TV Sets: Forever Funny fetches a brilliant collection of shows to tickle the funny bone as a sampling of the comedic programs CBS has put out over time. Any collection that features Taxi, Cheers, The Odd Couple and Frasier is doing something right of the comedy front – but that’s only half the issue. Along with choosing the funniest shows possible, the funniest episodes of the series ought be selected as well. Instead, in an obvious attempt to encourage folks to start at the beginning, CBS has chosen the pilot episodes of each series. Once again, like in the TV Sets: Action Packed DVD, pilots are great for hooking an audience when the show is brand new – but these are classic shows that your average television viewer has seen at least a few episodes of.
There are two things more puzzling than the steadfast notion that the pilot episodes were the best choice for this sampler disc.
First, the episodes of I Love Lucy, The Odd Couple and The Honeymooners all have a common thread of deception. While not an uncommon theme in the sitcom, the fact that three iconic television series all started with plots of one character trying to fool another seems odd. I Love Lucy’s pilot episode, aptly titled “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub”, has Fred (William Frawley) and Ricky (Desi Arnaz) trying to fool Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) who are likewise trying to do the same back. The Odd Couple started with the episode “The Laundry Orgy”, wherein Oscar (Jack Klugman) and Felix (Tony Randall) trying to fool their poker buddies into leaving so they can have some girls come over. The Honeymooners’ episode “TV or Not TV” has Ralph (Jackie Gleason) “giving in” to his wife’s demands to buy a television by going in halvsies with Norton (Art Carney). The shows are all very low concept and thus their plots never strayed too far nor became too complex. The similarity in beginnings for the three shows is interesting from an academic standpoint, but the episodes chosen remain subpar when it comes to laughs.
On that note, the second confusing item about the episode selection on the disc is that some of these episodes are sadder and more sentimental than they are funny. These were shows selling themselves on their comedic merits, and yet their first episodes have some very poignant and emotional moments that you’d think would best be avoided when trying to ensnare sitcom viewers. “Like Father, Like Daughter”, the pilot episode of Taxi, has Alex (Judd Hirsch) taking a road trip with the guys from the garage to meet his daughter whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years. The beginning may have a healthy supply of laughs, but the latter half is a bittersweet serenade to divorced parents and the effects the whole situation has on the relationship between a father and his estranged daughter. Even “Give Me A Ring Sometime”, Cheers’ pilot, concentrates less on character development and more on Diane (Shelley Long) getting dumped by her fiancée and take consolation in the company of Sam (Ted Danson) and his barflies. These episodes have their funny moments, but it makes the characters of the respective shows seem like afterthoughts to be developed after the audience has been hooked on a less than honest representation of what the series will grow to be.
Only three of these episodes genuinely sets up the shows in a way that’s honest to the series’ content down the line. Cheers, despite its focus on Diane’s origin less than an introduction of the ensemble which made the show so famous, at least provides a solid statement about its premise: Sam and his friends hang out in a bar named Cheers where they face the joys and sorrows of life. Similarly Frasier’s “The Good Son” introduces all the key characters, establishes they’re relationships and keeps the audience laughing all along. The pilot episode of The Brady Bunch, “The Honeymoon”, also gives a fairly accurate representation of the main plot and its characters: two divorced parents marry, creating a family of eight which experiences conflicts naturally arising from sibling rivalry. TV Sets: Forever Funny may have gotten a few things right, but the episodes it chose wisely don’t overshadow the ones which baffle.
Are all of the shows on this sampler classic and hysterical? You bet. Are all of the episodes chosen for this sampler accurate examples of their respective shows? Not quite. Personally, I’d recommend paying an extra $15 beyond the price of this sampler DVD for one of the complete seasons of any of the shows found on this disc. But if you genuinely don’t know where to start - if you’ve never seen any of these shows – then go ahead and buy the DVD. Honestly though, even in the circumstance just listed, you’d still be better off buying a full season of Frasier or Cheers.
"TV Sets: Forever Funny" is on sale May 19, 2009 and is rated NR. Television. Directed by Marc Daniels, James Burrows, Jerry Paris. Written by Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Davis, Stan Daniels, James L. Brooks, Jerry Belson, Garry Marshall, James Burrows, Glen Charles. Starring Danny DeVito, David Hyde Pierce, Shelley Long, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Judd Hirsch, Tony Danza, Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Ted Danson, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Florence Henderson, Robert Reed, Kelsey Grammer.