Grade: B-
Entire family: Yes, but…
TV Variety
1971-74, 503 min. (10 episodes), Color
Time Life
Not rated (would be G; any innuendo will fly over the heads of youngsters)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: B+/A- (some great interviews and TV appearances)
Amazon link

Fans of Sonny and Cher will be glad to add I Got You Babe: The Best of Sonny & Cher to their video collections. The five-disc set includes 10 episodes culled from the series’ four-year run (1971-75), and Time Life did a good job finding the best elements to use for the DVD transfer. As for the “best” picks, that will be a matter of fan taste. Included here are:

Season 1, Episode 1—guest star Jimmy Durante (air date 8-1-71)
Season 1, Episode 8—Tony Curtis, Dinah Shore (1-3-72)
Season 1, Episode 9—Carroll O’Connor (1-10-72)
Season 3, Episode 2—Jerry Lewis, The Supremes (9-22-72)
Season 3, Episode 11—Jim Brown, Bobby Vinton
Season 3, Episode 18—Jim Nabors (2-7-73)
Season 4, Episode 3 “The Sonny & Cher Years (Part 1)—retrospective featuring Chuck Berry, Ed Byrnes, Dick Clark, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Vinton, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons (9-26-73)
Season 4, Episode 11 “The Sonny & Cher Years (Part 2)—retrospective featuring Paul Anka, The Coasters, Peter Noone, Neil Sedaka, Wolfman Jack (11-28-73)
Season 4, Episode 22—Joe Namath, The Righteous Brothers (2-20-74)

From the ‘40s through the ‘70s variety shows were a dominant genre, and currently lists The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour as the 10th Greatest Variety Show in TV History. But to a TV audience that didn’t grow up with variety shows, their attraction can seem a mystery. It’s like going to see a live revue at a lounge—a circuit that Sonny & Cher played, actually, before they got this summer replacement TV series. There’s something slightly indulgent about variety shows, where a line-up of guest stars as predictable as those on TV game shows get to sing and do out-of-their-element comedy sketches and basically extend their careers, while the stars can do whatever they want. Sometimes they’re entertaining, and sometimes they’re not. Some variety shows are deliberately edgy (like SNL, which debuted in 1975) and some follow the format that had become standard: an opening number (if the host is a singer) or monologue (if a comic), followed by alternating sketches and musical numbers featuring the host and guest stars.

The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour is one of those follow-the-format shows, and as such it holds up not quite as well as SNL or Carol Burnett but far better than Laugh-In, which 40-some years later feels like little more than a collage of period catch-phrase humor. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour earned 15 Emmy nominations, winning once for outstanding direction. And it does flow more seamlessly and effortlessly than most variety shows.

Because Cher is the more talented performer, Sonny’s schtick can grate on you, though, almost as much as his inferior voice. When the duo strays from their two mega-hits—“I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On”—Sonny seeks refuge in singing unison or backing off entirely so Cher’s rich and interpretive contralto voice can carry the load. But you start to wonder how many times he can come out in a goofy costume when she’s onstage alone, ostensibly trying to sing a song. It’s their act, certainly—gags about how he’s short goofball and a no-talent “goomba”—but it can get a little old.

Cher also has the better “moves” and holds up her end of the comedy more deftly than Sonny, who looks and dresses like what you’d get if you went to Party City to buy a ‘70s costume. Cher, meanwhile, sports Bob Mackie dresses that still look fashionable now, compared to the dated “swinger” outfits Sonny wears.

But they’re both American icons, that’s for sure. Sonny met Cher when she was 16 and he was 27. Two years later they recorded their first regional hit as both a couple and an act, and at one point in 1965 they had five songs on the Billboard Top 20. But when the duo bombed in a feature film (Good Times, 1968), they hit the road to perform in lounges and work on their husband-wife onstage bickering that would later become a staple on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. The couple would divorce in 1977, but find even greater success apart. Sonny went on to become the Mayor of Palm Springs and then a U.S. Congressman representing California’s 44th district, while Cher went on to sell 100 million records worldwide (on top of the 40 million sold with Sonny) and earned a Best Actress Oscar for Moonstruck, an Emmy for her 2003 TV special, and a Grammy for Best Dance Recording (Believe). With two such iconic figures, it’s a treat, no matter how tired the schtick gets, to see them performing together. Cher won a Golden Globe in 1974 for her performance on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and Sonny? He kept playing the goofy “goomba.”

Fans will probably give this collection an A- or B+, and super-fans may opt to get the 10-disc set instead. Meanwhile, people unfamiliar with Sonny & Cher and not used to old-time variety shows might think this set a C+—so the grade given is a compromise. Technically, it’s suitable for the entire family, but I can’t imagine it holding everyone’s interest. This set seems aimed mostly at fans and collectors.