By G. Michael Dobbs
I go back into TV history for this week’s film review column.
The gold mine that is “The Carol Burnett Show” yields much more comedy treasure in this new six disc set and for my money it may be the best collection yet.
The premise of the collection is to present through its bonus features how the show was made and how the cast had difficulty controlling themselves when they threw in an ad-lib.
The master of the ad-lib was Tim Conway and there is plenty of evidence to show that Conway was one of the funniest guys in television, especially when he was creating comedy on the fly.
Burnett explained her show was taped twice. The first taping was a dress rehearsal before an audience in which the cast stuck to the script. After that show was completed, Conway would go to the show’s director and advise him to change the camera angles in particular skits.
There would then be a second taping in which the cast allowed themselves to ad-lib. Many of the ad-libs found their way into the finished shows.
One of the funniest bits involved Conway as a new dentist having to work on Harvey Korman’s teeth. There was a gag involving Conway stabbing his hand inadvertently with his Novocain, which Korman expected. What Korman didn’t know is that Conway was going to stab his leg with the pain killer, numbing it and creating the opportunity for improvised physical comedy. Korman is reduced to tears of laughter.
This set features 17 uncut full shows, which have not been included in previous collections.
This is very funny stuff and a great set to have when you want some classic comedy.
Horror film director George Romero and his partner Richard Rubinstein had great success with their syndicated television series, “Tales from the Darkside,” back in the mid-1980s and “Monsters” was Rubinstein’s follow-up series, running from 1988 to 1991.
While I remember watching “Tales” fairly religiously, I don’t recall sitting down to “Monsters,” although I knew it existed. The entire 72-episode series has now been released on DVD for the first time.
While “Tales” presented a variety of horror, fantasy and science fiction stories, “Monsters” was, well, about monsters. Every episode featured some sort of beast or mutant and it’s interesting to see how the make-up demands of the series were handled. The make-ups were under the general direction of the legendary Dick Smith (responsible for the make-up in “The Exorcist” among many other films). Some are quite good, while others look rushed.
I watched a bunch of the half-hour episodes – sorry I didn’t have the time for the full 72 shows – and there was a decided unevenness to the productions.
For instance, “The Feverman” with David McCallum was truly creepy with McCallum as a sort of faith healer who literally wrestles and kills infections, which are shown as monsters living inside a person.
On the other hand, another show about a New York couple discovering their upstairs neighbor is raising bees to make a new kind of honey was poorly written and directed with over-stated performances.
The problem with the shows I watched centered on budget – some of them looked very, very cheap – and the scripts, which walked the line between horror and humor.
When the story clicked with a good director, “Monsters” could be a fun show. One of the show’s appeals is to see performers such as Steve Buscemi at an early stage of their careers.
For hard-core horror fans nostalgic for the TV series of their youth, “Monsters” is required viewing. For everyone else, the show is a bit of a crapshoot.