. He is a magnificent keyboarder, pianist, and arranger (formerly of The Beach Boys) and she is an incredible torch singer—watch them do the slow version of Sedaka's "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" or "Can't Help Loving That Man of Mine," or even "1954 Boogie Blues." They're amazing when they're allowed to do what they do best. (Which means it's worth buying this DVD set just for those numbers).
The sad thing here is not the lack of talent, but ABC's reluctance to believe that an audience would watch a variety shows sans glitter, balloons, and vaudeville-style comedy. But then again, they were probably right.
I hereby find The Captain and Tennille: Ultimate Collection guilty of schmaltz in the first degree. I sentence ABC and R2 Entertainment to a pie in the face and ten years worth of bad hat jokes.
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