The Mill Creek Entertainment February 5, 2019 4-disc DVD release "The Betty White Collection" nicely showcases the early television career of a woman whose television career spans roughly 60 years. Many of us have heard of "Life With Elizabeth, but not "Date With the Angels." "Collection" allows checking out 24 episodes of the latter and 16 of the former. We also get a 20-minute documentary on the career of White.
The 1952-1955 syndicated "Elizabeth" is an awesome time capsule for reasons that extend well beyond the mix of sweetness and charming evil streak that makes White a legend. The first innovation in this live-action sitcom is using the cartoon format of three unrelated roughly six-minute adventures.
The next rare aspect is having announcer Jack Narz help folks used to listening to radio programs transition to television; he opens each segment with a monologue that literally sets the scene for what is to come, He then is seen and not heard when speaking with Elizabeth (White) about this set-up. White puts her talent for expressiveness to good use by using only her facial features to express her reaction to the statements of Narz.
Of the nine watched adventures, one in which newly wed Elizabeth tries to convince husband Alvin (Del Moore) that she is a horrible driver has wonderful shades of both Sue Ann Nivens of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Rose Nyland of "The Golden Girls." The logic of Elizabeth is that straight-man Alvin will not buy a car if he thinks that his wife can properly operate it.
Two of the best episodes revolve around the sitcom cliche of the boss coming to dinner. Although the food does not rise to the level of The Happy Homemaker, it is much more appetizing then the odd fare of St. Olaf.
The "sit" that provides the "com" is that aforementioned employer Mr. Fuddy being self-conscious about his new toupee prompts Alvin to alert Elizabeth to not call attention to that rug. Of course, a nervous Elizabeth does just the opposite in ways that include clever references. The resolution is not cookie-cutter and has more edge than typical '50s fare.
"Life" shows additional cleverness in an adventure that has our leads visiting Fuddy to watch home movies. The "sit" this time is trouble properly lining up the camera with the viewing surface; the "com" includes Alvin becoming increasingly annoyed regarding the failed efforts to show the movies.
An adventure surrounding Elizabeth and Alvin jointly trying to resolve a problem with a fuse is pure Television Golden Age gold. It also involves a case of art imitating life in that your not-so-humble reviewer notices the light outside the house across the street going on when he flips a switch a few hours after watching this episode of "Life."
The 1957-58 sitcom "Date" is entertainingly bizarre compared both to "Life" and other sitcom fare; additionally, White is more subdued in this one than in "Life" and her better-known roles.
Both the title and the opening credits indicate that "Date" revolves around supernatural beings in a fantasycom; the reality is that average suburban newly weds Vickie (White) and Gus (Bill Williams) have the titular surname.
The three episodes watched indicate that "Date" has a low-key gruffness that is more akin to fellow '50scoms "The Honeymooners" and "The Life of Riley" than to "I Love Lucy."
The first episode in the set has the Angels at home soon before the boss is due to come for dinner. The boisterous arguing between neighbors the loud and crude Murphys and the bookish Roger Finley (Richard Deacon) and his elderly father is permeating the Angel home. The bedroom community Hatfields and McCoys soon directly embroil the Angels in the dispute. Of course, this spills over into the visit of the boss.
The Murphys also take center stage when their son comes home while on leave from the military; the primary "sit" this time is father-son conflict stemming from the younger Murphy having an interest in music and other arts that his father does not consider manly, The unexpected resolution that restores peace to that household nicely reflects the good quality of the television of the era.
The third but not least viewed adventure of the Angels has the visiting teen nephew of Vickie unintentionally wreaking havoc. Alvin pimping out the boy adds further "com."
The aforementioned documentary shares tidbits and photos from the pre-acting life of White; we also get a few short clips of "Life" that include a ping-pong game that demonstrates the aforementioned blend of Sue Ann and Rose in Elizabeth. The rest of this tribute summarizes the aforementioned long career of our woman of the hour.
The bigger picture this time is that the sitcom episodes reflect the related wisdom of Carol Burnett that avoiding topical subjects helps keep material from badly aging and that funny always is funny, We further get to see White in the roles that make her the woman whom America especially loves in the '70s and the '80s.