DVD has been able to resurrect a lot of beloved TV shows in innovative and interesting ways. Many were welcomed back with open arms and the enthusiasm that viewers feel for warmly remembered favorites. The television variety show is a genre that pretty much no longer exists, barring Nick and Jessica's moronic attempt to revive and spoof it at the same time (and we all saw how well that worked out) and bringing back a C-rate variety show like the one hosted by the masters of muzak Captain and Tennille is enough to hope the well has run dry. Captain and Tennille: The Ultimate Collection is three discs of episodes from their 1976-1977 variety show (each disc contains three or four episodes) and it showcases some very bad humor, lousy acting and dated performances.
I understand why variety shows were fun in the 70s: With no VCRs catching your favorite TV stars outside of the realm of their usual timeslot was a treat. But seeing the casts of Welcome Back, Kotter or Charlie's Angels delivering jokes that Henny Youngman wouldn't touch is no fun today. While the Captain and Tennille wisely sought to move away from sketch humor to some degree after the first year and more into music-heavy episodes, there is still a lot of cringe-worthy material throughout.
The very first gag (following the seizure-inducing opening graphic) introduces the show as "Kaplan and Tennille," revealing Kotter's Gabe Kaplan behind the Captain's keyboard. Har-dee-har. Things don't improve much from there, with endless jokes about the tight-lipped Captain's glum demeanor and on-location skits that fall flat.
The guests are a mix of network synergy contemporaries and classic stars like Raymond Burr, Don Knotts and Jackie Gleason. Most of the guests flounder under the weak material (Penny Marshall warbling "Put On a Happy Face" in an attempt to "cheer up" Captain) but the ones who fare the best (Vincent Price, Tony Randall) have an effortless, timeless sensibility that shows classic comedy timing can transcend bad writing.
As for the music, it's not that special. The hosts are bland performers, sucking the soul out of great songs like Rare Earth's "I Just Want to Celebrate" and Smokey Robinson's "You Better Shop Around." (The latter is performed a couple of times, including once in a weird sci-fi skit involving men in skin-tight leotards with exposed nipples. What the hell?) There are brief moments, like in an early performance of "I've Got The Music In Me" where, despite her lip-syncing, Tennille actually expresses some sort of soul, but for the most part her vocals (and the Captain's accompaniment) are lifeless.
The guests sometimes fare better, particularly Heart, Dionne Warwick, and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Maybe the strangest pseudo-musical guest, however, is Leonard Nimoy reading his poetry with piano accompaniment from the hosts. Eat your heart out Shatner!
While the quality of the humor may be a matter of opinion, the disc layout is not. This set is not a complete collection of the show's episodes and there's little in the way of hints as to which material is included. So if you're hoping to buy the disc for a particular skit you're taking a bit of a risk.
The menus don't offer up much more help, relying on thumbnails that sort of vaguely represent the particular skits. It's tough to navigate if you're looking for a particular bit or performance: You need to be able to recognize, say, Chaka Khan from a postage stamp-sized picture.
A CD single of Captain and Tennille's new song "Saving Christmas" is also included. It's a tribute to the troops overseas. It's pretty bad.