The Mark of Excellence

The Ernie Kovacs Collection Volume 2

> > Nov 12 2012

The Ernie Kovacs Collection Volume 2
By Michael EdwardsTo try and sum up Ernie Kovacs' brand of comedy in 30 words or less is close to impossible, as he was a unique individual. He was also a hugely influential figure and it isn't difficult to see parts of his shtick showing up in the work of David Letterman, Andy Kaufman and many other comedians. He was an innovator who manipulated the medium with his small cast of similarly minded individuals, including wife Edie Adams, who has spearheaded this campaign to preserve his legacy. This three-DVD set is more of the same as its predecessor, but that's not a bad thing at all. The eight episodes of his morning show were simply stunning; Kovacs was given free rein to do whatever he wanted for 30 minutes each day and he pushed television in ways that nobody else was even thinking about in the '50s. The shows have an anarchic, wild feel to them, thanks to their mix of sketches, recurring characters and general silliness, as Ernie reads off some news stories or wanders around a bemused studio audience. There's a wonderful moment in one episode when he tells the audience to switch places with him and once they're all onstage, he sits in the bleachers and asks them what they have planned for today's show. Even though they are laughing, they look confused. There are also a healthy dose of bonus sketches, with many of his best-known characters. The fact that his game show, Take A Good Look, stuck around for two seasons is incredible, as most of the time, the guests don't have a clue what's going on. The basic premise is the same as What's My Line, where the panel of guests has to guess exactly what the contestants are famous for, but rather than simply asking questions, they're also shown filmed vignettes that allegedly include clues. However, considering Kovacs' love of the surreal, the clues are usually wilfully obscure or just plain weird, so everyone just sits around looking bewildered until they make a lucky guess. But on the three episodes included here, everyone is having lots of fun and the show succeeds simply as a showcase for Kovacs' creativity. Also included on the final disc in the set is the long lost pilot for Medicine Man, a Western sitcom that Kovacs made with Buster Keaton in 1961. While it has a few golden moments, it's clear why it's slipped from memory: it isn't very good. Perhaps they were hampered by budget or time, but apart from a few inspired gags it's a surprisingly pedestrian show, one that's more interesting than amusing. More insightful is a CBC interview with Kovacs from 1961, where he talks in depth about his television specials; it isn't long enough, but it is wonderful to hear him talk about how he turns his ideas into the final product. The set is rounded out by a couple of movie trailers, some home movies and a 40-minute panel discussion about Kovacs moderated by Harry Shearer from 2011. It's hard to believe that this set is just as good as its predecessor, but it is. I have no idea how much is left in the vaults, but hopefully there is enough for a few more volumes because the contents of Volume 2 are pure gold.
(Shout! Factory)
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