Saturday, October 06, 2012
Digital Digest - Big John, Little John - The Complete Series DVD Review; Van Dyke and Company - The Complete Series DVD Review
A few years ago, ABC ran a short-lived animated comedy from Mike Judge called The Goode Family, about a series sort of like King of the Hill, but from a completely different political mindset. Now, according to TVShowsOnDVD.com, it appears that Shout! Factory will be releasing the entire series on DVD on January 8. Not many details are known about this yet, but if we find out anything significant about it, we'll let you know.
Last week, we featured the Warner Archive Facebook page in our Follow Me segment, and this week, we have some insight on another rare series sitting in their library which they are seriously considering... provided that they can get through a few hurdles first. When a fan asked about the series Please Don't Eat the Daisies, this was the response provided:
"A wonderful, oft-requested series we certainly hope to bring to DVD. There are a few episodes in both seasons that have music issues, hopefully they will not be too problematic....and we will definitely need to remaster. Not likely to happen for a bit, as there are other series ahead of it in the clearance and remastering queues, but we hope to get to it sooner than later."
DVD Review: Big John, Little John - The Complete Series (VCI/Fabulous Films, $24.99)
We've all heard of the "fountain of youth," but most of us don't really believe that there is any such thing. Unfortunately, when junior high school science teacher Big John (Herb Edelman) takes a vacation to Florida with his family, he happens to take a sip from that fountain of youth... and the consequences are that he unexpectedly, usually at the most inconvenient times, morphs into a younger version of himself, Little John (Robbie Rist). The children's comedy series created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz ran on NBC Saturday mornings from September 1976 through December 1976 (and interestingly enough, these were the exact same months that our other series that we are reviewing today, Van Dyke and Company, also ran on NBC in the primetime lineup). The series also features Joyce Bulifant as Marjorie, John's wife.
The series begins with "A Sizeable Problem," where we meet John and find out about his big (or little) problem. In "Peter Panic," Little John gets the role of Peter Pan in a school play... but Big John gets the role of Captain Hook! Marjorie panics when she thinks that Little John has morphed into a baby in "Very Little John." Sandra Gould guest stars. In "The Great Escape," Big John is arrested for not having his license, but big problems erupt when he turns into Little John while in the slammer! Little John tries to prove that there is no such thing as ghosts in "Big Scare, Little Scare," but how will he explain how he disappears and Big John appears while in a haunted house? A costume party at Miss Bottomly's goes all wrong in "Big Shot, Little Shot." Big John is convinced he has found a cure for the fountain of youth in "Time for Change."
Little John has been cursed with Big John's voice in "The Principal Who Came to Dinner." John takes on a bully in "Bully for You." In "Off the Wall," both Big John and Little John get blamed for the same thing at school... and neither one is responsible! John's secret may be up when Little John "runs away" in "The Missing John." John is dealing with a Thanksgiving dance at school in "Speak For Yourself, John." The series ends with "Abracadabra," where a magic trick for Harry turns out more magical than he expected.
The episodes appear to be unedited, with runtimes as follows:
1. "A Sizeable Problem" (24:27)
2. "Peter Panic" (24:29)
3. "Very Little John" (24:29)
4. "The Great Escape" (24:30)
5. "Big Scare, Little Scare" (24:29)
6. "Big Shot, Little Shot" (24:30)
7. "Time for Change" (24:30)
8. "The Principal Who Came to Dinner" (24:29)
9. "Bully for You" (24:29)
10. "Off the Wall" (24:28)
11. "The Missing John" (24:30)
12. "Speak for Yourself, John" (24:29)
13. "Abracadabra" (24:28)
The packaging for this set looks exactly as the packaging for the release of this set that was planned a few years ago, with the cover art showing the different faces of John as he morphs from Big John to Little John. We have more of these photos on the back, along with a brief series description. Inside the case, we have episode descriptions, along with airdates and guest stars. The episode descriptions are actually just transcripts from the episodes, as each episode has a narrative talking about what the episode is about at the beginning of the episode (as well as at the end of the previous episode).
The menus on the set are nicely designed with photos from the episodes rotating in the middle of the screen and options of Play All, Episode Selection, and Extras below the photos. The closing theme song plays in the background. The Episode Selection menu lists all of the episodes on the disc in a text format. Once you select an episode, it plays immediately. There are no chapters within the episodes.
The packaging claims that the episodes have been "fully restored," but it really isn't that impressive. The video picture looks dated, and the colors are faded very badly. But it doesn't really make the series unwatchable. I'd say that it looks fine for a series which hasn't been restored (I somewhat dispute that claim...). The audio quality is fine, without any real problems. The episodes are neither closed-captioned nor subtitled.
On the back of the packaging, you'll find an impressive list of special features... but it is really pretty deceptive. The first "special feature" listed is "all 13 episodes," which is a bit of a recursive nightmare if you think of the episodes as being a special feature. Other ones mentioned are episode synopsis (the same ones printed inside the case), series synopsis (same one on the back of the case), and motion menus (should I say anymore about that?). The only real special feature is a stills gallery, which is a gallery of about 10 snapshots from episodes... but other than that, there really aren't any special features here.
It took a long time to see this get released after the previous studio decided to abandon the release, but we're finally getting it now and it is great to see it. Honestly, I kind of liked this series. It is quirky, but it has the typical fun characteristics of other Sherwood Schwartz sitcoms, all the way down to the "series synopsis in the theme song." This was certainly intended to be a children's series, and it is clear that it is just that, but it is also a fun series for people of any age to watch, sort of like the series Small Wonder was in the '80s. If you just want to check out a fun series to watch that is a little different from what you're used to, take a sip from the fountain of youth and join John... both of them!
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BLOG FEATURE REVIEW
DVD Review: Van Dyke and Company - The Complete Series (MPI, $29.98)
Dick Van Dyke has been entertaining us for decades in both film and television, and much of his work is well known, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Diagnosis Murder, Mary Poppins, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But some of his less-known work includes a variety series which aired for only eleven episodes (plus one special which aired a year earlier) on NBC during a time where they had very few memorable seasons: 1976. Van Dyke and Company was a less-than-successful attempt by the successful actor to bring the type of series that Carol Burnett turned into magic for CBS, a variety show full of special guest stars including actors, dancers, comedians, and musicians (including some of the big name disco acts of the era)... all surrounded by the legendary actor who brought us Rob Petrie just a little over a decade earlier.
The DVD set contain every episode of the rare series (including the special pilot which aired a year earlier) in one set. Rather than talking about each individual episode, though, we'll just talk about the series as a whole, and those who appeared on it. Unlike other variety series of the era, there wasn't really much of a regular cast for the series... it was just Dick Van Dyke and his guests for the week. However, one other person did appear on nearly all of the episodes as a "special guest star" who is certainly worth considering as a series regular: Andy Kaufman (as Dick says to Hal Linden in the fifth episode of the series, "he thinks he's a regular on my show!"). Each episode had guest stars, which included an incredibly diverse guest cast spanning from the early days of television up through today, such as Lucille Ball, Chevy Chase (fresh off of his first season of SNL), Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Harvey Korman, Hal Linden, Gabe Kaplan, and even former co-stars Mary Tyler Moore and Carl Reiner. And the musical guests--and yes, this set does include the original performances--included the hottest performers of the era, such as John Denver, K.C. & The Sunshine Band, Sha Na Na, The Spinners, Bobbie Gentry, Lola Falana, and even Ike and Tina Turner.
Most of the sketches on the series involve a lot of random slapstick comedy with Van Dyke at the center of attention, although there was one regularly appearing "series" of sketches called "The Bright Family," about a family who, well, isn't too bright. Another common feature of the series is sudden interruptions, often fake NBC Sports special reports about the most useless happening in the sports world as soon as something which sounded worth waiting for was about to begin.
I haven't seen any of these episodes before, so I can't say if they are unedited or not. Most run aorund 50 minutes, and I don't doubt that those are unedited, but there are a few which run a few minutes shorter... I honestly couldn't say whether or not those are unedited, but in general, it seems that most of the content is here. The guests, airdates, and runtimes of the episodes are as follows:
1. Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Reiner, Gabe Kaplan, Ike & Tina Turner - 10/30/75 (50:15)
2. Chevy Chase, Flip Wilson, Andy Kaufman - 09/20/76 (50:27)
3. John Denver, Ile Nastase, Super Dave Osborne, Andy Kaufman - 10/07/96 (50:26)
4. Carl Reiner, Andy Kaufman - 10/14/76 (50:26)
5. Hal Linden, The Sylvers, Andy Kaufman - 10/28/76 (46:31)
6. Carol Burnett, K.C. & The Sunshine and, Andy Kaufman - 11/11/76 (48:56)
7. Harvey Korman, Lola Falana - 11/18/76 (49:45)
8. Freddie Prinze, The Spinners, George Foreman, Andy Kaufman - 11/25/76 (49:49)
9. Sid Caesar, Donna Fargo, Andy Kaufman - 12/02/76 (49:49)
10. Lucille Ball, The Lockers, Andy Kaufman 12/09/76 (46:33)
11. John Byner, Bobbie Gentry, Andy Kaufman - 12/16/76 (49:56)
12. Tommy Smothers, Jim McKay, Sha Na Na, Andy Kaufman - 12/30/76 (48:54)
The set comes packaged in a standard Viva case with nicely designed, but simple packaging. The cover has a photo of a happy and sad Dick Van Dyke with a blue border around him, with the series title above his faces. On the back, we have a brief description of the series, along with a list of guest stars, bonus features, and photos of Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and "series regular, but not really" Andy Kaufman. Inside the case, you'll find a listing of all of the episodes, along with guest stars and airdates, and several black and white snapshots from the episodes. The disc artwork is very similar to the cover art, with one of the faces of Van Dyke on each disc... the happy one on Discs 1 and 3, and the sad one on Discs 2 and 4.
The menus are very nice and elegant, but also very simple. The main menu has a photo of Dick Van Dyke standing in front of a blue background while the closing theme song plays in the background. Options on the main menu include Play All, a list of episodes, and bonus features on the disc (if any). There is also an option to turn on subtitles here. Chapters are placed throughout each episode.
The video quality on this set is not spectacular, and it is one of the few MPI sets which I've seen released actually having a disclaimer mentioning that it is "as good as it gets." But it really is no surprise, because this was a videotaped series from the mid-'70s that has largely just sat in the vaults since it originally aired. The resolution of the video seems to be the biggest problem, and there are some of the typical video defects, but really it isn't as bad as the disclaimer would make you believe. The audio is a pretty dull sounding mono track, so the musical performances really don't sound that great... but what else would you expect from a musical performance on a TV series from the era? After all, it wasn't until the '80s that we were able to get really decent sounding music tracks on TV series. MPI is always very good about including English subtitles, and we have them here for each episode.
There aren't a whole lot of special features on here, but there are a few. Of course, since this is an MPI release and since Dick Van Dyke was a big star in the '60s, it should come as no surprise that there are more segments from the Let's Talk to Lucy radio series where Lucy talks to Dick Van Dyke, from March 3, 1965 (10:06) and March 4, 1965 (9:30). "Dick Van Dyke Special Highlights" (13:28) gives us a few highlights from a special somewhat similar to the idea of this series that he did almost a decade earlier in 1968. His guests on here include two people very close to him: Carl Reiner and Jerry Van Dyke
I think it is fair to say that this was certainly not Dick Van Dyke's most memorable work, and is a bizarre blending of the comedy sketches of The Carol Burnett Show (albeit in much shorter form) and all of the latest disco acts of the era, many of which (though not all) have faded from the memories of everybody. It seems like they didn't know where to really go with this series, as it began in an era where the variety shows like The Carol Burnett Show were really ending (which, ironically, Van Dyke would briefly go on to become a cast member of a few months after this series ended). And I can't say that it is a particularly great series, but it is certainly a piece of television history worth taking a look into, and on top of that, MPI (as always) bundled it in to a nice DVD release.
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Claim to Fame: John "J.D." Dorian from the sitcom Scrubs
Why You Should Follow Him: These days, if you are a celebrity at any level, you use Facebook or Twitter to some extent to promote your current projects. It is just something that every actor does. But long before it became the "cool thing" to do, Zach Braff was out there on Facebook (you can see that page here, though a recent posting explains why he posts less on there now) and became one of the pioneers of using social networking to not only communicate to his fans, but at times communicate with his fans. You'll also notice in his Tweets that he is, in real life, a lot like his character from Scrubs, and his Tweets are certainly fun to read. And in the days when Scrubs was still on the air, he was always there keeping us updated on the fate of the series in those final few seasons, where every season we were left wondering if the final episode had just aired.
Pick of the Tweets: "Most "laugh track" shows are shot in front of a Live Audience. There are exceptions: "ALF" For hopefully obvious reasons." (August 12, 2012)
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