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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Get Smart: The Complete Series
Get Smart: The Complete Series
HBO // Unrated // November 4, 2008
List Price: $199.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Preston Jones | posted January 4, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Show

For me, Get Smart was such a formative TV experience that it's hard to know exactly where to begin. I was raised on a steady diet of classic TV series -- the usual suspects like "I Love Lucy," "Andy Griffith" and "The Honeymooners" -- but Get Smart (which I caught in re-runs on Nick at Nite) was one of the first TV shows that appealed to my developing sense of humor; a silly, scattered send-up of secret agents, I was a fan of Maxwell Smart's before I ever laid eyes on a James Bond flick.

That the show is as funny as I remember it is a relief. Often, when revisiting childhood memories, you're chagrined to discover the objects of your affection can be a little tarnished. As producer Rory Mach writes in the booklet accompanying the first season, "Looking back with the clarity of hindsight, the success of 'Get Smart' seems never to have been in doubt. Indeed, from the safe distance of some 40 years, one is tempted to think of the show's first season as classic television in waiting, an icon even before it debuted."

It was the sleek, sexy world of Ian Fleming's James Bond that series creators Buck Henry and Mel Brooks sought to honor and parody with the creation of Get Smart. The show, which would run for five seasons on two different networks (NBC and CBS) for a total of 138 episodes, premiered on Sept. 18, 1965 with the only black-and-white episode of its entire run. Don Adams stars as the hapless Maxwell Smart, an agent working for the secret government agency CONTROL, alongside Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) and the Chief (Edward Platt).

Maxwell Smart is arguably Adams's signature role; it's certainly one he would return to frequently throughout his career (voicing the animated "Inspector Gadget" foremost among those; there are more than a few winks at Agent 86 in that particular show). Were it not for Adams's embrace of the character and its foibles, the show wouldn't work (and hold up) nearly as well as it does -- he simply is Agent 86, which helps tremendously in the later seasons, when the show begins to sputter just a little.

After the series ended in Sept. 1970, most of the original cast would return for a few reunion movies, including 1980's The Nude Bomb (known by a wealth of alternate titles, including The Return of Maxwell Smart), as well as a 1989 TV movie Get Smart, Again! and, of course, the much-hyped 2008 big-screen adaptation (there's also the direct-to-video Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control spawned by the '08 re-do, but the less said about that atrocity, the better). Incidentally, I'm not alone here at DVD Talk in my adoration of the TV series.

It was with more than a little trepidation that I settled into watch the greatly hyped remake of Get Smart last summer. Hollywood's track record of reviving storied TV shows is iffy at best and while, sure, Steve Carell is amusing, Anne Hathaway is a reasonable facsimile of Feldon and Alan Arkin can pinch-hit for Platt, the fact remains that the film was a startlingly violent, joyless affair that cribbed the quotable bits and discarded the rest of what makes Get Smart so endearing and enduring.

All five seasons of Get Smart are included in this set, which gets cool points for its packaging -- a replica of the phone booth and its multiple protective doors that Max travels through at the beginning of each episode. The individual seasons are split up into fold-out trays comprised of five total discs (four with that season's episodes and a fifth dedicated to bonus features) that are housed within brightly colored, sturdy plastic slipcovers.

It's worth noting that this set (which appears to be a HBO-branded port of the still-available Time-Life collection) is, as of this writing, the only place you can find the final three seasons of Get Smart; they are not available separately in stores. The generous supplements for each season will be detailed more fully below; I'll provide a brief synopsis of each season below, as well.

Season 1: And so it begins. The adventures of Maxwell Smart start in black-and-white with the pilot episode, "Mr. Big" (featuring the threat of an "Inthermo Ray") but burst into color with the following installment, "Our Man in Toyland" (which finds Max and 99 up to their eyeballs in Polly Dolly toys). The plots are certainly varied -- everything from druggings to bombings to excursions abroad -- and you can almost see the writers finding their footing; although, it must be said that more than most freshman TV series, Get Smart has an exceptionally strong first outing, particularly "Aboard the Orient Express" and the "Ship of Spies" two-parter which helps bring the first season to a close.

Episodes: "Mr. Big"; "Diplomat's Daughter"; "School Days"; "Our Man in Toyland"; "Now You See Him, Now You Don't"; "Washington 4, Indians 3"; "KAOS in Control"; "The Day Smart Turned Chicken"; "Satan Place"; "Our Man in Leotards"; "Too Many Chiefs"; "My Nephew the Spy"; "Aboard the Orient Express"; "Weekend Vampire"; "Survival of the Fattest"; "Double Agent"; "Kisses for KAOS"; "The Dead Spy Scrawls"; "Back to the Old Drawing Board"; "All in the Mind"; "Dear Diary"; "Smart, the Assassin"; "I'm Only Human"; "Stakeout on Blue Mist Mountain"; "The Amazing Harry Hoo"; "Hubert's Unfinished Symphony"; "Ship of Spies, Part I"; "Ship of Spies, Part II"; "Shipment to Beirut" and "The Last One In is a Rotten Spy"

Season 2: Get Smart picks up right where it left off at the end of its first season, diving into a rollicking mixture of satire, suspense and terrific performances, sharpening its tone to provide more tart laughs. A few personal favorites are scattered throughout this run of episodes -- "Bronzefinger," the return of Harry Hoo in "Hoo Done It" and the one-time feature film turned three-parter "A Man Called Smart," for example -- which makes this a worthy addition to the canon and a creative continuation of the series.

Episodes: "Anatomy of a Lover"; "Strike While the Agent is Hot"; "A Spy for a Spy"; "The Only Way to Die"; "Maxwell Smart, Alias Jimmy Ballantine"; "Casablanca"; "The Decoy"; "Hoo Done It"; "Rub-a-Dub-Dub ... Three Spies in a Sub"; "The Greatest Spy on Earth"; "Island of the Darned"; "Bronzefinger"; "Perils in a Pet Shop"; "The Whole Tooth and ..."; "Kiss of Death"; "It Takes One to Know One"; "Someone Down Here Hates Me"; "Cutback at CONTROL"; "The Man From Yenta"; "The Mummy"; "The Girls From KAOS"; "Smart Fit the Battle of Jericho"; "Where-What-How-Who Am I?"; "The Expendable Agent"; "How to Succeed in the Spy Business Without Really Trying"; "Appointment in Sahara"; "Pussycats Galore"; "A Man Called Smart, Part I"; "A Man Called Smart, Part II" and "A Man Called Smart, Part III"

Season 3: I'm torn as to whether season 3 or season 4 is the strongest of all -- it mostly comes down to how you're feeling, sentimental or silly. There are moments of genuine pathos during this batch of episodes ("99 Loses Control" is considered by many fans to feature some of the best acting in any season, period) but also roaringly funny episodes -- "The Little Black Book," which features Don Rickles as an old Army pal of Max's, is a definite highlight -- which makes hard to discount this season as possibly the series' finest.

Episodes: "The Spy Who Met Himself"; "Viva Smart"; "Witness for the Prosecution"; "The Spirit is Willing"; "Maxwell Smart, Private Eye"; "Supersonic Boom"; "One of Our Olives Is Missing"; "When Good Fellows Get Together"; "Dr. Yes"; "That Old Gang of Mine"; "The Mild Ones"; "Classification: Dead"; "The Mysterious Dr. T"; "The King Lives?"; "The Groovy Guru"; "The Little Black Book, Part I"; "The Little Black Book, Part II"; "Don't Look Back"; "99 Loses Control"; "The Wax Max"; "Run, Robot, Run"; "Operation Ridiculous"; "Spy, Spy, Birdie"; "The Hot Line"; "Die, Spy" and "The Reluctant Redhead"

Season 4: This penultimate season wobbles a bit from the outset, as Max and Agent 99 find themselves facing marriage, which, to my mind, lessens a bit of the spark that comes from the pair's back-and-forth relationship (admittedly, it's less fractious than a lot of male-female TV combos). While the series takes the hit there, it does open up a lot of domestically-oriented plotlines that weren't necessarily possible before, but beginning with this season, the show begins to feel a lot more conventional and less tart ... still quite funny though.

Episodes: "The Impossible Mission"; "Snoopy Smart vs. the Red Baron"; "Closely Watched Planes"; "The Secret of Sam Vittorio"; "Diamonds Are a Spy's Best Friend"; "The Worst Best Man"; "A Tale of Two Tails"; "The Return of the Ancient Mariner"; "With Love and Twitches"; "The Laser Blazer"; "The Farkas Fracas"; "Temporarily Out of CONTROL"; "Schwartz's Island"; "One Nation Invisible"; "Hurray for Hollywood"; "The Day They Raided the Knights"; "Tequila Mockingbird"; "I Shot 86 Today"; "Absorb the Greek"; "To Sire, With Love, Part I"; "To Sire, With Love, Part II"; "Shock It to Me"; "Leadside"; "Greer Window"; "The Not-So-Great Escape, Part I" and "The Not-So-Great Escape, Part II"

Season 5: Frankly, the final season is by far the weakest of the series, as the show moved from NBC to CBS and the creative staff overhauled everything from storylines to the opening credits. While there are a few inspired moments -- the Bogart goof "The Treasure of C. Errol Madre" and the two-part "And Baby Makes Four," which strangely blends the usual sitcom antics with the Get Smart aesthetic -- too much of the fifth season feels labored and strained (not to mention Adams's total absence in "Ice Station Siegfried"). It's hard to know whether the writers had just run out of things for Max and 99 to do or if the times were changing too quickly for Get Smart to maintain its grip on the zeitgeist.

Episodes: "Pheasant Under Glass"; "Ironhand"; "Valerie of the Dolls"; "Widow Often Annie"; "The Treasure of C. Errol Madre"; "Smart Fell on Alabama"; "And Baby Makes Four, Part I"; "And Baby Makes Four, Part II"; "Physician Impossible"; "The Apes of Rath"; "Age Before Duty"; "Is This Trip Necessary"; "Ice Station Siegfried"; "Moonlighting Becomes You"; "House of Max, Part I"; "House of Max, Part II"; "Rebecca of Funny-Folk Farm"; "The Mess of Adrian Listenger"; "Witness for the Execution"; "How Green Was My Valet"; "And Only Two Ninety-Nine"; "Smartacus"; "What's It All About, Algie?"; "Hello Columbus, Goodbye America"; "Do I Hear a Vaults" and "I Am Curiously Yellow"

The DVDs

The Video:

Presented as originally broadcast, these 1.33:1 fullscreen transfers gradually improve as the series goes along, but even the earliest episodes have a vivid snap to them that I don't recall seeing on the Nick at Nite re-runs. The pilot is the only black-and-white episode of Get Smart, with the other 137 episodes being in Technicolor. Each season has been, according to its packaging, digitally restored and re-mastered, so the quality level doesn't, thankfully, smack of a quick-buck rush job. The amount of detail is impressive and colors appear well saturated throughout. Given the age of Get Smart, it has to be said: Max and the gang look pretty great.

The Audio:

Again, simplicity rules here -- as originally broadcast on NBC and CBS, Get Smart's entire run makes do with a Dolby 2.0 stereo track that basically sounds like a mono track slightly opened up. Dialogue is always heard clearly, while that iconic opening music has some appropriate weight to it rather than sounding tinny. As with the visuals, considering the age of the source material, the show sounds about as good as can be expected.

The Extras:

From my research, it appears that this set is virtually identical to the one offered by Time-Life, with the only difference being that this set is produced by HBO and available in retail stores. Given the staggering amount of supplemental material, I've broken out the specifics by each season.

Season 1: All 30 episodes of the inaugural season feature brief audio introductions from Barbara Feldon, who is more or less a constant presence throughout this entire set. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry sit for separate commentary tracks on "Mr. Big" while Feldon contributes a yack-track to "Kisses for KAOS." A booklet listing episode air dates, credits and a brief essay from producer Rory Mach is tucked into the fold-out tray.

As mentioned previously, the fifth disc of each season contains the bulk of the supplements. Here, things kick off with a 22 minute, 38 second Buck Henry interview (presented in fullscreen) recorded in 2006 -- the interview is preceded by an audio introduction from Feldon. The 16 minute, 55 second featurette "The Secret History of Get Smart" (presented in fullscreen), which includes an audio introduction from Feldon, recounts the series within the context of its original airing. Six period TV appearances and promo spots are included, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 23 minutes, 36 seconds; a two minute, 13 second blooper reel (presented in fullscreen) is here, with an audio introduction from Feldon. The juiciest extra is an hour long 2003 Get Smart reunion (presented in fullscreen) featuring Adams, Feldon, Bernie Kopell, executive producer Leonard Stern, producer Burt Nodella and producer/director Jay Sandrich; seeing the collaborators reflecting on the show is a real treat. The seminar is preceded by a Feldon audio introduction. And lastly, an interactive game: exploring the Chief's office with your DVD remote completes the first season set.

Season 2: All 30 episodes of the second season feature brief audio introductions from Barbara Feldon. In addition, Bernie Kopell (who plays the role of Siegfried) contributes a commentary track for "How to Succeed in the Spy Business Without Really Trying" and executive producer Leonard Stern talks over "A Man Called Smart, Part I." A booklet listing episode air dates, credits and a brief essay from actor Dave Ketchum (Agent 13) is tucked into the fold-out tray.

Once again, the fifth disc contains the lion's share of supplements, leading off with a 31 minute, 56 second interview with executive producer Leonard Stern interview (presented in fullscreen), with an audio intro from Feldon. The 14 minute, 38 second featurette "Barbara Feldon: From Real Model to Role Model" (presented in fullscreen) explores the impact the actress and her character had on pop culture. Footage from the 1967 Emmy broadcast -- playable in two separate clips or all together for an aggregate of three minutes -- is included, as are two minutes, 39 seconds of bloopers (presented in fullscreen), with an audio intro from Feldon. More segments from the 2003 reunion seminar that was featured on the first season set pop up here; four minutes, 51 seconds' worth, which includes an audio intro from Feldon. A 52 minute, 57 second featurette capturing Don Adams' 75th birthday celebration at the Playboy Mansion (presented in fullscreen) features an audio intro from Feldon, while 31 pages of notes from NBC's broadcast standards department and lastly, an interactive game: exploring Agent 99's purse with your DVD remote completes the second season set.

Season 3: All 26 episodes of the third season feature brief audio introductions from Barbara Feldon. In addition, Feldon and Buck Henry each contribute a commentary track to the pivotal episode "99 Loses Control" while guest star Don Rickles chats during "The Little Black Book, Part II." A booklet listing episode air dates, credits and a brief essay from "Sledge Hammer!" creator Alan Spencer is tucked into the fold-out tray.

As with previous season sets, the fifth disc plays home to the bonus features, leading off with a 31 minute, two second interview with director Bruce Bilson (presented in fullscreen), which includes an audio intro from Feldon. The 13 minute, 33 second featurette "Spooks, Spies, Gadgets and Gizmos" (presented in fullscreen) explores the show's penchant for goofy toys; a quartet of period TV appearances and spots -- including footage from the 1968 Emmy broadcast -- are included (presented in fullscreen), playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 19 minutes, 25 seconds. One minute, 42 seconds of bloopers (presented in fullscreen) feature an audio intro from Feldon, while a separate one minute, 26 second blooper clip (presented in fullscreen) focuses on guest star Don Rickles. More footage from the 2003 reunion seminar -- four minutes, 41 seconds -- are here, with an audio intro from Feldon while 34 pages of notes from NBC's broadcast standards department and lastly, an interactive game: exploring Maxwell Smart's car with your DVD remote completes the third season set.

Season 4: All 26 episodes of the third season feature brief audio introductions from Barbara Feldon. In addition, Feldon and Buck Henry each contribute a commentary track to "With Love and Twitches" while guest star James Caan chats during "To Sire, With Love, Part II." A booklet listing episode air dates, credits and a brief interview with Carl Birkmeyer, who runs fan site wouldyoubelieve.com and Sue Kesler, who produced some of the supplements for this set, is tucked into the fold-out tray.

As with previous season sets, the fifth disc plays home to the bonus features, leading off with a 22 minute, 29 second interview with Bernie Kopell (presented in fullscreen), which includes an audio intro from Feldon. A 24 minute, 44 second interview with Feldon (presented in fullscreen), which -- bizarrely -- also includes an audio intro ... from Feldon. The 14 minute, 11 second featurette "Code Words and Catch Phrases" (presented in fullscreen) details the show's impact on the pop cultural lexicon and includes an audio intro from Feldon. Eight TV appearances and spots -- including footage from the 1969 Emmy broadcast -- are here, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 14 minutes, 59 seconds. Two minutes, 22 seconds of bloopers (presented in fullscreen), with an audio intro from Feldon and lastly, an interactive game: exploring Maxwell Smart's apartment with your DVD remote completes the fourth season set.

Season 5: All 26 episodes of the fifth season feature brief audio introductions from Barbara Feldon. In addition, actor Bill Dana (Agent Quigley) contributes a commentary track to "Ice Station Siegfried." A booklet listing episode air dates, credits and a brief essay from producer Rory Mach is tucked into the fold-out tray.

As with previous season sets, the fifth disc plays home to the bonus features, leading off with the 14 minute, 38 second featurette "The Fans of Get Smart" (presented in fullscreen), which includes an audio intro from Feldon. Eighty-one minutes of footage from the 2005 Don Adams memorial (presented in fullscreen), which includes an audio intro from Feldon. Seven TV appearances and spots -- including footage of Adams learning he's a father in 1965 -- are included (presented in fullscreen) and playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 11 minutes, 26 seconds. One minute, 21 seconds' worth of bloopers which repeat some of the previous seasons' bloopers (presented in fullscreen) features an audio intro from Feldon. "The Ultimate Get Smart Clip Reel," split into seven segments, is playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 20 minutes, 33 seconds and lastly, an interactive game: taking a crack at the "Get Smart Spy Aptitude Test" completes the fifth season set.

Final Thoughts:

A silly, scattered send-up of secret agents, I was a fan of Maxwell Smart's before I ever laid eyes on a James Bond flick. Indeed, it was the sleek, sexy world of Ian Fleming's James Bond that series creators Buck Henry and Mel Brooks sought to honor and parody with the creation of Get Smart. The show remains one of the funniest half-hours you can find and this extensive, borderline exhaustive five-season set is well worth its hefty price tag. It doesn't "miss it by that much" -- this Get Smart series set is a lock for inclusion in the DVD Talk Collectors Series.

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