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CPO SHARKEY: SEASON 2 (DVD)

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CPOSharkey2coverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: No
1977-78, 548 min. (22 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be PG for rude humor and adult situations)
Time Life
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: C-
Amazon link

Stand-up comedian Don Rickles made a career out of insult humor and politically incorrect jokes aimed at all races. So what better sitcom for him to star in than one that has him playing a Chief Petty Officer at a U.S. Naval training facility in San Diego, where he gets to go off on recruits—especially when those recruits include a Polish American, a Jewish American, an Italian American, and a Puerto Rican?

Call it Sgt. Bilko revisited, because Rickles is surprisingly good at playing a tough, acerbic CPO with a warm heart. The show lasted only two seasons, but it’s not because the sitcom isn’t funny or because the cast isn’t likeable. My guess is that it was another case of bad timing. The public already had one sitcom with politically incorrect humor, and did America really want or need another Archie Bunker?

CPOSharkey2screenThat’s not fair, though, because Bunker was racist without knowing or admitting it. He tolerated black neighbors but wasn’t really friends with them. Sharkey is best buddies with fellow CPO Dave Robinson (Harrison Page), an African American with whom he feels comfortable enough to make racial jokes. Notice I said “racial,” not “racist.” There’s a difference, and in today’s hyper-politically correct world that difference isn’t acknowledged—hence the warning on the back of this DVD: “Some of the jokes and ethnic references heard in these episodes would most likely not be allowed on network TV today and reflect the tenor of the times.” Because of that racial humor, CPO Sharkey: Season 2 will only be for families with children old enough to realize that such jokes can’t be made today, no matter how fond you are of a person.

Still, CPO Sharkey is a refreshing change from the steady diet of family sitcoms that TV serves up. This second season begins as the first did, with a new commander taking over and rubbing Sharkey the wrong way. As with the first season, some of the humor is topical and has lost its comic edge, but the bulk of the jokes are of the insult variety—what Rickles was known for—and that never goes out of style. Just ask your junior high or high school family members.

This season is a little more uneven than the first. In some of the best episodes, Sharkey butts heads with “The New Captain” and can’t have fun on leave in San Francisco because he’s crammed into tight submarine quarters with Captain Buckner (Richard X. Slattery) in “Operation Frisco.” Sharkey’s barrack is selected for a coed pilot program in “Don’t Make Waves,” Sharkey’s girlfriend tells him he’s insensitive in “Close Encounters of the Worst Kind,” Sharkey breaks up a fight in a punk-rock nightclub (“Punk Rock Sharkey”) and has to deal with a runaway teen, Sharkey is afraid of flying and has to face the aerial music in “Fear of Flying,” and when Sharkey moves into an off-base apartment his life turns quickly off-base. Of the 22 episodes, nine are B or better, and the rest are C or C+ quality.

Language: Tame, but the insult humor and rude humor can seem abrasive
Sex: All talk, with adult situations
Violence: N/A
Adult situations: Some drinking, male-female situations
Takeaways: It’s hard to believe what TV got away with in the ‘70s, but while C.P.O. Sharkey is entertaining you have to be okay with insult humor to really like the show.

FRESH OFF THE BOAT: SEASON 1 (DVD)

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FreshofftheBoatcoverGrade: A-
Entire family: Yes
2015, 281 min. (13 episodes), Color
20th Century Fox
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C
Trailer
Amazon link

Fresh off the Boat is one of the freshest and funniest family sitcoms since Modern Family. Coincidentally, both come from 20th Century Fox, but this modern family is set in the past. It’s the story of an immigrant family from Taiwan that comes to America in the 1990s when Shaq was playing for the Orlando Magic. And for young rap-obsessed Eddie Huang, that was more alluring than any of the magic Disney had to offer.

Oldest son and junior-high student Eddie is the point-of-view character who, as an adult, offers a voiceover narration to describe his take on his Chinese American family and their culture-shock transition from Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown to mainstream Orlando suburban life.

Randall Park stars as Eddie’s father, the always smiling, always upbeat Louis Huang, who relocated his family in order to open a Western-themed steakhouse restaurant. We learn this first season that he originally came to Orlando by himself to become a franchise owner, but realizing that he fell way short of the franchise fee he absconded with a copy of the restaurant chain manager’s playbook. Running gags throughout the series involve him emphasizing slight changes in name and decor of his independent and competing restaurant.

As easygoing as Louis is, his wife, Jessica (Constance Wu), is strict and strictly uptight. She makes her children study hard because she wants them to succeed, but she worries constantly that they’re losing touch with their Chinese culture. At the same time, she’s become hooked on American melodramas, rollerblading with the neighborhood women, and American foods and recipes.

FreshofftheBoatscreenThe two boys are middle child Emery (Forrest Wheeler), who has a way with the girls that older brother could only wish for, and young Evan (Ian Chen), the perfect son who wants to please his parents and is as determined to do as well in school as Eddie is to just get by. Rounding out the family is the wheelchair-bound Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong), whose comic function is much like Grandpa Simpson in the Fox animated series, though she’s less clueless and more conniving.

The action shifts from Cattleman’s Ranch to home to school, with plots inspired by the 2013 memoir of the real Eddie Huang, a well-known restaurateur and chef. Like the best sitcoms, Fresh off the Boat episodes feel both original and vaguely familiar, with a strong and likable cast that extends all the way through the minor characters. They’re quirky but authentic.

This season Jessica decides to become a realtor and insists on conducting a sexual harassment seminar for Louis’s employees, Eddie works at the restaurant to save money to buy a new Shaq video game, vandals and dash-and-diners cause problems for the Huangs, Eddie tries to impress friends and one particular neighbor girl, and Louis is pressed into coaching Eddie’s basketball team. And in the funniest episode, Jessica gets excited than her old college boyfriend is coming to Orlando, and when everyone expresses surprise that Louis isn’t jealous that he’ll be spending the night she begins to wonder if he doesn’t think she’s “hot” enough to worry about.

Thirteen episodes are contained on two single-sided discs and housed in a standard-size keep case. The only bonus features are a gag reel and trivia track, but so what? This series is laugh-out-loud funny for all ages.

Language: A few mild swear-words spoken in Chinese with subtitles
Sex: Eddie tries to go from a hug to a hand on a woman’s butt
Violence: n/a
Adult situations: Innuendo and mild flirting
Takeaway: Are we entering another Golden Age of television sitcoms?

MODERN FAMILY: SEASON 6 (DVD)

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ModernFamily6coverGrade: A
Entire family: Yes
2014-15, 556 min. (24 episodes), Color
20th Century Fox
Not Rated (would be PG for some adult situations)
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B
Amazon link

The streak is over. After winning Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series its first five seasons, which tied Frasier for top honors in that category, Modern Family: Season 6 fell short. But it had nothing to do with the quality of episodes. This series remains one of the funniest sitcoms on television, and Season 6 has no shortage of laugh-out-loud moments. It’s every bit as strong as the other seasons.

The success formula for Modern Family is pretty simple: Clever writing, rapid-fire jokes, likable characters, a talented ensemble cast, reality-show cutaway remarks, and comedy that’s truly situation-based, rooted in emotions and scenarios that audiences can often identify with.

What makes this family “modern” is that it includes non-traditional models that are common today. The gruff businessman patriarch of the Pritchett clan (Ed O’Neill) has remarried a Colombian “hottie” (Sofía Vergara) 20 years his junior who has a son named Manny (Rico Rodriguez), whom Jay tries to toughen up. Jay’s two children are Claire, an OCD who married a doofus (Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy, the self-proclaimed “fun dad”) that Jay couldn’t stand, and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), his gay son now married to the flamboyant Cam (Eric Stonestreet). Mitchell and Cam have adopted a Vietnamese orphan named Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), while Claire and Phil have three biological children: the flirtatious and carefree Haley (Sarah Hyland), the studious Alex (Ariel Winter), and not-too-bright Luke (Nolan Gould).

That core group collectively has 27 Outstanding Supporting Actor/Actress nominations and six Primetime Emmy wins. There isn’t a weak link among them. In all cases, the actors and writers manage to create characters that are totally believable, both individually and in relation to the others. You accept them as couples, in-laws, steps, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters. There are also degrees of exaggeration that help to create the comedy, but without ever edging too close to the kind of over-the-top humor that too many sitcoms depend upon. And there’s no annoying laugh track to prod viewers.

This season new neighbors feud with Claire and Phil, Cam and Mitchell think about adding another child to their family, and Jay seems to be growing more sensitive about his age. He’s also worried his young son Joe is playing with too many “girlie” ModernFamily6screenthings, and it doesn’t exactly help his psyche to pretend to be gay in order to fill in for one of the bowlers on Cam’s team. Haley tries to get Alex to loosen up a bit this season, and the writers attempt a clever (some might say “gimmicky”) episode that’s told entirely from Claire’s laptop as she’s stranded at the airport. Despite the non-standard narrative format, they still manage laughs, and that’s saying something. Apart from an episode in which little Joe might be allergic to Jay’s beloved dog (shades of a Brady Bunch episode), what elevates this show is the originality of the plots from week to week . . . and the way those plots still incorporate ways to connect with viewers. In one Season 6 episode Jay takes a pottery class in order to make a clay bunny for his “Bunny” for their anniversary, but Gloria treats it like a piñata, wondering what he put inside. Anyone who’s ever made or received a personally crafted gift can identify with Jay, and common elements pop up in just about every episode.

Like most good sitcoms, Modern Family is addictive. Buy this season and you’ll probably feel the impulse to pick up the earlier ones. It’s that funny. Twenty-four episodes are included on three single-sided discs and housed in a standard-size keep case, with plastic “pages” to keep the discs from getting scratched.

Language: None, really
Sex: Same here—just some innuendo
Violence: Again, nothing here
Adult situations: A gay man tries to flirt with Jay, and that’s pretty much typical of how tame the adult situations are in this series. It’s all about comedy of character, and viewers are focused so much on the characters that everything else seems secondary.
Takeaway: A well-written sitcom is a thing of beauty.

THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW: THE LOST EPISODES (DVD)

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CarolBurnettShowcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes, but…
1967-73, 1255 min. (16 shows), Color
Time Life/StarVista
Not rated (mostly G, some PG sketches)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: B+
Includes: 6 discs, color booklet
Amazon link

The Carol Burnett Show is a tough one to review because it’s a variety show, and that brand of television is nearly extinct—TV-land’s dinosaur. It’s like trying to assess a pterodactyl, even though this particular old bird won 25 Emmys, eight Golden Globes, and three People’s Choice Awards.

Now TV is dominated by reality shows and snarky talk and news shows, but during TV’s golden age the variety show was king. The Ed Sullivan Show, which ran from 1948 to 1971, preserved the vaudeville format almost exactly, televising animal acts, circus acts, magicians, mind readers, musical acts, dancers, musical acts, and comedians. But it was Sid Caesar in Your Show of Shows (1950-54) and Caesar’s Hour (1954-57) who pioneered sketch comedy as the meat-and-potatoes of future variety shows, and that’s the direction that Carol Burnett took.

The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons, tying her with Milton Berle for eighth all-time among variety shows, and it was as popular as TV gets. But to watch her show now just isn’t the same as watching it then. So many of the sketches were parodies of TV shows, movies, and commercials, and topical humor loses its edge. Plus, as SNL fans know, sketch comedy is hit or miss. Amazingly, many of the sketches in this six-disc collection still work. In fact, I’d say that there are more “hits” here than the current SNL group manages to muster in an average week.

“Interactive” is a big buzzword now, but Burnett interacted with her audience from the time her show debuted. Instead of doing a monologue, Burnett strode out onto the stage and took questions from the audience for a full three to four minutes. Sometimes she was quick to crack jokes, while other times the questions prompted more serious responses. But can you see a studio allowing a live audience to interact with stars today? Stars would be a nervous wreck, and network honchos would be that times 10. So it’s a fascinating part of every show, and half of Burnett’s weekly traditions.

As for the other half, Bob Hope had his “Thanks for the Memories” theme, and Burnett often closed her shows by singing the words to her own theme song:

I’m so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh or sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, So long.

CarolBurnettShowscreenIn between there was song and dance and performing guests. But anchoring the show were the comedy sketches, starring, at first, Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Wagoner, and later Tim Conway, after Wagoner left the show to do “Wonder Woman.” Guest stars got in the act too, and the talents on these 16 episodes are Chita Rivera, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Mel Tormé, Nanette Fabray, Jim Nabors, Bing Crosby, Paul Lynde, Tim Conway, Eydie Gorme, Burt Reynolds, Lesley Ann Warren, Don Adams, Lucille Ball, Bobbie Gentry, Phyllis Diller, Gwen Verdon, Nancy Wilson, Andy Griffith, Bernadette Peters, Cass Elliot, Flip Wilson, Vicki Carr, Carol Channing, Steve Lawrence, Jack Jones, and Ruth Buzzi. I suspect that the more of these celebrities you recognize, the more likely you will be to appreciate The Carol Burnett Show. It’s suitable for families, but children and a new generation of viewers may find the musical numbers especially dated, though the sketches are still funny, and Burnett is as likable as ever.   More

THE HEE HAW COLLECTION (DVD)

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HeeHawcoverGrade: B/B-
Entire family: Yes
1969-71, 369 min. (5 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be G despite some innuendo)
Time Life
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: B-
“Pfft You Was Gone” clip

The hay-day (sorry, bad pun) of rural comedy on American TV was between 1960, when The Andy Griffith Show debuted, and 1971, when all of them were put out to pasture. The novelty of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Gomer Pyle: USMC, Green Acres, and Mayberry R.F.D. had worn off, so it was no surprise that in 1971 CBS also cancelled Hee Haw—a country version of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

But like the Grand Ole Opry, this corny variety show, which debuted in 1969 and featured a group of talented regulars and some of the top country stars of the time, had a life of its own. It became an institution, going into syndication and lasting nearly another 20 years.

Hee Haw managed to have it both ways, featuring characters and jokes that celebrated rural life, but also poked fun of rural stereotypes. You’ll see nostalgic, folksy segments that lament the loss of cracker barrel philosophers, with Archie Campbell playing a barber and regaling customers with stories, Grandpa Jones and Junior Samples doing the same at Gordie’s General Store, or Stringbean reading a letter from home. Always it was a tall tale modernized or a long simmering lead-in to a corny punch line. Yet there were also recurring segments featuring not-too-bright farmer’s daughters in short-shorts or the country equivalent of mini-dresses, and a recurring sketch about barefooted moonshiners in overalls lying in the front yard next to a jug and a bloodhound. In fact, Junior Samples, with his slow-witted and deliberately speaking persona, was the anti-sophisticate, and darned proud of it. Put Junior in a Shakespeare sketch (as they often did) or making a used car commercial and it was instant laughs.

Hee_HawLaugh-In was hosted by a comic duo. Hee Haw’s hosts were musicians first and comedians second, which fit the corny concept just fine. Roy Clark, best known for his instrumental work on banjo, guitar, and mandolin, first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 17. Buck Owens was a popular country singer and band leader whose best-known songs were “Act Naturally,” “Together Again,” and “Tiger by the Tail.” The pair appeared to have fun together and provided the perfect anchor for a boatload of sketches and musical numbers. Buck and Roy started each show with a rendition of “Hee Haw” and at some point did a vaudeville-style routine called “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” that strung jokes together with musical riffs. They also did at least one solo per episode.

Though the humor could be adult, the show was obviously intended for families because kids were included in some sketches and the show relied on animated farm animals to add to the laughs. One minute the audience could be enjoying some serious guitar-playing from Clark, and the next minute a chorus line of pigs would be dancing across the screen while he’s playing, lightening the mood.  More

THE WONDER YEARS: SEASON 3 (DVD)

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WonderYears3coverGrade: A-
Entire family: No. Age 10 and older.
1990-91, 520 min. (23 episodes), Color
Rated TV-PG for mild swearing, rude humor, and coming-of-age situations
Time Life/StarVista Entertainment
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: B+
Amazon link

There are plenty of coming-of-age stories, but the classics for me are still Stand by Me and A Christmas Story in film, and The Wonder Years on TV. In each, you get the full impact of adolescence, but with a terrific sense of the time period, along with plots that bring everything into sharp focus. The Wonder Years is funny, it’s fresh, it’s thought provoking, it insightfully and colorfully captures the attitudes of the era, and it plays well 20 years later.

Like Leave It to Beaver, the series’ episodes were seen from the point of view of an adolescent, and you knew you were in for an interesting ride when this half-hour comedy-drama shunned a laugh track and introduced the kind of voiceover narrator that we got in A Christmas Story—an adult version of the main character, who was 12 years old when the series began. And you knew that The Wonder Years would meet the ‘60s head-on when the pilot called for the girl-next-door’s older brother to be killed in Vietnam, and for our hero to comfort her in a scene that would culminate in a first kiss for each of them—both as characters, and as actors.

In short, The Wonder Years gets it right. Kids Kevin’s age were too young to worry about a draft number, yet too old to ignore the events that were shaping history and the lives of Americans—things like the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations, the moon landing, Woodstock, the Apollo 13 crisis, and events that were an outgrowth of Civil Rights, women’s liberation, and increasingly strident anti-war protests. The result is a series that combines the innocence of childhood—of who likes whom, and passing notes—with a world that’s pushing them to grow up more quickly.

Fred Savage was perfectly cast as Kevin Arnold, who at 13 became the youngest actor ever nominated for a Primetime Outstanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series Emmy. His doe eyes reflected innocence, while his impish smile was a sign that he might say or do something impulsive or mischievous at any moment. The girl next door, Winnie Cooper, was also well cast, with Danica McKellar perfect as someone who would be both a best friend and love interest over the course of the show’s six seasons. And for comic relief and guy-to-guy matters there was bespectacled Paul (Josh Saviano), a brainy pal who was also Kevin’s best friend. The tone was wink-wink one minute and woe-is-me another as this group navigated the halls of junior high, then high school and all of the problems that seem so major to this age group: crushes, dates, tormentors, cliques, and run-ins with teachers and coaches.

On the home front, older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) was obviously fond of his brother but lived to torment him, while much older sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo) was so caught up in the ‘60s that she was a flower child from the very first episode. The parents were especially well cast, with Dan Lauria returning from work each day grumpy and feeling chewed up and spat out, and Alley Mills deferring to him while also trying to act as mediator when he got on the kids.

Mr. Arnold swears almost as much as the dad from A Christmas Story, but without the mumbling. For him, “hell” and “damn” are normal everyday words. Many dads were like that, especially when the country seemed to be coming apart at the seams. But while historical events provided a backdrop, like the terrific music from the period that we hear in every episode, this show was still about growing up, and growing up in the ‘60s and early ‘70s was more complicated. The Wonder Years managed to capture the perfect storm of events that were always in a family’s consciousness even as the father tried to put food on the table, siblings fought and sought to find their place in the world, and the mother tried to hold them all together.

WonderYears3screenIf your family is into binge-watching, The Wonder Years is a perfect candidate, and you don’t have to begin with Season 1. This season Kevin meets an older girl during summer vacation, butts heads with an unreasonable teacher, tries to help Winnie get over her stage fright when they’re all in a play together, takes a break from best-pal Paul, gets his first pimple, learns a lesson about cheating, sabotages himself on a test, joins a band, gets a dog, struggles in glee club, builds a treehouse with his dad, and has to deal with an awkward moment when he and Winnie are invited to a make-out party. And brainy Paul develops a crush on Mrs. Arnold. Meanwhile, the Apollo 13 astronauts are in trouble and Kevin worries that his family is also in trouble, with a sister trying to enroll in a “liberal” college and his father complaining about the old house so much that Kevin is afraid they might move away from his friends and school.

The Season 3 DVD includes interviews with the actors who play Karen, Wayne, Winnie, and Becky Slater, along with a roundtable featuring the main three actors and a featurette, “At Home with the Arnolds.”

WELCOME TO SWEDEN: SEASON 1 (DVD)

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WelcometoSwedencoverGrade: B/B+
Entire family: No
2014, 220 min. (10 episodes), Color
Not Rated (would be PG)
Entertainment One
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Swedish and English Dolby Digital 5.1 (English subtitles)
Bonus features: N/A
Amazon link

Welcome to Sweden is a Swedish situation comedy in English and Swedish (with English subtitles) that aired simultaneously on The Comedy Network in Canada and on NBC in the United States last year. Executive produced by comedian Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation), it stars her brother, Greg, as a New York accountant to celebrities who makes a ton of money but realizes that what he really wants is to be Swedish . . . to move to Sweden to live with his serious new Swedish girlfriend.

In a TV series that’s built around culture (and personality) clashes, because of his honesty poor Bruce (Poehler) gets into almost as much inadvertent trouble as Larry David does in Curb Your Enthusiasm—except that unlike David, he’s actually a nice, thoughtful guy. Bruce was raised in a small midwestern town, though he isn’t nearly as conservative or religious as his parents. His philosophy is the kind of laid-back “things will work out” (i.e., fix themselves) attitude more common to California than New York. So when he meets Emma (Josephine Bornebusch) and they hit it off, he decides to quit his lucrative job and follow her to Sweden, where she returns to be with family and to work in a bank.

For a sitcom, Welcome to Sweden has a real low-key indie vibe to it, but once Greg gets off the plane in Stockholm and moves in with Emma and her family, it also starts to feel like a milder, more sophisticated, tongue-in-cheek version of Meet the Parents. Viveka (Lena Olin) is the vivacious mom who feels herself getting older and wants to live a second-chance life through her daughter, but the fact that she married a much older man (Claes Mansson as Birger) who’s now less vital is an annoying reminder of how much she herself has aged. A former sea captain, Birger is as tall as Bruce is short, quiet and reserved as Bruce is prone to babble nervously. And those contrasts too add fuel to the comic fire. So does Emma’s slacker brother Gustaf (Christopher Wagelin) and a host of minor characters with single quirks or identifiers.   More

CPO SHARKEY: SEASON 1 (DVD)

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CPOSharkeycoverGrade: B/B-
Entire family: No
1976-77, 374 min. (15 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be PG-13 for rude/racial humor)
Time Life
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: B+
Amazon link

Stand-up comedian Don Rickles made a career out of insult humor and politically incorrect jokes aimed at all races. So what better sitcom for him to star in than one that has him playing a Chief Petty Officer at a U.S. Naval training facility in San Diego, where he gets to go off on recruits—especially when those recruits include a Polish American, a Jewish American, an Italian American, and a Puerto Rican?

Call it Sgt. Bilko revisited, because Rickles is surprisingly good at playing a tough, acerbic CPO with a warm heart. The show lasted only two seasons, but it’s not because the sitcom isn’t funny or because the cast isn’t likeable. My guess is that it was another case of bad timing. The public already had one sitcom with politically incorrect humor, and did America really want or need another Archie Bunker?

That’s not fair, though, because Bunker was racist without knowing or admitting it. He tolerated black neighbors but wasn’t really friends with them. Sharkey is best buddies with fellow CPO Dave Robinson (Harrison Page), an African American with whom he feels comfortable enough to make racial jokes. Notice I said “racial,” not “racist.” There’s a difference, and in today’s hyper-politically correct world that difference isn’t acknowledged—hence the warning on the back of this DVD: “Some of the jokes and ethnic references heard in these episodes would most likely not be allowed on network TV today and reflect the tenor of the times.” Because of that racial humor, CPO Sharkey will only be for families with children old enough to realize that such jokes can’t be made today, no matter how fond you are of a person.   More

FRASIER: COMPLETE SERIES (DVD)

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FrasiercoverGrade: A-
Entire family: Yes, but . . .
1993-2004, 5,895 min. (263 episodes), Color
Rated TV-PG (mostly for innuendo)
CBS/Paramount
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Includes: 44 discs in two sturdy plastic cases w/cardboard slipcase
Bonus features: C+
Amazon link

Modern Family may be King of the American Sitcoms now, but in the ‘90s it was Frasier, a spin-off from the popular sitcom Cheers starring Kelsey Grammer as a pompous but endearing psychologist who reveled in his intellect and haute culture tastes, but also yearned to be “one of the guys.” Frasier won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for each of its first five seasons and continued to win Emmys in other categories for all of its 11 seasons—though it wasn’t a runaway hit with audiences. Its best showing came with Season 6, when Frasier finished as the #3 most watched TV show in America, behind Friends and ER.

In Boston’s Cheers bar, Grammer made arrogance endearing as he played a good-but-jilted doctor who hung out with a dim-witted Iowa bartender, a narcissistic ex-ballplayer, a know-it-all mailman, and an overweight, professional barfly. Sometimes you laughed with him, while at other times (most of the time, actually) the humor came at the doctor’s expense—a book smarts vs. street smarts face-off. In Seattle, fresh from a divorce from his domineering wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), Frasier found a fresh start as a Dr. Phil-style radio psychologist and acquired a new hangout: Café Nervosa, where he and equally effete brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) would indulge their cappuccino tastes and parade their knowledge in front of a generally apathetic public.

FrasierscreenThe show, with chapter tiles that played with puns, had two main sets. The first was KACL-Radio, where Frasier dispensed his psychiatric bromides and producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin) was a perfect “give it a rest” foil to his pompous side. Obnoxious sportscaster Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe (Dan Butler) took him down a few more pegs with his cuts and practical jokes, and restaurant critic Gil Chesterton (Patrick Kerr) was the uncomfortable mirror that showed reflections of what Frasier might be like without such irreverent and frequent shots to keep him grounded. Much of the at-work time is spent with Frasier talking to unseen call-ins with a host of problems, and much of the fun for fans is watching the end-credits to see what famous celebrities posed as the callers from week to week.

At home, the brandy-oriented Frasier met his match with his blue-collar dad (John Mahoney), a Ballantine-loving ex-cop who walks with a limp and has a live-in therapist, a Brit named Daphne (Jane Leeves). With dad and son facing off and Daphne offering her humorous third-party, third-culture take on things, it made for more dry humor. And Niles visited so often that it felt as if the four of them lived—and bantered—there. His epic crush on Daphne and the brothers’  sibling rivalry and sharp contrast with their down-to-earth dad became series-long storylines.   More

THE BRADY BUNCH: COMPLETE SERIES (DVD)

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BradyBunchcoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes
1969-74, 2,980 min. (117 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be G)
CBS/Paramount
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Includes: 20 discs in sturdy plastic case w/cardboard slipcase
Bonus features: C+
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The Brady Bunch was one of the very last squeaky-clean family sitcoms in the old ’50s mold, airing as an anachronism of sorts during the Vietnam War years amid the chaos of Civil Rights, women’s rights, and anti-war protests. But in the Brady household, father Mike, a working architect, was still king of the castle with a den all his own, while his wife, Carol, was a stay-at-home mom who had the luxury of a servant. The children got into all sorts of minor conflicts and mischief, but none of the storylines tackled serious parental concerns of the day. Everything was sibling rivalry and innocent mix-ups.

There were conflicts over clubhouses, shared things and spaces, class elections, invented boyfriends, broken things that had to be replaced, and even talent shows. Drugs? Not here. Peer pressure to smoke? Only briefly. Teen pregnancy? Please! While other teens from the time were raiding their parents’ liquor cabinets, this group was content to raid the cookie jar. No one got into really serious trouble, and there was usually a lesson to be learned . . . from dad. When he wasn’t around, there was always mom or Alice, the housekeeper/cook (Ann B. Davis), to help them find their way.

First telecast on Sept 26, 1969, the show was a surprise hit, no doubt because it felt like comfort food to Americans who snuggled together during a turbulent era to watch and relive happier, more uncomplicated times. Divorce was becoming a widespread phenomenon for the first time, and the show about BradyBunchscreen1second-chance family life probably struck a chord with broken families. The range of the Brady children’s ages (7 through 14, when the show began) was broad enough for most youngsters to identify with. Airing on Friday nights, the show connected especially with children too young to have a social life, or, like the Bradys, too awkward and introverted. The Brady Bunch never finished in the Nielsen Top-30 and never won any Emmys, yet the show has become a cultural icon, lampooned in two feature films and held up as an example of one of the last wholesome family sitcoms to be telecast . . . before TV sitcom families would start spouting one-liners and zapping each other with zingers, before families (or rather, writers) got “hip.”   More

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