Back at the beginning of the '70s, everyone was looking for the next "Beatles". Of course, given the Fab Four's creative and cultural influence, such a task was foolhardy at best. And in reality, those in power weren't looking to actually recreate the lads from Liverpool. Instead, the marketing men wanted a genial group they could feed to the masses without much pop life indigestion - oh, and if they had any acting chops, that would add immensely to their variety hour variables. It worked with the Monkees, after all. Often referred to as rock's answer to the Marx Brothers, the Hudson Brothers seemed to fill the necessary Madison Avenue ideal. Their sunny shtick and Lennon/McCartney lifts were enough to gain them a replacement slot for a vacationing Sonny and Cher. When they failed to click in prime time, a Saturday morning kids concept was announced. Thus The Razzle Dazzle Show was born. Clearly, the search was about to continue.
There are three discs in this set, and 16 episodes offered. Some fan sites argue that there is a missing installment, claiming that 17 shows were part of the run. Other messageboards have said that the supposedly missing moment was nothing more than a clip show containing previously seen material. Either way, there are a mere 16 episodes here, each running about 22 minutes. For more on the set up of each installment, read below.
There's not much to a typical episode of The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. Set up as a standard half hour burlesque, the trio took on the challenge of being bright and engaging hosts for 30 minutes of Me Decade children's cheese. They were joined by noted sketch comedians Ted Zeigler, Billy Van, Peter Cullen, Murray Langston, Freeman King, and Avril Chown. They also had some slapstick help from UK oddity Rod Hull and his destructive hand puppet Emu (yes, the flightless bird). Each week, the boys would be packed up in a crazy psychedelic delivery truck, and along with their cornball company, be whisked away to a Krofft-like soundstage. There, they would answer to ginger jokester Fabulous Freddy ('guitar chord sounds'), the adolescent VP in Charge of Kids Programming. After a quip or two, and the offer of some unusual sweet treat ("smashed cupcakes, anyone?"), the Brothers would prepare to sing. Of course, their efforts were usually thwarted by a group of puffy superheroes know as the Swell Guys, or a troupe of bearded tumblers responding to one of the Hudson's random requests.
At this point, it was time for a real musical interlude. These are perhaps the most trying moments of the entire Hudson Brothers experience. Sure, "So You Are a Star" is so solo era John that you halfway expect Yoko Ono to show up and start caterwauling (or suing), but for the most part, the trio trashes classic rock rollers like "Free Ride". Of course, everything is lip synced - no amplifiers or power lines involved. And the songs all had the same kitschy upbeat quality, as if the band had only one type of style they could rely on - no matter the lyrical content. When the lame laugh track and faked applause died down, there would either be another small sketch (perhaps a one liner about life as a farmer) or just a bumper to commercial. Upon returning, the Hudsons would indulge in the show's cornerstone comedy bit, the "Razzle Dazzle Wrap-up of Everything (Including the Kitchen Sink)". It was here that the rest of the cast did most of the heavy lifting. As the Brothers bopped around and added their elements here and there, we were treated to a continuing cycle of silliness.
Typical of the "Razzle Dazzle Wrap-up" was a selection from an oversized book of mystery (that would eventually produce scary arms and attack the reader), a visit to the Frankensteins' lab (where the monsters would make one of several social servants, like a nurse or a postman), a trip to the smallest island in the entire world, and later on, a moment with smart alecky youngster Chucky Margolis. These were perhaps the best moments in the entire Hudson repertoire. As the title character Brett Hudson affects a perfect voice, while brother Mark played the pathetic dupe - and Chucky's best friend - Alan. Bill acted as interviewer, and the material often mimicked real life. Later on, there was also a talking bear named Sam who occasionally solved noir like mysteries as a bruin private eye, and other musical laugh-a-thons. After that, the "Wrap-up" would end, the boys would once again seek approval from Fabulous Freddy, and just as they were about to go on for "another hour or two", a funny farm net would drop over their heads, dragging them back into the truck. Cue closing theme, and another episode of The Hudson Brother Razzle Dazzle Show was in the can.
It has to be said that as a slice of sunny nostalgia, this is great stuff. The Hudsons may be as fake as any other TV talent of the era, but they were sure sincere. They never appeared to be playing down to their pre-teen demo. Instead, you could sense they truly had fun making the show. It's a spirit of silliness that washes over every other facet of the show. Rod Hull and his Emu are so manic and mad that you can't help but laugh, and some of the sketches work simply because they're so completely surreal and strange. It's tough to tell if modern audiences would appreciate this low brow level of entertainment. Everything is simple, straightforward, and aimed for the easy chuckle. There is nothing sarcastic or satiric, and the Hudsons purposely come across as happy go lucky squares (even if they are wearing flairs, platform shoes, and David Cassidy shag haircuts). Unlike another attempt at fame - their wonderful syndicated series Bonkers - the Brothers aren't trying to break with tradition. Instead, this is an amiable grasp at whatever success a Saturday Morning series can provide. Those of us old enough will instantly recognize its retro charms. The Hudsons however may be lost on a contemporary crowd.
Loaded with issues that drive digital purists crazy (flaring, bleeding, fading, and other analog limits), the 1.33:1 full screen transfer of The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show actually doesn't look too bad. This is a vivid and colorful show, and the various elements used to create some of the comedy post-production (including rapid rewinding and frame 'stuttering') come across perfectly. Sure, there is a dated appearance to the image, but what do you expect from a rare TV series circa three decades ago. No one thought there would be a viable audience for such material in the year 2008. We're lucky these shows were available at all.
Of course, those already poised to complain will really dislike the thin, tinny sound mixes offered. Nothing can compare to the flat, lifeless aspects of good old broadcast Mono, and manipulating it into faux Dolby Digital Stereo doesn't improve matters. Sure, the aural presentation is decent. The dialogue is easily discernible and the music comes across well. Still, the everpresent audience laugh track and created crowd reactions will annoy anyone not used to the pre '80s ideal.
As for added content, the third disc contains some interesting archival material. First, we are treated to a few more Chucky Margolis sketches. Like their Saturday Morning counterparts, these excerpts from the Hudsons' prime time show are very well done. Not so exciting are the additional skits from the regular series. Even though its fun to see Andy Griffith as Karl Marx, or Danny Thomas doing his classic comedy shtick, it's clear the boys were not cut out for comedic glory. They are likeable, fresh faced, and quite capable, but that's about it. Sadly, there are no new interviews with the Brothers. A quick trek over to YouTube can solve that bonus feature bungle, however.
When it comes right down to it, The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show creates a very real critical conundrum. Yours truly is in his late 40s, and as such, has a semi-sweet spot for nostalgia gleaned directly from his formative years ('68 to '78). While the guys were never part of his regular sphere of entertainment influences, you couldn't help but be exposed to them on a fairly regular broadcast schedule basis. For that reason alone, the DVD set deserves a Recommended rating. On the other hand, anyone who believes that Kate is the only Hudson who matters, or wouldn't recognize her famous Mom from anything other than The Banger Sisters should probably steer clear of this creaky comedy cavalcade. While a Rent It may seem right, personal bias will keep the collection on a more positive scoring scale. If this had been Bonkers, you'd be hearing nothing but raves (no matter the reality of the real thing, mind you). But as Saturday Morning kid vid weirdness, The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show is a trip. It may not be a journey for everyone, however.
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