In 10 Words or Less
Setting the standard for the spy spoof
Loves: Mel Brooks, Spoofs
Likes: Spy stories
Dislikes: DVD exclusivity deals
Hates: Missing out on extras
The Story So Far...
"Get Smart," co-created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, two comic geniuses, had a five-year run from 1965-1970, chronicling the misadventures of Agent 86, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams), and Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), who work for the secret agency Control. The spies are part of an international organization attempting to defend the world from the evil organization KAOS. Each episode is a new mission for Smart and 99, but it's a certainty that Agent 86 will find a way to screw things up. Time-Life had an exclusive release window for the series, and put out an extensive complete collection that was and is only available through them. DVDTalk has a review of the complete collection, available here.
It's kind of sad that generations will think that Get Smart is a film with Steve Carrell and The Rock (no offense to those actors.) It's just that, when the original source material was so entertaining, being able to supplant five seasons of quality television in one fell swoop is simply not right. Thankfully, there's DVDs like these for people to discover, and for fans to remember.
The concept was simple, and the execution wasn't much more complex: Take
the image of the dapper super spy, complete with sexy femme fatales,
ingenious gadgets and devious archvillains, and replace the suave guy at
the center with an overly-confident putz. Shake, don't stir, and you
have the recipe for an excellent comedy take on Cold War intrigue (In
fact, it's a concept the Zucker brothers would expand upon to great
critical success in the law enforcement genre, with the "Police Squad!" TV
Of course, without the right actor in the tuxedo (or holding the badge
in Leslie Nielsen's case), it wouldn't work. "Get Smart" was blessed
with a gem in Don Adams, who played the role of Agent 86 straight, with
a voice like a noir detective and looks like an accountant. It takes a
special comic to make you care about a egomaniac like Smart, especially
when there's no reason for him to have any ego, as he screws up every
mission he takes on, and is annoying to boot. But in order to laugh at a
character, they have to have self-respect, and Maxwell has it in every
Joining Adams as an agent of Control is Barbara Feldon, an adorable former
model who plays Agent 99, an intelligent spy who uses her looks to her
advantage, as she keeps Maxwell from getting killed. For some reason,
she's also very attracted to 86, and odder still, the feeling isn't
entirely reciprocated. Paired with Adams, she s half of an unusual, yet
effective comedy duo, showing the kind of give and take that looks
The third star of the show is the hugely underrated Edward Platt, who
brings believability to the part of the Chief, Smart's long-suffering
boss. One wonders why he would keep a screw-up like 86 around,
especially after the 15th time he demands the use of The Cone of
Silence, the ridiculous privacy device that never, ever works. Platt is
perfect as the leader of the agency, especially when he reaches his
breaking point, a hilarious moment, each and every time. As the season progresses, we get to meet more and more of Control's finest agents, including the poorly-named K-13, Max's dog Fang; the oft-complaining Agent 44, who gets some of the worst assignments going; and Chief's assistant, the abused Hopkins (played by recognizable character actor Bryan O'Byrne.)
Because there's no real continuing storyline to the show, you can plug in elements at will, and it generally works. Because of that, we can see Max and 99 go anywhere and do anything, and introduce any character imaginable, especially when you have bad guys working for KAOS. Thus you have villains like The Craw, a stereotypical Chinese crimelord (or Oriental, as they were referred to in the less-enlightened time of the show) or Harry Hoo, the Charlie Chan clone. The time frame of the series results in many of these cringe-inducing un-PC moments, such as the red-painted Native Americans of "Washington 4, Indians 3." Thankfully, the DVDs have left them intact, instead of cowardly trying to pretend they didn't exist, the way some othercompanies have with some of their offerings.
No matter how offensive the old-school sensibility can get, silly is what the series really is, which means you get characters like the extremely entertaining Hymie, a robot agent of KAOS. You can even get some cameos by a big name like Johnny Carson, or big names-to-be including Ted Knight, Leonard Nimoy and Victor French. But for all that's great about "Get Smart", there are some things that don't work as well, like the dependance on the catch phrases and repeated gags. Yes, The Cone of Silence is funny the first few times, but eventually it just feels forced (though one later moment, where the Cone goes out of control, is as hilarious as anything on the show.) The set-ups that occur throughout the series are much funnier than the very memorable "Would you believe?" or "Sorry about that Chief" bits, but as "SNL" has shown us, the people love a catchphrase. And one has to admit, for all of the fantastic word play and snappy banter Max and 99 have to work with, there are some serious clunker gags in there that hit like lead baloons. To say the show can be cheesy is an understatement.
The Time-Life version of "Get Smart" came in some nice packaging, which was impressively designed, but was awkward to open and took up a decent amount of shelf space. The 30 first-season episodes of "Get Smart" are spread over four DVDs, which this time are packaged in a slipcovered, single-width keepcase with two trays and an insert with an episode guide and an essay on the show's origins. It's a highly-efficient package for a four-disc set. The discs have animated full-frame menus with options to play all the episodes, select individual shows and turn on the commentaries. There are no audio options and no subtitles, but closed captioning is included.
The full-frame transfers have been remastered, and look tremendous for their age. Aside from the black-and-white pilot, the series' color is quite vivid, the level of fine detail is very high, and the image is mostly crisp (though there are some soft areas andoccasional grain.) The picture is surprisingly free of dirt and damage, pointing to an extensive clean-up effort, though once in a while you may notice sections with specks (for example, the bomb-deactivation scene in "Stakeout on Blue Mist Mountain" is oddly dirty.) Compression artifacts aren't obvious either, though some minor edge enhancement and haloing can be seen in spots.
The audio is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, which essentially dupe the show's mono mix to create a balanced, non-dynamic delivery. The audio is noticeably clean, with strong, clear dialogue, while the signature score comes off very nice. Like the video, this sound is better than one would guess for a series from 1965.
The Time-Life exclusive version of "Get Smart" included a fifth disc of bonus material that's been dropped for this release, but thankfully, the episode-specific extras remain in place, starting with audio introductions for each episode by Felton, Agent 99 herself. They aren't much, mainly her reading an episode synopsis, but it's definitely a nice touch.
The other extras are a trio of audio commentaries. Series co-creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry each provide a track for the show's pilot episode, "Mr. Big," while Feldon offers up her thoughts on "Kisses for KAOS." Brooks's track is one of his standard commentaries, which means if you love his "grandpa tells you stories about the past" delivery, complete with pauses and laughter at his own gags you'll enjoy it here. Henry does a bit of the same, but is a bit more together in terms of talking about how the pilot was made, making it strong as far as background info goes.
Feldon's commentary is more wistful than the other two, as it's full of memories of Adams, but it still has a good amount of info about the show, and especially her history with the series, which is rather interesting.
Also included with the set is a four-page insert, with an episode list and a essay/history by Rory Mach.
The Bottom Line
Yeah, the show is dated and cheesy, but it so completely embraces the concept of the goofy spy spoof that it's genuinely endearing. The silly nature of the series is aided by the performances by Adams and Felton, who are all-stars at broad comedy. The DVDs look and sound better than anyone would probably expect, while the extras, though limited, are of definite interest to the show's fans. With a price that's a decent discount from the original release, fans of classic TV and silly comedy will absolutely want to give it a look.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.