The Austin Chronicle

Home Entertainment for the Holidays

Best bets for DVD and Blu-ray

By Anne Harris, December 14, 2012, Screens

The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection

Time Life Entertainment, $199.95

The last vestiges of old vaudeville in mainstream entertainment were the variety shows of the 1970s, which shared an almost identical m.o. – sketch comedy, popular athletes, movie stars, and musical acts. The broadcast menu of the day was extensive: The heady (read: charmingly stoned) Laugh-In, The Sonny & Cher Show (or, The Navel), and The Dean Martin Show (the Golddiggers!), all somehow fade into memory in one haze, but not Carol. She was always one of us; that's how easy she made physical sketch comedy look to the untrained eye. In the pantheon of redheaded comics, she was arguably greater at her craft than Lucille Ball, who was 22 years her senior.

In honor of the 45th anniversary of show's first broadcast – and just in time to collapse by the tree in a nest of wrapping paper with some sticky stuff and drinks – comes this giant-sized Time Life boxed incarnation of The Carol Burnett Show. (Time Life has also released less comprehensive – and less pricey – individual disc packages.) With plenty of viewing hours to catch up with old friends like Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, and Lyle Waggoner, you'll be transported back to simpler days of corny and sometimes ribald television. You'll see all the guest stars, some in their prime, like Betty White, Shirley MacLaine, Peggy Lee, Hal Linden (he was funny), Dick Van Dyke, and our favorite, the late Madeline Kahn. All episodes feature their original soundtracks.

As perennial Carl Reiner said, "There were no second bananas on that show." Burnett wanted everybody to look great, except herself. We always believed she chose those vile Bob Mackie frocks precisely for their comic appeal (see the bonus feature, "Gags and Gowns: A Tribute to Bob Mackie"). A ravishing Bernadette Peters got to show the world what a terrific straight woman she is, and she got good lighting. Relative age never mattered either, whether in Burnett's viewership, or in her choice of co-stars, which included as many young divas as graying male stars. Remember Ken Berry? He was probably the best straight man of his era, best enjoyed in the popular comedy, F-Troop. For those with the good fortune to have childhoods that coincided with TV's golden age of the variety show, this set is a bull's-eye.

More megasets Bond 50: The Complete 22-Film Collection (MGM, Blu-ray, $299.99), Harry Potter Wizard's Collection (Warner Bros. Pictures, $499.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy)

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