The Time Life May 8, 2018 DVD release of the 1970-71 S4 of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in" coming roughly one month after the reviewed S3 set (which comes roughly two weeks after the reviewed S2 set) demonstrates a commitment to very timely release these seasons. At this rate, the sixth and final season will be out no later than August.
The Time Life commitment to "Laugh In" also includes continuing to add special features to these DVD sets. The S4 bonuses include a continuation of the S3 set interview with star Lily Tomlin and a very interesting separate interview with Tomlin co-star Arte Johnson.
The cold open in the S4 season premiere nicely captures the spirit of this hilarious and brave borderline burlesque rapid-paced sketch comedy show that uses risque humor to make politically incorrect jokes that would not fly today and to expertly skewer politicians on both of the aisle. The opening scene has Art "Ed Norton" Carney in character yelling down to an unseen Ralph Kramden to come up and watch "Laugh-in."
A physical characteristic of the regular cast member who plays Kramden prompts a joke that would get "Laugh-in" boycotted in this era in which society has gone from f**k 'em if they can't take a joke to f**ked if you tell 'em a joke. This witticism involves Carney referring to primary Kramden portrayor Jackie Gleason hosting his variety show in Florida by commenting that Kramden has been spending too much time in the Miami sun.
Most of the usual characters and their on-screen creations show up during this season premiere. This includes relatively new girl Lily Tomlin as telephone operator Ernestine talking to an off-screen Aristotle Onassis about his spendthrift wife ordering an absurdly expensive telephone. Tomlin further shines as "Tasteful Lady" who comments on the crude humor of the series.
The political humor includes ongoing jokes about Spiro Agnew being president. Even better humor comes in a "The Mitchells at Home" sketch that has Nixon Attorney-General John Mitchell chastising infamously outspoken "Mouth of the South" wife Martha for offending a foreign dignitary.
The second episode has "Mr. Warmth" Don Rickles knowingly blatantly promoting his recent film "Kelly's Heroes." Although he is a very good sport and fully gets into the spirit of the series, Rickles surprisingly does not engage in his trademark insult humor. A nod to this legacy is his singing in a tribute to show business that his audience thrills at him calling them dummy.
This bit on show business also provides stand-out Ruth Buzzi a chance to shine as an auditioning actress quickly adapting to the demands of a casting director. This one further has Buzzi portray her classic frumpy Gladys Ormphy having persistent dirty old man Tyrone F. Horneigh move his attempted seduction from their typical park bench to the friendly skies. A surprising omission is that his "courtship" does not refer to the Mile High Club.
The third S4 episode can be considered a "very special" one in that the primary guest star is former cast member Goldie Hawn freshish off her Oscar win for "Cactus Flower." Watching Hawn comically play the diva and series hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin do a hilarious Abbott and Costello style bit on her absence is hilarious. A chorus line of dancing Goldies is another highlight. No one does the dumb blonde bit better than Hawn.
Other big and small-screen luminaries who guest star on during S4 include Orson Welles, Zero Mostel, Ken Berry, Tim Conway, Carol Channing, and semi-regular Johnny Carson, who literally comes across the hall to join the fun.
The continuing appeal of all this is that "Laugh-In" perfectly combines every element that warrants calling a television show great. The starting point that Tomlin notes in her interview is that an entire family can enjoy it together without anyone either not liking it or getting bored.
"Laugh-in" further benefits from having has a talented ensemble in which everyone excellently plays off each other and seem to genuinely get along, humor that is funny either because it is spot-on commentary of the era of the show or is timeless, and booking every guest star one for which one could hope.
The sad part of all this is that our current society is so divided that "Laugh-in" would not work today. As the beginning of this article states, people no longer can take a jok. On top of this, any current series that hypothetically has Julie Andrews guest star likely does not attract the same viewers who tune in to see hypothetical guest Chris Evans get it socked to him. We simply live in society in which there are numerous fissures that expand into chasms.
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