God, I miss television. You’d think that, as the writer of a weekly TV column, I’d have all the time in the world to just kick back and watch the boob tube to my heart’s content, but that’s never quite how it seems to work out. Indeed, if anything, I watch less TV now that I’ve got my own TV column that I ever did before I got the column. There just aren’t enough hours in the day anymore to indulge in all of the small-screen scrumptiousness that I’d like…and, unfortunately, that also includes the wide variety of TV-DVDs that I get in to review. This seemed like as a good a time as any, then, to take a quick look at some of the more interesting sets that I’ve had piling up around my desk recently. It’s a pretty diverse bunch, to be sure, but since when is there anything wrong with a bit of variety?
Borgia: Season One: No, not “The Borgias,” although the subject matter is quite obviously similar. This is actually a series by Tom Fontana, best known for his work on such TV classics as St. Elsewhere, Homicide, and Oz, done for the French network Canal+ in 2011. Although it’s only just now come to DVD, Netflix subscribers actually had the option to enjoy the series online starting late last year. If you enjoy a good historical drama, this’ll do the trick nicely.
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father: The Complete First Season: “People, let me tell ya ’bout my best friend…” So went the opening lines of Harry Nilsson’s classic theme song, which I can still sing in its entirety when pressed. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s held up 100% from its original late ’60s / early ’70s run, but Bill Bixby is one of those guys who I always wanted to be my uncle, he was always so darned affable onscreen, and as an adult I can definitely appreciate his storylines far better than I could back when I was still part of the under-10 set. (I was obviously far more partial to Brandon Cruz’s work at the time I originally watched it.)
Daktari: The Complete First Season: Thank you, Warner Archive, for diving into the vaults and bringing out this slightly corny but still fun family series about Dr. Marsh Tracy (Marshall Thompson), a veterinarian for the Wameru Study Centre for Animal Behaviour in East Africa. More or less a spin off from the film Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion, any given episode of “Daktari” would probably make PETA cringe, given how many animals turn up from scene to scene (you know they’re probably all on loan from local zoos), but it’s something you can watch with your kids, and as a parent, let me tell you, that’s something that goes a long way.
Father Dowling Mysteries: The First Season: What really needs to be said about this classic? It’s Tom Bosley, saving souls and solving mysteries with the help of his disconcertingly-cute assistant, played by Tracy Nelson. It’s a relatively late addition to the old-sitcom-stars-turned-mystery-solver genre of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and it’s fair to say that it doesn’t exactly hold up spectacularly, but it’s still kind of a hoot to watch, albeit in a kitschy kind of way. Say what you will about the show, but that Tom Bosley’s got charisma.
I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, Volume 1: John Astin may be better known as Gomez Addams from “The Addams Family,” and Marty Engels is, quite frankly, probably best known for giving voice to the animated version of Pac-Man, but way back in their pasts, the two comedians joined forces for this sitcom where they play two carpenters who aren’t exactly at the top of their field. This DVD set is a labor of love that came out in limited-edition form a few months back and is just about to hit stores in a standard edition, but if you enjoy checking out a bit of oft-forgotten TV history, it’s a funny series, and the lovingly-complied set is filled with a ton of bonus material.
Medical Center: The Complete First Season: To show you where my frame of reference is, I have a really hard time looking at Chad Everett and seeing him as anyone other than Simon Kurtz from Airplane II: The Sequel. Once upon a time, though, he was better known as Dr. Joe Gannon, one of the leading surgeons at a university hospital in Los Angeles. This is another Warner Archive special, which means there aren’t any special features on the set, but you know how it is: better to have the show out on DVD without bonus material than not to have it at all. Another dated effort, mostly due to how much has changed in medicine since 1969, but Gannon’s a charmer who makes it worth watching anyway.
Mission: Impossible: The ’88 and ’89 Seasons: In the late ’80s, there was a TV writers strike that forced networks into a position of trying to come up with new dramatic programming without actually having anyone write it. The solution: go back and revisit old shows, take their scripts, and re-film them. That was how the new version of Mission: Impossible got the green light, but by the time the series premiered, the strike was over and it became its own entity. M:I adventures are always fun, but it certainly helps that Peter Graves came back to reprise his role as Jim Phelps.
My Living Doll: The Official Collection, Volume 1: It’s a ’60s series about a guy – played by Bob Cummings – who has a robot that looks like Julie Newmar. Go on, you don’t need to know anything more from me to know that you want to check it out.
Probe: Although there’s little question that Hugh O’Brien is better known for playing the title character in “The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp,” the early ’70s found him shifting genres from westerns to sci-fi spy action with this, the pilot for a series about a private eye decked out with lots of special gadgets.
The Quest: This is neither the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie nor the Henry Thomas movie but, rather, the pilot for a ’70s TV western starring Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson as a couple of brothers who are searching for their missing sister, who’s in the hands of the Cheyenne Indians. It’s a little surprising that they didn’t just release a complete-series set, given that there were only ever 15 episodes of the show to begin with, but, hey, the pilot’s a step in the right direction, anyway.
Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales: The Complete Collection: Don Adams does the voice of the titular tale-teller, offering up a performance which reveals that his days as Maxwell Smart were just around the corner. The series also features the best character name of all time: Phineas J. Whoopee. It’s been a lot of fun to flash back with this show. It’s definitely not going to beat Bullwinkle in my book, but even now I can still remember why I enjoyed it as much as I did.
Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The Complete First Season: Even a Kevin Smith apologist such as myself is not going to go out on a limb and suggest that everything features Jason Mewes is worth seeing, but with that said, this is kind of cool in a goofy kind of way. Basically, Todd’s a horny teenager who’s trying to keep this book from falling into the wrong hands. Told you it was goofy. But we can all use a good hit of goofy in these trying times, can’t we?
Underdog: The Complete Series: As a kid, I liked superheroes and I liked funny animals, so, really, this was the single best series I could have hoped for. Simon Bar Sinister, Riff Raff, and all of your favorite villains are here, too. Ye who rob and plunder better watch your asses…
Tags: Borgia, Daktari, I'm Dickens He's Fenster, Medical Center, Mission: Impossible '88, Mission: Impossible '89, My Living Doll, Probe, Tennesse Tuxedo and his Tales, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Father Dowling Mysteries, The Light from the TV Shows, The Quest, Todd & The Book of Pure Evil, Underdog, Will Harris