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My Favorite Martian: Complete Series
Space, and the promise of the aliens incumbent within, was big business in the 1950s and '60s. Movies and Television shows literally sprung up from nowhere to embrace this vital new concept. One of many programs to tackle the subject with sober-eyed realism was My Favorite Martian, in which veteran thesp Ray Walston reveals himself to be an actual Martian, only to be forced into hiding, an exile that looks a lot like Walston shacking up with up-and-comer Bill Bixby. When this series finally bid adieu after three seasons, our understanding of the cosmos had been changed forever. Now, when MPI Home Video has released the Complete Series from its vaults, we can relearn the ABCs of interplanetary relations.
Newsman Tim O'Hara (Bixby) discovers The Martian (Walston) when his ship crash-lands due to a malfunction. The two hit it off almost immediately, as O'Hara invites the alien interloper to live with him in Tim's cool above-garage apartment. Seeing as how Walston's alien can't find replacement parts for his ship, he's resigned to doing some hard time on Earth. O'Hara must scramble to explain his haughty, hyper-intelligent houseguest, dubbing him Uncle Martin. Hilarity, naturally, ensues, starting with endless snoopy inquiries from O'Hara's nosy landlord, Lorelei Brown (Pamela Britton). Tim butts heads with his superiors at the newspaper, including Mr. Burns (J. Pat O'Malley, first season) while resisting puppy love coming from Mrs. Brown's lovely daughter Angela (Ann Marshall, also first season).
My Favorite Martian rides twin waves, superficially the entertainment derived from a show about the paranormal, with all the trappings expected; Uncle Martin doesn't go about shooting people with a laser, but he levitates the hell out of every object within sight, reads minds, turns invisible, and has cute little antennae that sprout from the back of his head. The show's second, more important wave, consists of the rapport between Walston and Bixby. Walston's desert-dry sarcasm and sense of superiority are a perfect foil for Bixby's easily flustered proto-hipster reporter. That the show lasted only three seasons is less a testament to bad chemistry, than to the producers' will to concocting a flashy treat for eyes begging to glom onto sci-fi gold. If less attention had been paid to an outlandish-scenario-of-the-week framework, and more attention had been devoted to keeping Walston and Bixby's clever, sparring ways fresh and evolving, the show might have gone on several seasons longer.
Including all 107 episodes from the show's three-season run, this bulky box-set (about 50 hours worth of material) also features numerous extras for your edification, but what you really get is all that unadulterated viewing time. Take a week off of work. Hell, take two! Or, simply drag out your viewing pleasure over several weeks. (As an aside, I've often thought about watching shows on DVD or Netflix as if they were being originally broadcast, one per week until the show is over. Somehow, the idea never takes root.) And, other than for nostalgia's sake, there's nothing compelling you to treat viewing My Favorite Martian with any particular reverence, as there isn't much in the way of throughput. Inconsequential subplots aside, this is not much more than a smarter take on the Gilligan's Island motif, with the main question being; 'will Martin ever get back to mars?'
Nods are made to the familial friendship that develops between Martin and Tim, with each acknowledging that should Martin ever get to go home, (the desired outcome) they would miss each other. Beyond that, episodes unfold in typical fashion, with a new situation each week providing the comedy. (As a reviewer who receives no compensation for his work other than a copy of the material in question, I will fully disclose that I watched only about seven or eight episodes per season, spread throughout each season. Enough to get an adequate sense of what the show was about [beyond my cherished memories of watching it in syndication].) With that said, it is clear that as the show progressed, it moved from the meta-situation (getting Martin home) to the micro-situation, (any goofy concept-of-the-week available) before moving to color pictures in season three, and getting out while the getting was good.
Whereas in Season One Tim might need to explain to his newspaper bosses why his uncle is so interested in the upcoming Mars Launch space program, by Season Three we discover that Martin has become psychically linked to a race horse, and must overcome Mob-administered horse tranquilizers, mostly so that Tim will win back money hastily wagered by the horse's Jed Clampett-like owner.
Other situations involve things such as Tim and Martin travelling to Mexico to investigate an Aztec box with Martian symbols inscribed (and featuring, in a bit of racially-sensitive '60s casting, Bernie (The Love Boat) Koppel as Senor Pepe Lopez). Earlier episodes feature such conceits as Martin granting Tim the power of mind-reading, so he might see what it's like to be troubled with Martian burdens, or Tim cocking-up fake quotes for a newspaper article meant to hasten a Mars-launch that might help get Martin home. At one point, the pair adopts a transient who might be Martian. At another, Martin becomes recognized as a fabulous fine artist. Since he, as a Martian, has been visiting Earth for centuries, he has studied under The Masters. For whatever reason, it becomes necessary to pretend Tim is the fake talented fine artist, and you begin to realize the extent to which writers will twist storylines in order to make them more 'situational'.
My Favorite Martian is a fairly exemplary sit-com, albeit one of the fantasy variety, a boat that no longer really floats. Smart writing, great acting, and a genuine rapport between both the characters and the actors who portray them guarantee your engagement. Martian also benefitted from timeliness, as the United States space program was in full flower at the time. (Somehow the Space Shuttle program and ALF didn't engender similar love.) On the other hand, My Favorite Martian was still nothing more than a sit-com; its cultural impact and greater meaning limited. Bill Bixby, of course, went on to star in two more quite-successful TV series, as well as starring/acting in many others, while Walston simply cruised into cultural-icon status. The show, while light and fairly short-lived, can't be disregarded as a benchmark of sit-com television. This set, collecting all 107 episodes (which is a hell of a lot for a three-season-and-out series, at least nowadays) and plentiful extras, is Highly Recommended for Television Scholars, those who spent/spend many misguided hours on the couch, and anyone who wants to know The Real Truth About Aliens. (I included that last qualifier to salvage my stupid, tongue-in-cheek opening paragraph.)
1.33:1 full frame video preserves the original aspect ratio of the show. Seasons One and Two are presented here in black and white, as they were originally broadcast, while Season Three is in color. All digitally remastered episodes look pretty nice. Tasteful film grain is evident, and the prints have been cleaned up fairly well. Images feature decent detail levels and are fairly sharp, but not too crisp. Overall, a fairly nice job is done presenting these very old episodes.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Audio is acceptable as well, mixed nicely and without much in the way of distortion. Sound can be a little thin at times, which likely represents a faithful reproduction of original elements.
Extras commence with an episode of I've Got A Secret, 15 minutes worth of the Steve Allen hosted game show, featuring Ray Walston as the guest star. Nostalgic fun. There is a Vintage Ray Walston Commercial, running about 3 minutes. A self-navigated Photo Gallery is also available. Scans of My Favorite Martian Comic Strips are more logically presented in self navigate format, since who knows how long it will take you to read each page. You also get a Jack Chertok produced Lost TV Show Pilot: The Reluctant Eye, a 25-minute Private Investigation Comedy. The Soundtrack Music Album comes with 23 short tracks from the show. More promo nostalgia comes in the form of Original Sponsor Spots, running about 3 minutes.
Far fewer extras are available for Season Two. More old advertisements arrive as Original Cast Sponsor Billboards and Commercials, about 3 minutes worth. 15 minutes of Vintage Cast Interviews prove mostly that Merv Griffin was a big dork, but are nonetheless quite fun.
Extras for this season delve into Behind-The-Scenes aspects of the show. Behind The Scenes Home Movies run 13 minutes, and are commented on for your edification. Cast Commercials & Bumpers, 7 minutes worth, also feature commentary. Spaceship Miniature tests, with commentary, feature 8 minutes of images of Martin's spaceship swirling around against a black background. For serious TV scholars. Animation And Effects run about 5 minutes, showing test footage of the various effects used on the show. Let's Talk To Lucy, with Bixby and Walston, is composed of audio (and current graphics) of Lucille Ball's '60s radio show. One show features a 27-minute interview with Bill Bixby, while Ray Walston's interview on a different show runs 19 minutes. Another Jack Chertok produced TV Pilot: The Man In The Square Suit will find you enjoying 25 minutes of more old-school sit-com goodness. A self navigated Photo Gallery finishes out the set.
My Favorite Martian features the expert comic timing and drollery of Ray Walston and Bill Bixby. The show is exemplary of the newly emerged science fiction comedy format from the mid-sixties, and at three seasons, didn't outstay its welcome. Sure, there's little narrative throughput beyond whether Martian Uncle Martin will ever get back home, and the show relies on ever more goofy sit-com scenarios to garner its laughs, but the laughs are good, and this beefy 15-disk set is Highly Recommended for vintage TV buffs.