Reviews

You Sprung a Leak in Your Dinghy: 'The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Favorites (2-disc edition)'

In successfully bringing together so many elements – humor, music, and drama – into one show, Carol Burnett and her fellow cast members created a true variety show, in the best sense.


The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Favorites (2-disc edition)

Distributor: Time Life
Cast: Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conwat, Lyle Waggoner
Network: CBS
Release date: 2012-09-25
Amazon

CBS’ The Carol Burnett Show ran from 1967 to 1978 and produced close to 300 hour-long episodes. The series has recently been released in a number of iterations, including the entire series set, and three different editions entitled “Carol’s Favorites”. The two-disc edition includes seven full-length episodes from the series’ 1974-1976 seasons when it was an established hit with an array of recognizable recurring characters.

The Carol Burnett Show is very much of its time, not only in terms of the guest stars featured, including Shirley MacLaine, Vincent Price, Carl Reiner, Joan Rivers, and The Jackson 5, among others, but also because many of the sketches were current spoofs of popular television and film, such as “The Walnuts” take off on The Waltons. In addition, some sketches dealt with the gender politics of the time, such as a construction worker sketch with Burnett as the unlikely new addition to the crew.

One of the more heavily featured sketches was a pre-Mama’s Family set of scenes entitled “The Family”. They consisted of Vicki Lawrence as Mama, and Burnett and Harvey Korman as Ed and Eunice. There's also one with guest star Ken Berry, who would go on to be a regular on the sitcom. The best part of these scenes is always Burnett’s Eunice. While she and Korman occasionally popped into Mama’s Family, they weren’t regulars, but Eunice reliably brought anger and sadness to the sketches that grounded the characters and made them more interesting.

Another recurring sketch was “Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins”, in which Conway played a Swedish businessman in a bad toupee who was always at odds with his flighty secretary. Burnett and Conway often improvised much of their scenes and this particular sketch made that all the more difficult for Burnett, whose Mrs. Wiggins was always played as never fully understanding Tudball. She comments in one of the special features that she had to repeatedly chew on her fingers in order to keep from laughing.

Though not specifically a recurring sketch, “Disaster ‘75” was a part of the regular lampooning of popular movies of the day; in this case, disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure. One of the longer sketches featured, it takes place on an airplane, years before the film Airplane, with Burnett as a stewardess who must save the day. It also features a meta moment with Burnett distracting the passengers by taking questions, much like she does at the beginning of each show. It’s a very funny sketch, complete with signing nuns, a nurse with her patient, and her ex-boyfriend (played by Carl Reiner) at air traffic control demanding an apology before helping her land the plane.

In addition to the sketches the series is most known for (although this DVD set does not include its most famous sketch, “Went with the Wind”), The Carol Burnett Show was a true variety hour with musical numbers and banter with guest stars. Everything from a number with Shirley MacLaine singing about fan mail, to a stand-up set by Joan Rivers, to a short interview and song with Roddy McDowell was fair game and the series did a lovely job of incorporating all these elements. Burnett’s trademark question and answer sessions at the beginning of each show was also a great way to offset all the over-the-top characters and big numbers that would come after. Burnett was charming and quick with her adlibs, endearing herself not only to the live studio audience, but to those watching at home as well.

There's no shortage of hilarious moments in these handpicked episodes, but what makes them so enjoyable is the camaraderie of the cast. The core group of players, Burnett, Korman, Tim Conway (who, shockingly, was only a guest star, albeit one who appeared very often, until he was made a full cast member in the eighth season), Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner were clearly having a great time and it translates very directly to the viewer. Even in the moments when someone would break character and laugh – Korman was especially prone to breaking up in scenes with Conway – it always felt genuine and more like the cast was having too much fun to hold it in, rather than a cheap play to get laughs.

A series that went all out in its comedy sketches, it also took the time to show some smaller, more serious vignettes. For example, one of the episodes features a short scene between Burnett and Korman in which he is leaving to get married and she is obviously heartbroken. Burnett performs an emotional version of “Send in the Clowns” that is unexpected, but affecting. In successfully bringing together so many elements – humor, music, and drama – into one show, Burnett and her fellow cast members created a true variety show, in the best sense.

It should be noted that the picture quality isn’t always the best. There are even a few segments that seem as if they’ve been transferred directly from an old VHS tape. However, thankfully, the show rarely suffers for it.

The two-disc DVD set contains three bonus features: an episode of the Garry Moore Show, starring a young Burnett, as well as Alan King; a featurette on the Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins characters; and an interview with Burnett. Not included as official special features, there are some introductory set-ups for a few of the episodes by Burnett, Korman, and Conway.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image