Past the Popcorn: Waterland Home Video Feature

by Greg Wright

It seems that a new Carol Burnett Show collection gets released to home video every other year.

In this case—The 22-disc Ultimate Collection from Time/Life—it’s the same DVD boxed set they released in 2012, apparently in a limited edition. In any event, it’s back… and it’s big.

Right off the bat, you should know that I am not one for nostalgia. I do not sit around at night yearning for the days of I Love Lucy, Leave It To Beaver, or Happy Days. Or F-Troop, Get Smart, or Gilligan’s Island, which I actually watched nearly religiously. I’m not sure “the good old days” is a phrase that has ever passed my lips.

Yet it is true that I often reflect on my past, and always have. I remember sights, sounds, locations, and events with clarity (though often incorrectly, as I’m told). I do not live entirely in the present, and find certain aspects of my past inescapable.

cbs_01So: here are my basic reflections on having screened several hours of content from the 22-disc set that is The Carol Burnett Show Ultimate Collection. I was not predisposed to gush over it because of “fond memories” of sitting around the tube with the family, laughing our guts out. Though, of course, that’s what we did… and though, of course, we’ve talked about that many times over the years. Nonetheless, as I watched a handful of episodes and sat enthralled with hour after hour of interviews with Burnett, her castmates, guest stars, and other associates, I found myself reflecting on the fact that Burnett, her brand of humor, and her show were all indeed formative influences on me from the time I was in kindergarten through the time I graduated from high school.

And then I moved on to Saturday Night Live.

Carol Burnett was a kinder, gentler influence. And it is indeed a distinct pleasure to re-welcome The Carol Burnett Show into my home 47 years after its premiere.

And, I have to say, the welcome is tinged with a certain qualified (here’s that word) nostalgia. While the schtick of “The Family” and Tim Conway’s “The Oldest Man” cannot fail to make me guffaw for minutes at a time, I am almost certain that the show is not what would be conventionally called “timeless.” As I was popping the first of 22 discs into my DVD player, I was thinking, “Gee… it’s too bad Time/Life didn’t just remaster these on Blu-ray. DVD is almost a dead format these days.” But as the almost apologetic “Well, we did the best we could” disclaimer faded from my screen and the blurry/grainy show logo came up prior to the main DVD menu, I was reminded that a great many of the shows from the “Golden Age of TV” can’t possibly look good any more… because the shows were not filmed, but recorded and edited on 2-inch Quadruplex videotape. And there’s only so much you can do to make the effective 625p dubbed originals look good on today’s hi-res displays. I don’t think the obviously 1970s style presentation of this package is going to wow folks who’ve never before seen the show.

So this is, I think, a set for the nostalgia crowd.

And what a set it is! (You just knew I’d get around to the enthusiasm part, didn’t you?)

Now, here’s the first thing you need to know if you are going to plunk down your 200 smackeroos for this bad boy (and you know you will).

AFTER YOU REMOVE THE SHRINK WRAP, DO NOT TRY TO OPEN THIS CASE LIKE A BOX. If you do, you will (as I did) do various sorts of damage to your very expensive and decorative product packaging. This set does not open in any of the conventional ways; instead, “the curtain rises” from behind Carol… so take that as your cue. I wish I’d had one!

Inside the box, you’re going to find five different DVD cases, three of which are six-disc collections that primarily feature selected episodes of the show; the other two are packaged as 2-disc “bonus feature” sets… but really, there’s not a lot of difference in the content between these collections and discs. All contain various episodes and sketches, and all are packed with bonus interviews and other featurettes. The vast majority of this content also appears to be relatively recent, recorded and edited together specifically for this 45th-anniversary collection.

The other good news (as Burnett herself points out many, many times during various interviews) is that the episodes presented are original and uncut versions… not the reduced half-hour shows many of us saw in syndicated re-runs. I’m not sure what the history has been with the availability of this material in the home video market… but this is a treasure trove of enjoyable, fascinating entertainment. Get yourself (or someone you love, and live with) an early Christmas present, and you can spend a whole winter of evenings hunkered down with Burnett, et al.

The bonus here is that the vast majority of humor in Burnett’s show avoided crass or overly suggestive themes, a far cry from today’s televised comedies. In one of the cast interviews included with this set, Tim Conway tries to laud the show’s writers for avoiding cuss words and sex gags… but Burnett shoots down that wishful thinking, crediting not the writers but network censors, who tried to keep a tight rein even on episodes such as the one which featured a nudist colony. Still, necessity is the mother of invention, and the Burnett show knew that shuffling feet could be milked for more laughs than a bushel of f-bombs.

I can’t honestly say it’s worth shelling out the dough for the DVDs, though. Once through will probably be enough for you for a good long time… so you might consider streaming a couple highlight discs from Amazon instead.

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