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The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (Review)

Time Life, 1968, Not Rated

By Steven Rosen · May 26th, 2010 · Couch Potato
If you rank the greatest, most historic moments in series television, near the top would have to be an early 1968 episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in which Pete Seeger sang his classic “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” a pointed, caustic attack on the disastrous Vietnam War and the “big fool” of a U.S. President (Lyndon Johnson) who pushed it. (Yes, it’s more important than Lost’s last episode.)

Seeger’s leftist activism had gotten him banned from network TV from 1950 until he opened the second season of the Smothers’ controversial, countercultural comedy/musical-variety show on Sept. 19, 1967. But CBS censored his performance of “Waist Deep.” So Tom and Dick Smothers — constantly pushing the stodgy network — invited Seeger back, and this time the song got on.

It had as much to do with the rising anti-Vietnam sentiment that subsequently forced LBJ to not seek reelection as anything.

Both full episodes featuring Seeger are part of this well-annotated, three-disc, 13-episode set — he also performs “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “This Land Is Your Land” with the Smothers Brothers. The TV series, one of the most important ever, started as a mid-season replacement in early 1967, so what you have on Season 2 is really its flowering and zenith. (There was only one more season, oddly released before this one on DVD, and then CBS yanked it off the air.)

This set has many wonderful moments — dry, absurdist comedian Pat Paulsen announcing his presidential campaign; Rock band The Who blowing up its drum set after playing “My Generation”; a pro-guncontrol sketch that called gun owners “private citizens, criminals and out-and-out nuts”; the great black comedian Moms Mabley getting some network due; and the Smothers Brothers’ own Folk-song parodies.

For all their rebelliousness, the Smothers also had affection for old Hollywood, so guest stars doing sometimes kitschy shtick here include Tallulah Bankhead, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Albert, Bette Davis and Mickey Rooney. The duo respected their elders — as long as they weren’t CBS executives. Grade: A



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