In the golden age of classic film and television, few comedians could match the success and popularity of legendary comic duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The pair was successful in almost every medium, including stage, radio, film, cartoon, and television. Toward the end of their career, the duo had already hosted the Colgate Comedy Hour and decided to do a TV series that would utilize their classic gags while still reaching a newer, younger audience. The result was The Abbott and Costello Show.
Premiering in 1951, The Abbott and Costello Show was a short-lived success. Although it ran only two seasons, it showcased the pair’s reliable repertoire of routines which they had originally done in vaudeville and reintroduced to new generations of film and TV fans. You don’t have to be an Abbott and Costello fan to have heard of their routines, which were usually based on Costello misunderstanding what Abbott was trying to tell him. The series featured such classic sketches as “Electricity is a Watt,” “Mustard is made for the Hot Dog,” “Find the Lemon,”, “Making money Loafing,” “Heard of Cows”, “7 x 13=28”, “the Moving Candle”, “Floogle Street”, “the Dice Game”, Packing/Unpacking”, “You’re Forty, She’s Ten” and the venerable, unequalled “Who’s on First?”
Bud was the straight man and Lou was the one who got all the laughs. Bud’s character was that of a selfish con man who would use and abuse his easily manipulated pal, getting Lou into endless trouble. Lou’s character was the simple-minded yet good-hearted guy who was picked on by everyone yet somehow endured and often triumphed through perseverance and a pure heart.
The team basically played down-and-out versions of themselves in the series, even using their real names. The premise of the show was that Bud and Lou were out of work actors living in a spartan rooming house (which cost a whopping $7.00 a week) where they were perpetually months behind in the rent. Every episode started out with a basic plot, usually some scheme of Bud’s to make money, but the episode would drift further and further from the core of the storyline as it went on and finally disintegrated into chaos. The bulk of the episodes were a series of random, barely connected sketches, taken from the duo’s vast body of previous work. The show would always manage to work in one of their famous routines, even if it was an awkward fit.
One rather odd element of the show was that Bud and Lou would open and close the show on stage, talking to the audience about their adventures for the week. Considering they were supposed to be broke and unemployed, what were they doing on stage in front of an audience? Well, logic didn’t feature much into the program, which was full of improbable and often surreal situations.
During the first season, the show had a regular cast of supporting characters. Lovely Hillary Brooke played Lou’s glamorous dream girl Hillary. Gordon Jones was the short tempered and eternally annoyed Mike the cop (no last name given). Joe Kirk played their Italian friend Bacciagalupe, who seemed to have a different career in every episode, depending on what the plot required. Joe Besser, who would go on to greater fame as one of the Three Stooges, played “Stinky”, who was supposed to be a small child but was bizarrely portrayed by a forty-something man in a Buster Brown outfit. And finally there was Sid Fields, who not only portrayed the duo’s quirky landlord but also played numerous other characters. He would become one of the series' writers in season two.
Big changes were in store for the show in series two. Jean Yarbrough, who directed the whole series, decided to appease the critics (who were complaining that the show was an exercise in anarchy) by reigning in the insanity and giving the show a more linear format, similar to other sitcoms. Yarbrough dropped most of the supporting cast except for Fields and Jones. Also gone from the show was Lou’s pet monkey Bingo (it’s rumored that Lou got rid of the monkey after it bit him). Since the comedy duo was running out of their signature routines, a new gag writer was hired to come up with fresh ones which, sadly, did not fit the team’s style. The ratings in year two began to drop. Since Lou Costello owned the show, and since he and Bud were also filming the movie Jack and the Beanstalk, they decided not to do a third season.
The core of the series was Lou Costello’s powerhouse comic performance. A gifted physical comedian as well as a talented verbal one, Lou was a fireball of comic timing and a master of the pratfall. His on-screen chemistry with Bud Abbott made them one of the greatest comedy teams in history.
This was the original ‘show-about-nothing’, and the inspiration of the successful Seinfeld series. Jerry Seinfeld admits to being a huge Abbott and Costello fan and used their show as a blueprint when he was coming up with his own series. Although there are only 52 episodes, there are more laughs here than some series get in five years.
This riotous series is a 9-disc set.
DVD Bonus Features
This DVD is loaded with tons of wonderful extras. In fact, it has three hours worth of bonus features including a 1978 TV special about Abbott and Costello; a season one ‘Classic Gag” real, featuring the duo’s signature routines; Lou Costello’s home movies; interviews with friends and family; a 1948 A&C short film “10,000 kids and a Cop”; and finally a 44-page commemorative book, which includes an episode guide
"The Abbott and Costello Show: The Complete Series" is on sale March 30, 2010 and is not rated. Comedy. Directed by Jean Yarbrough. Written by John Grant, Sid Fields, Clyde Bruckman, Lou Costello. Starring Bud Abbott, Hillary Brooke, Joe Besser, Joe Kirk, Lou Costello, Sid Fields.