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Buffalo Bill - The Complete First and Second Seasons
I was 10 years old when I first saw a great American comedy flick called 9 to 5 (yes, the movie's subject matter is hopelessly outdated by now, but it's still a damn funny film), and it was there that I was introduced to a character actor who would slowly grow to become one of my very favorites.
From 9 to 5 to Tootsie to WarGames to Cloak and Dagger -- and on and on it went over the years. The guy popped up in The Man With One Red Shoe, Dragnet, Hot to Trot, Meet the Applegates ... hell, he even got his own starring role in a clever little comedy called Short Time (that nobody went to see).
And when he wasn't cropping up in supporting roles in four movies a year, this actor was afforded a stream of sitcom opportunities over the years: Buffalo Bill in 1983, Fresno in '86, The Slap Maxwell Story in '87, Drexell's Class in '91, and Madman of the People in '94. I know you can already picture the guy's face by now, but the actor's name is Dabney Coleman, and he's a perfect example of how movie stars might sell the tickets, but it's the character actors who make the movies memorable.
Although he'd appeared on a variety of TV shows by 1983, it was that year's Buffalo Bill that first offered the actor his very own weeknight spotlight. Created by Jay Tarses & Tom Patchett (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and produced by Bernie Brillstein (Ghostbusters), Buffalo Bill was your standard workplace / ensemble sitcom ... on the surface, anyway.
Coleman plays Bill Bittinger, a Buffalo, NY, talk-show host who is full of ego, bravado, and bluster. (Don't forget it's Dabney Coleman we're talking about here.) This obnoxiously demanding pseudo-celebrity is surrounded by a colorful array of supporting players: Max Wright (Alf) is a long-suffering director, Joanna Cassidy (Dallas) is Bill's producer (and frequent bed-partner), and (then-newcomer) Geena Davis (Commander in Chief) is a wifty little production assistant. Sitcom staples Meshach Taylor (Designing Women), Charles Robinson (Night Court) and John Fiedler (longtime Disney presence and the voice of Piglet!) round out the supporting cast, and each one gets their fair chance to shine once in a while.
But Buffalo Bill is Dabney Coleman's show all the way, and what a strangely brave little sitcom this was. Casually targeting topics like racism, sexism, religion, and abortion under the guise of a rather standard-looking sitcom veneer, Buffalo Bill may have been just a few years ahead of its time. Sure, much of the inane plot machinations seem squeezed directly out of the sitcom-story machine, but the scripts were consistently full of dicey and dark humor.
Not surprisingly, Buffalo Bill lasted only two intermittent seasons on NBC, but all 26 episodes have been collected into one three-disc set from Lions Gate. I've read that a few of these episodes are the "syndicated versions," while most are the original network cuts, so fans of the series should consider themselves duly warned. But since we most likely won't be seeing a double-dip release of Buffalo Bill any time soon, this set looks to be the best we're going to get. (More on that in the "video" section.)
Episode 1: Pilot (6/1/83)
Episode 2: Buffalo Beat (6/8/83)
Episode 3: Woody Quits (6/15/83)
Episode 4: Buffalo Bill and the Movies (6/22/83)
Episode 5: Mrs. Buffalo Bill? (6/29/83)
Episode 6: Wilkinson's Sword (7/13/83)
Episode 7: Guess Who's Coming to Buffalo? (7/20/83)
Episode 8: Below the Belt (7/27/83)
Episode 9: Ratings (8/3/83)
Episode 10: True Love (8/10/83)
Episode 11: The Fan (8/17/83)
Episode 12: Hackles (8/24/83)
Episode 13: Hit the Road, Newdell* (12/22/83)
Episode 1: Jerry Lewis Week (1/5/84)
Episode 2: The Interview (1/12/84)
Episode 3: Comapny Ink (1/19/84)
Episode 4: Jo Jo's Problem - Part 1 (1/26/84)
Episode 5: Jo Jo's Problem - Part 2 (2/2/84)
Episode 6: Miss WBFL (2/9/84)
Episode 7: Nuclear Freeze (2/16/84)
Episode 8: The Girl on the Jetty (2/23/84)
Episode 9: Buffalo Bill Versus the Kremlin (3/1/84)
Episode 10: A Hero (3/8/84)
Episode 11: The Tap Dancer (3/15/84)
Episode 12: Have Yourself a Very Degrading Christmas (3/22/84)
Episode 13: Church of the Poisoned Mind (3/29/84)
(*This episode is preceded by a text apology by Tom Patchett, in which he explains that a musical sequence has been deleted because the producers were unable to acquire the rights to "Hit the Road, Jack.")
Video: Ah yes, here we are at the "video" section. I'll put this bluntly: The picture quality on these episodes, well, it stinks. Pretty darn bad. There's grain and dirt everywhere; the colors are bleached or fuzzy; frankly the episodes look like they've been sitting in a vault for 35 years, which is impossible since the show's only 22 years old. I'm sure fans are not expecting a forgotten old sitcom to have the picture quality of Star Wars Episode 3, but DVDs should look a whole lot better than do 3AM reruns on Nick at Nite.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, with optional captions in English. The audio is serviceable enough, even if the laugh track is consistently loud and annoying.
A fine, forgotten comedy series that features some stellar work from one of our great, overlooked character actors, Buffalo Bill is a bit dated and a little cornball, but it's also a lot ballsier than your average early-80s sitcom. Too bad about the borderline horrendous picture quality, but it's still a Recommended pick-up for fans of the Dabney.
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