Judge Bill Gibron still seeks treatment for the emotional scars inflicted by the King Family in his youth.
Entertainment so wholesome it should be part of the FDA's recommended daily nutrition allowances.
Toward the end of the '60s, as the counterculture was winning the War of minds while the Establishment was struggling to keep society in order, there was another kind of battle being waged. On the one side were obvious rock 'n' roll rebels like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors etc—musical acts which pushed the boundaries of the artform into new and often exceedingly psychedelic and drug-fueled areas. This was the soundtrack for the Love Generation, for Hippies and Yippies and Woodstock and Monterey Pop. On the other side of the sonic coin where oddball offerings like The Osmonds, Up with People, and of course, The King Family. Unless you grew up in the era, at least two of these names will be completely foreign to you. Up with People was conceived as a way of bringing divergent countries together through singing, the squeaky clean and bright young faces forwarding the organization's core tenets of "love, honesty, purity and unselfishness."
The King Family, on the other hand, were an offshoot of Old Hollywood "royalty." Like the Andrews Sisters, the King girls were a massive hit during the big bands phenomenon. Throughout the '30s and '40s, the gals gave it their all, filling concert halls, dance venues, and on occasion, movie houses. As their star shine started to dim, they (like many of their ilk) discovered television. Before you knew it, The King Sisters were singing everywhere across the boob tube, eventually landing a prime time series on ABC. Of course, this was during the height of the free love/anti-war movement, and for every audience member the white bread family connected with, there were hundreds of younger viewers more eager for Shindig and American Bandstand. Eventually, The Kings lost their gig and viewers went nuclear. They demanded ABC bring them back and so the network did, in a series of holiday themed specials.
These hour-long extravaganzas featured the entire King clan—the original singing "Sisters," the similarly styled vocalizing "Cousins," the always goofy and gangly and inept King "Kids" and an appearance by guitarist extraordinaire Alvino Rey (husband of King sister Luise). There were attempts at appeasing the long hairs, with current songs buried deep within the old chestnuts. There was also the occasional skit, usually involving the younger King children and almost always incredibly stupid. Still, for adults dying for more Lawrence Welk like entertainment, The Kings gave them a healthy dose of the dry and dull, the conservative and correct. As part of the DVD collection here, you have four different shows ("Easter," "Mother's Day," June," and "September (Back to School"), each approximately 45 minutes long. There's also part of a "Valentine's Day" special that is now considered lost, as well as some performances from a "Graduation" special.
Each one is staged in a similar fashion. First the Sisters sing. Then the Cousins. The Kids do some cutting up (or, when some atonal caterwauling is mandated, croon), then more Sisters. Then Rey. Then a big splashy production number and a final farewell. Sometimes, the formula is tweaked (the big finale for "Easter" takes place in a church, and consists of lip-synced hymns) or dispensed with for something more unusual (the "Mother's Day" material begins with a horrible number from the various husbands in the clan). Still, The Kings understood the good squeaky clean fun of their appeal and never once stepped outside it. Even when they tried to be hit and add contemporary songs to their shows, they became mild Muzak lite interpretations. Many an American household suffered through a King Family special while the adolescents of the bunch ran upstairs and put their 13th Floor Elevator records on. There's still some fun to be had here. There's also a whole lot of clueless social stubbornness on display.
Presented by MVD Visual on two standard DVDs, The King Family: Classic Television Specials, Volume 1 has some issues. These are non-remastered transfers of old videotape programs, and the near fifty years between the analog originals and the digital format are obvious. There is fuzziness and an overall lack of clarity. There's been no attempt to widen the 1.33:1 full screen display. There is flaring and ghosting and a whole lot of weird video noise. Granted, the nostalgia factor alone will more than make up for these mistakes, but reference quality collectors need to look elsewhere. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix is also incapable of making up for thin sound reproduction, musical overmodulation, and a really annoying laugh track. As for added content, there are the aforementioned clips from other "lost" specials, as well as home movie taken behind the scenes and an informative booklet with lots of show information. In fact, the pamphlet is more interesting that anything up on the screen.
That's because The King Family's preprogrammed decency holds little sway in a 2014 world. Like Welk, this is your grandparent's kind of entertainment—not too hard, always too soft, and lacking any real bite or depth. The Kings can be commended for riding the counter counterculture wave to a long and beloved career. Unless you love aged cheese, however, The King Family: Classic Television Specials will be a bit much to endure.
Guilty, though not as horrible as it is hokey.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
• Bonus Clips
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