It stands as a telling TV mystery. Two horror-oriented sitcoms, each one dealing with a decidedly macabre brood, premiere within weeks of each other. One featured the classic monsters of yore – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman. The other was based on a New Yorker comic strip clan, a seriously spooky, all together ooky brood of idiosyncratic outsiders. The former used a more brash and brazen approach to its humor – all one liners and sunny slapstick. The latter was darker and more brooding, the wit decidedly twisted, the jokes frequently based on insane non-sequitors and clear character contradictions. In essence, one series seemed juvenile while the other waved its frenzied freak flag with pride. So why is it then that The Munsters are so well loved, while the non-cinematic version of The Addams Family remains an under-appreciated outsider entity? The answer may lie in availability. Herman's hijinx have been readily available in both syndication and on home video for years. But aside from a scattered VHS release in the early 90s, Gomez and the gang have been MIA. Now, thanks to the digital format, we can revisit the subversive pleasures of America's first delightfully dysfunctional collective.
They live in a decaying old mansion near a swamp. Gomez - raconteur, bon vivant, and slighty shoddy attorney - is the hyper head of the household. He is married to Morticia, a heavenly homemaker with a devilish, dark side. The couple has two children: Pugsley, the oldest, enjoys typical little-boy mischief like igniting TNT and playing with his pet octopus; Wednesday, the youngest, cherishes her massive spider collection and her headless doll, Marie Antoinette. The clan is served by their butler, Lurch, whose hulking monster mass hides the true tormented soul of an artist. When not answering the call of his employers, he loves playing the harpsichord. Rounding out the herd is Gomez's mother Grandmamma and family icon Uncle Fester. She specializes in brews and potions. He enjoys explosives, torture devices, and using his own internal electricity to power the household appliances. They're definitely mysterious and spooky. They are also quite creepy and kooky. Though many consider them to be all together ooky, they're really just a typical American brood, otherwise known as The Addams Family.
With Season One consisting of 34 episodes (there were 64 total over the two years of the show's run), MGM has decided to put out volumes instead of the standard full-series sets. This particular collection picks up where Volume 1 left off, and takes us through the rest of Season One and on into Season Two. The episodes included as part of the 21 offered here are, specifically:
Disc 1, Side A:
"Thing is Missing" – The Addamses hire a private eye to find their missing servant.
"Crisis in the Addams Family" – Uncle Fester tries to reestablish the family's insurance policy.
"Lurch and His Harpsichord" – The family butler gets depressed when his prized instrument is donated to a museum.
"Morticia, The Breadwinner" – When it looks like Gomez has frittered away the family fortune, Morticia decides to enter the workforce.
Disc 1, Side B:
"The Addams Family and the Spaceman" – reports of UFOs lead investigators to the Addams clan.
"My Son, The Chimp" – Uncle Fester mistakenly believes he's turned Pugsley into a monkey.
"Morticia's Favorite Charity" – A local charity auction benefits from the Addams unusual donations.
"Progress and the Addams Family" – After their house is condemned, Gomez battles City Hall.
Disc 2, Side A
"Uncle Fester's Toupee" – Hoping to impress his pen pal, Uncle Fester gets a rug.
"Cousin Itt and the Vocational Counselor" – The Addams' hairy relative tries his hand at marriage counseling.
"Lurch, The Teenage Idol" – all the young girls go goofy as the family servant becomes a superstar.
"The Winning of Morticia Addams" – Fester is out to wreck the Addams marriage, convinced their happiness is harmful.
Disc 2, Side B
"My Fair Cousin Itt" – Fester, Lurch and Itt all compete to be in Gomez's latest theatrical production.
"Morticia's Romance (Part 1)" – it's the story of how Gomez and Morticia meet, and how her sister Ophelia almost ruined everything.
"Morticia's Romance (Part 2)" – it's the story of how Gomez and Morticia meet, and how her sister Ophelia almost ruined everything.
"Morticia Meets Royalty" – Thing falls for the servant of some snobbish Addams' guests.
Disc 3, Side A
"Gomez, The People's Choice" – our head of household runs for head of the city, mayor!
"Cousin Itt's Problem" – when the Addams' hirsute relative begins losing his hair, it's Fester to the rescue.
"Halloween – Addams Style" – little daughter Wednesday gets bent out of shape when she learns the news – there is no such thing as witches.
"Moriticia, The Writer" – while trying her hand at authoring her own unique brand of children's book, Gomez tries to subvert his wife's efforts.
Disc 3, Side B
"Morticia, The Sculptress" – following her muse, Gomez finds it more and more difficult to support his spouse's "art".
Even decades removed from its original release, The Addams Family remains The Simpsons of its era, an outrageous statement on the nuclear family reconfigured and filtered through a decidedly demented personal worldview. In the case of the clan from Springfield, it was underground cartoonist Matt Groening who fashioned his Life is Hell ideals into a combination satire and skewering of the already addled American Dream. But in Charles Addams' case, the concept was a little unclear. Known for his work in single panel magazine art, the horror-oriented relatives with the unusual social skills and personal obsessions only made 50 appearances amid the hundreds of Addams' published pieces. But their morbid sense of humor and unconventional approach to life seemed to strike a nerve with a restless nation. No wonder then that, as the 1960s started to rev up, TV execs decided to give the clearly counterculture premise a shot. It was a bold stroke for the mostly snobbish network cabal. That it lasted two seasons and 64 episodes argues for its status as a tough sell among shell-shocked suburbanites. But as the Volume 1 DVD release from last year proved, this is a series that holds up incredibly well. In fact, it remains one of the earliest examples of broadcast brilliance, a TV show that transcends the typical laugh track tendencies of the time to remain fresh and inviting 40-plus years later.
Volume 2 picks up at the tale end of Season 1, and offers yet another stellar set of exciting Addams' antics. Indeed, as the series progressed, the focus shifted off of main characters Morticia and Gomex (still iconic thanks to terrific turns by Carolyn Jones and John Astin) and more on the side characters. We see Uncle Fester featured more (he gets several sensational episodes, including a classic where he mistakenly believes he turned nephew Pugsley into a monkey) as well as disembodied hand Thing and the walking hairball, Cousin Itt. In fact, this long locked whatsamacallit has one of the great outings in the entire series when he hooks up with Fester and bravura butler Lurch to compete for the starring role in Gomez's new play ("My Fair Cousin Itt"). But of all the almost regulars on the show, Ted Cassidy remains the ultimate scene-stealer as the large, lumbering valet with the soul of a morose minstrel. Lurch is indeed a magnificent creation, a one note ghoul made multifaceted by episodes that emphasize his humanity ("Lurch and his Harpischord") and Cassidy's amazing skill as a comedian. In fact, the best installment of the entire series occurs on Disc 2, Side A – "Lurch, the Teenage Idol". In it, the charater's off-key ivory tinkling and unusual looks become an unbridled pop culture fad, and it's not long before our harried homunculus is donning Beatle hair and going go-go for the sake of his squealing female fans. It's a knock out, the brand of jocular juxtaposition that The Addams Family excelled in.
In addition, there is no denying the sizzling sexual chemistry between Jones and Astin. This is clearly illustrated in the wonderful two-part memory lane episode Morticia's Romance. While anyone could play the part of a kooky caddish playboy and a dour, demur proto-Goth goddess, these seasoned acting veterans reinvented the standard. Indeed, their key to making Morticia and Gomez into classic comic characters came from both actors' innate understanding that we had to believe their baffling personas. In essence, Jones and Astin played parents and paramours first, insane psychotics and gloom loving creep fiends a distant second. In fact, the nonchalant manner in which the pair handled the often outrageous supernatural silliness is the mortar that binds the entire Addams enterprise together. Add in Cassidy's flawless foil, Jackie Coogan's exuberant eccentricity as Uncle Fester, and the drop dead brilliant production and art design (artist Addams' world is literally brought to life on screen) and you have a timeless TV milestone. There will be those who dismiss such sentiments, believing that all shows from a certain timeframe smack of a homogenized wholesomeness that just can't contend with today's post-modern irony. They have another misguided thought coming. For all its monochrome, made nearly a half century ago appearances, The Addams Family is actually a perfectly contemporary comedy experience – and that's because of the care and consideration taken by those behind the scenes. They wanted to make the best, most wickedly winsome series possible. And by the looks of this fantastic DVD set, they've done just that.
Ever since TV on DVD became a viable approach to preserving old programs, Addams fans have been anxiously anticipating the digital release of their favorite family. All series considerations aside, the wait has definitely been worth it. These magnificent monochrome transfers, fresh and crisp in their 1.33:1 full-screen images, are simply stellar. Aside from occasional pop culture references, you'd swear these shows were made within the last few years. The contrasts are sharp without excess enhancement, and the stock elements (The Addams Family was filmed, as were most early sitcoms) appear almost pristine. If you're looking for flaws you'll be hard pressed to find them here.
Equally enjoyable is the Dolby Digital Mono mix provided for each episode. Sure, some of the sound effects are over modulated and tend to distort their single speaker set-up, but all the dialogue is discernible and the various ambient additions to the show (the creepy theme music and score, the occasional wails of far-off spirits) are professionally captured by the aural presentation.
As for the added content on this second volume of Addams goodness, there is not much of real value. Four episodes offer something called a "commentary" featuring the characters of Cousin Itt (a gibberish speaking hairball) and Thing (a severed hand). Running no more than 45 to 90 seconds, these text only conversations – mostly lame gags and inter-entity arguing – are pointless and rather dull. They're not funny or refreshing. Far better is the actual alternate narrative track on "Morticia Meets Royalty". There, author and Addams scholar Stephen Cox adds a detail laced conversation with a fair amount of backstage intrigue. In addition, the first part of "Moriticia's Romance" is supplemented by something called Tombstone Trivia. When accessed, a green text screen appears randomly throughout the episode, offering up tidbits on the production and the characters. Finally, there is a nice documentary which discusses the impact of the series on latter generations. It features Astin, Cox, and others associated with the study and preservation of Addams' work. Finally, just for fun, you can access the celebrity crystal ball. There, you will learn about certain guest stars who made appearances on the show, like Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti, and Peter Bonerz. While less than definitive, these bonus elements do provide some minor delights.
One of the most disheartening things that can happen to a TV fan is revisiting an old series that just doesn't hold up after all these years. Thankfully, The Addams Family: Volume 2 has the opposite problem. The minute you finish the 21 episodes included here, you instantly want to see the rest. As the series moves along, the characters actually get better, the storylines become more memorable and the level of humor is easily amplified. Even if you merely "like" the series and think it would be fun to see it again, the elements that made it a brave broadcast move in 1964 will modify and magnify your affection, rendering it into a full-blown obsession. Well worth the Highly Recommended rating, here's hoping, MGM delivers the rest of this delightful series as soon as possible. What the world needs now is more, not less, of The Addams Family's optimistic oddness. It definitely makes for classic TV viewing.
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