John Ritter - Of Sound Mind & Body
Kultur // Unrated // $14.95 // November 23, 2004
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted December 18, 2004
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In 10 Words or Less
The late funnyman's rarely-seen comedy special

The Show
The ghouls in marketing must be getting slow in their old age. After all, anyone cashing in on John Ritter's death would have been better served by putting their products on the market much closer to his actual expiration. That said, that this special is actually on DVD is a surprise, and a welcome one at that. It's rare that a little-known variety show from 1980 would even remembered, much less released. In fact, the show isn't even listed on the IMDB. This is a good variety show, with comedy that still holds up decades later. Echoing much of his work on "Three's Company," "Of Sound Mind and Body" is a good cross-section of just what made Ritter a fan favorite.

The 49-minute show is made up of six sketches, which are preceded by footage from that scene's rehearsal (with the exception of the entirely filmed "Walter Simmons," which has an introduction by Ritter.) Four of the sketches are pure comedy, while one is a silent film and another is a character study with some laughs but mostly emotion. I can't imagine a show like this making it to the air today, as anthologies tend to have trouble grabbing onto audiences. Because of that, watching this show is a unique viewing experience.

Ritter's physical comedy is the key to the four comedy scenes, as he suffers through pratfalls and generally acts like a goofball. His four comedic characters are distinctly different, from the awkward guy of "Movement is the Message" to the Ed Grimley-like theater manager in "Fear Itself" to the radiation-phobe of "The Over-Reactor" to the down-sliding rock star in "The Rock Doctor." But in each, it's a matter of a man in over his head. Ritter's reaction to those situations are well-timed. His guest stars, including his "Three's Company" castmates Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Sommers, character actor David Doyle, '80s star Howard Hesseman and, in a classic role, Vincent Price, all help make their characters work in their own way, especially Price. Interestingly, the one I found least entertaining, "The Rock Doctor," was written by a young Bruce Villanche.

"Walter Simmons," according to the intro, was inspired by Ritter's interest in time-lapse photography. It is, in essence, a time-lapse film of a man's life, from his childhood until old age, with scenes shot during major milestones. A silent film, it delves into an array of emotions, but is mainly an exercise in video special effects and make-up effects, as the filming style changes from film to video, and Ritter ages. The make-up job is quite good, as it's an all-over change made to his face and body. In a way, it's bittersweet, since Ritter didn't get to experience most of the life he lived during this scene, but at least the scene didn't reach its full potential for sadness.

The final scene, "Sleep," is Ritter trying to get his baby to go to sleep, so that he can watch a movie. Of course, the baby doesn't cooperate, and Ritter goes through a range of feelings, expressing anger, sadness, annoyance and every other emotion a frustrated parent has felt when trying to get a child to fall asleep. It's a very real scene, with a bit of comedy, but mostly just humanity.

This is as barebones as DVDs get, with a simple, lightly animated menu offering a play option and scene selections. The scenes are labeled with the scene name and a still photo. There are no audio options. The disc comes packaged in a keepcase, with an insert listing the chapter stops.

The Quality
For video from a show that's nearly 25 years old and not likely to have been taken care of, this DVD looks fantastic, encoded at a SuperBit-worthy average of 8Mbps. There's quite a few different styles of video in the show, from black and white to color and plenty in between, but they are reproduced nicely. In fact, they are done so well, that when Ritter wears a bald cap during "Walter Simmons," the difference in color from his face to his forehead is distinctly obvious. Video elements like the show's title and scene names display some ringing and pixelization around the edges. The audio, presented in Dolby 2.0, is simple but clear, though the laughtrack overpowers the dialogue at times.

The Extras
Not a one. According to sources online, there are bloopers that exist from the taping, but they are not found here.

The Bottom Line
For any fan of John Ritter, this is an absolute necessity, as it's the purest example of his comedic ability available. The odd thing is, the special on the whole isn't that funny, but Ritter is. Its status as a artifact of TV Past makes it equally as interesting, with some entertaining guest stars representative of the time and style to go with it. Though there's nothing added, the quality of the video is pretty impressive. Plus, the price is right for anyone interested in obscure TV and John Ritter.

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