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Love American Style - Season 1, Vol. 1

Paramount // Unrated // November 20, 2007
List Price: $31.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Phil Bacharach | posted November 21, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

With its self-consciously groovy vibe and promise of naughtiness, ABC's Love, American Style nicely encapsulated its era of erogeneity. Each week, the hour-long anthology offered up a handful of sketches that zeroed in on some aspect of love and relationships, albeit with a wink and a nudge suitable for the sexual revolution. The program debuted in the fall of 1969, and while it never proved a runaway hit -- peaking at No. 25 in the Nielsen ratings -- Love, American Style was emblematic of that singular period between the swingin' Sixties and the increasingly jaded tumult that defined the early Seventies.

My memories of watching the show during its original run are dim, but they are infused with the nostalgic whiff of something titillating and vaguely forbidden. I couldn't have been more than 7 years old at the time, but I knew enough to sense something altogether grownup in its opening credits. The television screen of my family's old Zenith suddenly erupted in an explosion of multicolored fireworks, heralding the iconic title: a red, white and blue-colored valentine bearing the name of the series. Best of all was that infectiously dopey theme song, a shimmy of bubblegum pop performed by the Cowsills.

Alas, the 12 episodes on Love, American Style, Season One, Volume One make clear that the program, at least in that maiden year, fell short of that opening tease. Interspersed between the sketches were quickie mini-skits featuring a troupe of actors (most notably Stuart Margolin, brother of Love, American Style co-executive producer Arnold Margolin and later a costar of TV's Rockford Files) that induced more groans than guffaws; to compensate, the laugh-track is applied liberally. As for the main sketches, many tended to be sitcom-friendly tripe. "Love and a Couple of Couples," from the first episode, is fairly typical. In it, a woman tries on an engagement ring that her ex-husband plans to present his new gal, only to discover it's stuck. It's a far cry from the DVD case's description of stories "told with a wild innovative sense of innovative style and hip, swingin' 70s flair."

Other sketches admittedly flirted with potentially racier material. In "Love and the Living Doll," for example, Arte Johnson (from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) dines with an inflatable doll in hopes of making a sexy neighbor jealous, while "Love and the Dating Computer" imagines a computerized dating service accidentally matching up two heterosexual men with the problematic names of Marion and Francis. Still, even these scenarios eventually return to safe waters.

What ultimately makes this Love, American Style collection such a kick is its nostalgia trip back to that wonderfully tacky time of shag rugs, avocado-colored telephones and miniskirts the size of napkins. It's fun to hear old-guard actors like Sid Caesar and Broderick Crawford croaking lines about "groovy chicks" and "digging" the scene, and there is a weird charm to be found in cataloging all the times that a character is labeled a "swinger."

Moreover, the show's guest stars are a Who's Who of familiar faces from the Seventies. Among the B-list celebs making an appearance in Season One, Volume One are Phyllis Diller, Flip Wilson, Connie Stevens, Red Buttons, Rich Little, Henry Gibson, Judy Carne (Laugh-In's "Sock it to me" girl), Tina Louise (Gilligan's Island's Ginger), Avery Schreiber, Bill Bixby, Marty Allen, Larry Storch, Shari Lewis (yes, of Lambchop the puppet fame), Peter Marshall, Carolyn Jones (Morticia from The Addams Family, Morey Amsterdam, Mary Ann Mobley, Shelley Fabares, Jack Carter, Norman Fell, Tom Smothers, Barry Nelson, Ann Sothern, Andy Devine, Ted Bessell (That Girl), Alice Ghostley, Jessica Walter, and Regin Philbin. A very young Harrison Ford plays a quasi-hippie in "Love and the Former Marriage."

The episodes' datedness often works to their advantage. Some vignettes feel positively quaint in their then-daring. In "Love and the Pill," Bob Cummings and Jane Wyatt play a couple wondering how they can surreptitiously ensure that their daughter practices safe sex. "Love and the Militant" packages an era's social turmoil as cutesy vignette; a black-power activist (Stu Gilliam) rushes the office of a college president and threatens to blow up the place. Instead, the militant winds up smitten with the president's pretty secretary.

All's well that ends well. In spite of its posturing, Love, American Style usually reaffirmed traditional mores. In "Love and Who?," Sid Caesar plays a husband who wakes up with a hangover in Las Vegas; he is vaguely certain - and terrified -- that he bedded a floozy the night before, only to discover that, whew, it's his wife. Bill Bixby and Connie Stevens play a couple determined to fool around in "Love and the Legal Agreement," but whoops, they really do love each other and can't stray. And on it goes. Hell, "Love and the Modern Wife" even manages to emasculate Colonel Hogan himself, Bob Crane. The offscreen sex addict portrays a happily married man who's not cut out for hanky panky. No wonder, then, that Love, American Style would produce a TV spin-off that embraced the comparatively innocent Eisenhower years, Happy Days (Ron Howard, Anson Williams and Marion Ross all appeared in "Love and the Happy Day" in 1972).

In the end, Love, American Style, Season One, Volume One is more valuable as a snapshot in time than it is entertainment. There is a sameness to the vignettes, many of which are hampered by stagy direction that doesn't mask them from being one- or two-act plays.

Still, it all proved to be a durable formula for a TV show. Three years after Love, American Style's 1974 cancellation, ABC more or less repackaged the program as The Love Boat.

The volume includes 12 episodes spread over three discs. Inexplicably, someone had the bright idea of numbering episodes by their chronological production instead of airdate. The breakdown is as follows:

Disc One:

Episode 1
Originally aired Sept. 29, 1969
"Love and a Couple of Couples" / "Love and the Hustler" / "Love and the Pill"
Starring Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Robert Cummings, Flip Wilson and Jane Wyatt

Episode 2
Originally aired Oct. 6, 1969
"Love and the Living Doll" / "Love and the Letter" / "Love and the Joker" / "Love and the Unlikely Couple"
Starring Lou Jacobi, Arte Johnson, Margaret O'Brien and Larry Storch

Episode 3
Originally aired Oct. 13, 1969
"Love and the Phone Booth" / "Love and the Doorknob"
Starring Dwyane Hickman, Gary Lockwood and Stefanie Powers and Stafford Repp

Episode 4
Originally aired Oct. 20, 1969
"Love and the Legal Agreement" / "Love and the Militant" / "Love and Who?"
Starring Bill Bixby, Sid Caesar, Barry Nelson and Connie Stevens

Disc 2:

Episode 5
Originally aired Oct. 27, 1969
"Love and the Modern Wife" / "Love and the Phonies" / "Love and the Single Couple"
Starring Bob Crane, Richard Deacon, Diana Ewing and Phyllis Diller

Episode 11
Originally aired Nov. 3, 1969
"Love and the Dating Computer" / "Love and the Busy Husband" / "Love and the Watchdog"
Starring Michael Callan, Broderick Crawford, Herb Edelman and Penny Fuller

Episode 7
Originally aired Nov. 10, 1969
"Love and Take Me Along" / "Love and the Advice-Givers" / "Love and the Geisha"
Starring Red Buttons, Tina Louise, Ozzie Nelson, Harriet Nelson and Aldo Ray

Episode 13
Originally aired Nov. 17, 1969
"Love and the Burglar" / "Love and the Roommate" / "Love and the Wild Party"
Starring Ted Bessell, Judy Carne and Robert Reed

Disc 3:

Episode 14
Originally aired Nov. 24, 1969
"Love and the Big Leap" / "Love and the Good Deal" / "Love and the Former Marriage"
Starring Dennis Day, Norman Fell, Harrison Ford, Rich Little and Jane Wyatt

Episode 6
Originally aired Dec. 1, 1969
"Love and Mother" / "Love and the Dummies" / "Love and the Athlete" / "Love and the Shower"
Starring Marty Allen, Morey Amsterdam, Scatman Crothers, Shelley Fabares, Henry Gibson, Shari Lewis, Tom Smothers and Paul Winchell

Episode 9
Originally aired Dec. 8, 1969
"Love and the Mountain Cabin" / "Love and the Divorce Sale" / "Love and the Comedy Team"
Starring Jack Carter, Andy Devine, Peter Marshall, Regis Philbin, Lesley Ann Warren and Jesse White

Episode 17
Originally aired Dec. 22, 1969
"Love and the Positive Man" / "Love and the Other Love" / "Love and the Bachelor"
Starring Hamilton Camp, Brandon DeWilde, Mary Ann Mobley and Ann Sothern


The Video:

Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the Love, American Style episodes are generally well-preserved, with vivid colors and clear contrast. There is slight grain throughout many of the shows, but such defects are anticipated -- and they're not particularly distracting.

The Audio:

For a mighty talky show, the Dolby Digital 2.0 is perfectly adequate.


C'mon, Paramount! No look-back retrospective? Not a single commentary? Nothing? For shame, for shame.

Final Thoughts:

Love, American Style always promised naughtier fun than it delivered, but there is still plenty of nostalgic whimsy to recommend this 12-episode collection. OK, so the swingin' vibe wasn't really that swingin', but the kitschy appeal alone is still pretty groovy. You dig?

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