Time Life aptly honors the best of the best in releasing the extras-laden 50th anniversary DVD set "The Best of the Carol Burnett Show" roughly 50 years and one month after the September 11, 1967 debut of this variety series. The October 3, 2017 release of these 16 episodes (including the very first one and the series finale) consist of 12 new-to-retail episodes and 4 all-time classics. Walmart is getting into the act by selling special editions of this set.
It is worth mentioning that this "Burnett" release and the many others of this show from Time Life make a great companion to the awesome Time Life complete series set of the six-season "Burnett" sitcom spinoff "Mama's Family" based on "Burnett" sketches about a wacky lower middle-class Southern family. The pedigree of "Family" includes future "Golden Girls" Betty White and Rue McClanahan (not to mention Burnett) being S1 cast members.
Giving "Burnett" itself and the recurring characters in the sketches proper due is well beyond the capability of an online review of a compilation of episodes. The primary points to make are that "Burnett" is part of the legendary Saturday-night lineup during the "Tiffany Network" era of CBS.
The 1974-75 lineup that starts with "All in the Family," goes onto "The Jeffersons" (which replaces "M*A*S*H" in that time slot), has "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Bob Newhart Show" next, and finishes with Burnett is representative of a CBS '70s Saturday night. The facts that the age-range of the "Burnett" studio audience essentially is from 8-to-80 and that each of these lucky folks love every minute also speaks volumes about the show. Burnett, her cast (including Harvey Korman and Tim Conway), and the behind-the-scenes folks have incredible comic instincts.
The September 11, 1967 episode immediately starts things strong. Burnett begins with her standard (and oft hilarious) Q&A session with the audience. A wonderful exchange about the age of Burnett ends with her showing her tremendous ab lib skills in stating that her bust size is 26. A reference to this exchange and other moments in a subsequent sketch in which Korman plays a reporter interviewing former child star Shirley Dimples (Burnett) further shows the improvisation and exceptional chemistry among the ensemble members that make "Burnett" (and its fellow Saturday night CBS series) so special.
The close real-life friendship between Burnett and Jim "Gomer" Nabors make him an ideal guest star for this inaugural outing. Both of them put their singing and comedic skills to good use but particularly shine in performing duets and bits in a tribute to Broadway musicals. This performance leaves no doubt that they both do their best when taken off their leashes to freely romp with each other. The many subsequent appearance of Nabors on "Burnett" validate that.
Nabors further is an ideal example of the observation by Burnett in a new interview for this release that her best guests were triple threat ones who could sing, dance, and do comedy. Burnett particularly praises also frequent guest Steve Lawrence (who also conducts an interview for "Best") for this; an anecdote regarding "Burnett" fans approaching Lawrence is hilarious.
The premiere episode also introduces the "Carol and Sis" sketches that are based on the real life of Burnett. Burnett plays newlywed Carol, whose teen sister Kris ("Burnett" star Vicki Lawrence) lives with Carol and constantly annoys new husband Roger. One of the best "Sis" sketches in the current DVD set has Carol and Kris team up to thwart the efforts of Roger to sell their house. The comedy is especially strong, and the twist near the end provides clever poetic justice.
Burnett aptly lauds the evolution of the talent of Lawrence in noting that that actress goes from playing the sister of Burnett in sketches to playing her mother.
Burnett is even better known for the aforementioned Southern "Eunice" sketches and for playing dopey comically inept secretary Mrs. Wiggins to business man Mr. Tudball ("Burnett" "newcomer" Tim Conway). The aforementioned two-hour series finale, which aptly is titled "A Special Evening with Carol Burnett," finds Eunice in therapy and Wiggins and Tudball reminiscing about how she comes to work for him. Both end on perfect notes for these characters.
"Best" additionally includes copious amounts of film and television parodies for which "Burnett" is especially well known. These include the classic "Lovely Story," which has Burnett and Korman play the absurdly devoted homely working-class coed and ultra-wealthy and handsome preppie couple from "Love Story." Another especially memorable sketch has Burnett as a typical housewife whose items come to life to recite the slogans associated with them.
On a larger level, Burnett shows an awesomely progressive attitude right from the first episode in which Nabors repeatedly mines humor from playing the part of a love-struck woman; a later episode in the set has Burnett laud a drag queen and has that up-and-comer perform her Streisand impersonation. This is on top of numerous good-natured gay jokes throughout the series.
Burnett shows her typical grace in the S1 season finale, which she dedicates to her cast to the extent of having them answer questions in the cold open. A similar theme pervades the series finale, which highlights the contributions of all. One of several special finale moments for Lawrence is a 1973 clip of her singing her gold record song "The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia" on the show; Lawrence joking regarding the clip that Burnett was kind to let Lawrence (rather than Burnett) sing the song on the show illustrates the aforementioned chemistry among the cast.
Additional nostalgia in the final episode comes in the form of Burnett showing the many looks of her and Nabors during the 11-year run of the series.
The best way to wrap up these thoughts is to paraphrase the comments of Burnett, which reflect those of the fans. She admits that not every sketch succeeds but states that the ones that do are timeless; she further notes that she shows that good humor does not require using foul language or raunchy themes. It is almost certain that most episodes will prompt laughing out loud at least once.
The aforementioned extras include an (of course laugh-a-second) blooper reel.