The remarkable endurance of a Play-Doh man and his dog, Spot, being repeatedly maimed and tortured by Mr. Hand and Mr. Sluggo is celebrated in this recent three disc set from Lion's Gate. Originally starting off as short sketches on Saturday Night Live in the seventies, Mr. Bill has since become somewhat of a cultural icon in his own right and continues to be a recognizable and entertaining character to this day, thirty years since Walter Williams created him back in 1974.
Mr. Bill's Classics
This disc gives us, well, the classics. Those beloved skits from Saturday Night Live that started it all. Shot on 8mm, these shorts are the ones that introduced Mr. Bill to his audience in brief, two or three minute doses. Plenty of material is crammed in here and it's a total blast to relive such classic moments as Mr. Bill Goes To The Circus (the first of the shorts to air on SNL), Mr. Bill Goes Fishing, and my personal favorite, Mr. Bill Goes To Court where he's sued by Mr. Sluggo for no real reason at all and then justly convicted by a jury of Sluggo's and finally given the death penalty.
Mr. Bill Does Vegas
This half hour feature finds our illustrious friend heading to the city of sin to make an attempt at being a stand up comedian at The Improv. Being Mr. Bill, he needs all the help he can get and it arrives in the form of cameo appearances from The Smothers Brothers, Jenna Elfman, and of course, Wayne Newton. What visit to Las Vegas would be complete without a visit from Wayne Newton? Why, no visit. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. Had Wayne Newton been omitted from this program for some reason, we could not take it as seriously as we do.
Mr. Bill Christmas Special
In his first ever Christmas Special, Mr. Bill teams up with my personal favorite Saturday Night Live character, Father Guido Sarducci. Father Guido is having some issues finding Christmas dinner, and who better to help him out that everyone's favorite Play-Doh injury magnet? Witness Mr. Bill singing Christmas Carols, trimming his Christmas tree, drinking eggnog and reading the classic novel, A Christmas Carol.
While taking in all of this material in one sitting can become mind numbing and quickly heads into overkill country, in small doses the skits are just as funny today as they were the first time I saw them and it's certainly nice to have the option of watching as many of as few of them as you want at your own pace rather than hope to catch them on re-runs of Saturday Night Live.
Since the majority of this material was shot on 8mm, there's obviously going to be some deficiencies inherent in the source material but aside from some heavy grain and some scratches and print damage here and there (far more noticeable in the older material than in the newer pieces) it all looks pretty good. The picture is consistently crystal clear and there aren't any compression issues worth noting. It's not perfect, and it never will be, but it does look far better than I had figured it would before I took a look at it.
The majority of this material is simply Mr. Bill's dialogue, which in the first couple of shorts is uttered so quickly and at such a rapid pace that it can be a little difficult to understand. The later stuff is much more comprehensible though, and the sound quality on this release, a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono affair for the most part, is pretty clean and reasonably clear throughout.
Mr. Bill Classics features an optional commentary from Mr. Bill and Mr. Hand over each episode. As they are done in character they are quite funny and if you've seen these episodes a few times before, which was the case when I reviewed the disc, the commentary can sometimes be funnier as it's at least more obscure material. An interactive game called Name That Oooooo! will reward your knowledge of Mr. Bill's injuries with some bonus clips and if you finish all of the questions in the Pop Quiz you can check out a couple of non-Mr. Bill short films from Walter Williams that are pretty amusing. A storyboard for each episode is included, as some clips soloing in on Spot. In The Attic you'll find a Mr. Bill Family Album which details the history of the Bills from years past, as well as Mr. Bill's Highschool Yearbook which is exactly what it sounds like. G-Rated Versions are also supplied for each episode which, when the violent scenes occur, supplements them with pictures of smiley happy children, puppy dogs, flowers, and happy things like that instead. Finally, an introduction from Mr. Bill himself opens the disc, rounding out the extra features for the first part of the set.
Mr. Bill Does Vegas features a second section entitled Mr. Bill Does Hollywood which is a collection of twenty five shorts in which our intrepid performer learns the hard way just how tough it is to make it in tinseltown. These were originally broadcast on the Fox Family Channel.
Mr. Bill Christmas Special has a forty minute retrospective included on the disc entitled The Mr. Bill 20th Anniversary Special which is a look back at his career in the form of interviews with the characters, a selection of his 'greatest hits', and a smattering of brand new footage. A twenty-minute interview with the man behind it all, Walter Williams is also included on this disc and gives a nice background on the one-man show that makes it all happen. A Mr. Bill 30th Anniversary Scrapbook is also included, as are a few bloopers and a couple of promotional spots from Saturday Night Live. Four shorts that have never been seen before are also included on this release - Just Say Nooooo To Drugs, Disasterpiece Theater, Mr. Bill Loosens Up, and Mr. Bill Moves To L.A..
The back of the box plainly states that this collection is "more Mr. Bill than you can possibly stand" and that's a pretty accurate way of summing up the massive amount of material included over these three discs. As far as I can tell, it's pretty much every Mr. Bill appearance with the exception of Mr. Bill Looks Back but aside from that, this is pretty much the definitive compilation of Mr. Bill footage and if you're a fan, with a low M.S.R.P. this disc comes high recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.