While I would hate to disabuse those Seinfeld fans of their belief that their favorite show invented the premise of being "about nothing," I would be remiss if I were not to point out a show that preceded it by several decades and actually ran for twice as long, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. There was probably no intentional irony in the use of "adventures" in the title of this little show knit around the Nelson clan, when such "adventures" might, for example, feature a whole ten minute segment built around nothing more significant than repeatedly having to back several cars out of a driveway so that whoever was blocked in could get out. And yet Ozzie and Harriet lasted for an incredible 14 seasons on ABC (the first ten guaranteed in a legendary contract negotiated by Ozzie), seeing younger son Ricky progress from "irrepressible" (as he is billed in the first several seasons of the show) youngster to a teen singing idol, and older brother David evolve into a married and working lawyer by the time the series reached its final years. It's a testament to Ozzie Nelson's singular genius that he was able to craft this meta-show around his family, and ultimately his sons' spouses, using their individual talents to whatever purposes he could devise on a weekly basis, all the while espousing the sort of commonplace everyday virtues that were a staple of family centered situation comedies in that era.
This second Shout! Factory release of compiled episodes is subtitled "The Best of Ricky and Dave," but truth be told there's very little content difference in this set than in the first "Best Of" set that also featured 24 episodes. And that's probably because there was very little difference in any episode of Ozzie and Harriet, no matter what the passing premise was. In the early years, there might be a bit more sibling rivalry than in the later, but otherwise you get calm and sometimes slightly befuddled Ozzie, always sensible and loving Harriet, stable and serious David, and "irrepressible" Rick. In the first several seasons you get Don DeFore as neighbor "Thorny," replaced for the last few seasons with clone-like Lyle Talbot as "Joe" who at least has a wife who is seen, unlike "Thorny."
While the series may be a case study in passé, there's really quite a bit to like in its unassuming pleasures. There's an easy naturalness to the entire Nelson clan, which is probably not unusual when you take into account all four of them basically had lived for years in front of a camera. The banter between the married couple and especially the kids, when they were younger at least, has an unforced and appealing tenor that makes it easy to swallow, even when it's not particularly hilarious. Occasionally, though, there are what appear to be unscripted elements, as in one episode when Ricky goes to leave the living room and slips, and David calls out, "Nice trip!", whereupon Ricky returns and begins pummeling him with pieces of paper. Anyone with kids can attest to the reality of that interchange. In another episode built around the exciting world of ping-pong, Rick swats Harriet's behind with a paddle, which she laughs off with a simple, "Be careful or you'll kill us all." It's that understated, yet real, presence that defines this show, and you're either going to love it for what it's worth or develop serious vision problems from epic eye rolling spasms.
For a show that seems to eschew any real conflict, or plot for that matter, there's also a refreshingly adult feel to Ozzie and Harriet's interchanges, with nary a really cross word or serious argument between them to boot. And, wonder of wonders, they actually share a bed in some scenes, some going back as far as the first seasons in the early 1950s, something not even their madcap CBS counterparts Ricky and Lucy got to do. While the incessantly lowkey demeanor of the show may turn off today's ADD generation, watching these compilation sets is like taking a little time tunnel journey from 1953-1966, with their attendant fashions and cars and even appliance styles.
It's notable that from even the earliest episodes Ozzie was featuring that new music, rock 'n' roll, in underscore and even in the closing credits sequence, so when in real life his son Ricky asked to play the new fad on the show, it seemed like a natural thing to do. Ricky of course went on to become something of a homogenized, "safer" Elvis (even down to the occasionally curled lip), but he had real talent, and it is on abundant display here. All of the DVD's feature at least a couple of Rick's performances (including several of his bigger hits like "Hello Mary Lou"), and while he may not have been the most at ease singer ever to perform in front of a camera, vocally he's assured and Ozzie made sure the arrangements were always excellent. David comes off as kind of an after thought in many of these episodes, as perhaps mirrored his real life status once Rick shot into the pop-rock stratosphere. Both he and Rick show real comic timing throughout the series, and a sort of unassuming quality that they obviously inherited in spades from their entrepreneurial father.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet remains, for better or worse, the longest running live-action sitcom in the history of television, and Ozzie's obsessive zeal at cataloguing the minutiae of everyday life can be seen in loving display in every episode. It may all be about nothing, but the simple heartfelt goodness of this series is something indeed.
These (full frame) episodes were all transferred from original film elements held by the Nelson Estate, but, that said, most of them show at least occasional scratching and other abrasion, and a couple of them more than occasional damage. All but the final two are in black and white (only the last season of the show was filmed in color). The two color episodes are generally excellent, if a tad on the red side. On at least a couple of episodes, the opening credit sequence doesn't seem to match the time period of the episode itself and most of the final credit sequences have been truncated (some quite abruptly), followed by a title card announcing that the copyright is held by Harriet Nelson and the Ozzie Nelson Estate.
The original mono soundtracks all sound surprisingly spry, though there is fairly noticable hiss on most of the episodes. Rick's prerecorded segments all sound great.
Shout! falls a little short of the mark it set with its recent Father Knows Best release, though it does provide a few extras on this set. You can go right to Rick's performances from included episodes, and there are four original radio episodes of the series included (yes, folks, for the first year or so of the television series, the long-running radio show which preceded it had "all new adventures" broadcasting on Friday nights--Ozzie was nothing if not a multi-media genius). There's also an Ozzie and Harriet trivia quiz.
Ozzie and Harriet may seem like a somnambulist's bad television dream to a generation raised on quick cuts, plot twists and incessant thumping underscore. But there's a recreation of reality here that's surprisingly unaffected and enjoyable, if never very exciting. Rick Nelson fans are sure to want this set, but even casual fans of vintage television will find some gentle humor to enjoy here. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet