DVD Slight Return: Martian edition
In a galaxy far away a television show dealt with the topic of alien visitors living among us. The year was 1963, a good year for television and a good year for news, although not always good news. And, as it turns out not necessarily good television.
My Favorite Martian: The Complete Collection (MPI Home Video, 10/20) contains each episode from the three-season run of the cult comedy classic. I watched this show every Sunday night when I was a mere lad, and it made me laugh then. Now, it makes me shake my head. Yet I cannot deny the power of situation comedy from a previous era to elevate my mood and situation in life.
My Favorite Martian posits that a crashed UFO piloted by Ray Walston (Tony award winner for Damn Yankees and known to modern audiences as Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) is covered up by both the Air Force and intrepid reporter Bill Bixby, who takes the wounded alien into his house and tells his neighbors the man is his Uncle Martin. Hilarity ensues.
Bixby was a familiar face to television audiences first in MFM, then The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Magician and The Incredible Hulk. Bixby also helmed episodes of TV shows as diverse as Sledgehammer and Blossom. Bixby died of cancer at age 59 in 1993. Walston passed away in 2001 at age 86, having appeared in a cameo in the 1999 movie version of My Favorite Martian, with Jeff Daniels and Christopher Lloyd playing the Bixby and Walston roles.
The pleasure in revisiting this show from the Golden era of television was not so much in the quality of the various episodes as the pure joy of seeing the best guest stars of the time appearing against the grain of the plot, many of the guest stars going on to bigger and better roles.
Each week as Uncle Martin tries to fix his space ship, which is about the size of a sports car that is housed in Bixby’s garage, different complications arise. Along the way Martin tries out some of his various inventions like a camera that takes a picture 24-hours in the future, or a time machine that brings Leonardo Da Vinci to the modern day. My Favorite Martian was in black-and-white for the first two seasons, followed by a last season in color. (Likewise another CBS television series, Gilligan’s Island, was in b&w the first season and color for the next two seasons.)
My Favorite Martian arrived on the cusp of TV’s evolution from monochrome to color as well as the cultural leap from the staid modernity of the Kennedy era to the climatic change of attitude represented by upheavals in politics and the growing self-awareness of the Aquarius generation.
My favorite episodes are from the first season and include the feline insouciance of Orangey the Cat, the most heralded cat ever to appear in movies and television. Orangey is actually given credit as Rhubarb, which is the first role that Orangey made famous. The storyline mimics that of the feature film Rhubarb (1951), which is about a cat that inherits the Brooklyn Dodgers on the eve of their World Series winning streak. In the MFM ep, “Poor Little Rich Cat,” (season 1, episode 15) Martin objects when a cat inherits nearly half-a-million dollars and of course pokes his nose into matters that don’t concern him.
Other eps have luminaries like Marlo Thomas and Tom Skerritt meeting cute in “Miss Jekyll and Hyde,” (season 1, episode 31). It’s also of interest to note that shows in this time period would have more than 35 individual eps for consumption per season. A season three ep features Jill Ireland as an alien with amnesia that Martin and Bixby are helping to recover her health, while another season three ep guest stars Yvonne Craig, who is possibly the most beautiful femme to ever appear on ‘60s television, as a woman that Bixby gets married to in a shotgun wedding.
More often than not the dialogue rings clever, what with Walston displaying his cool thespian skills and antenna that pop up out of his head, and Bixby playing the male ingénue. Other times the show drags on with the weight of typical sitcom situations. The extras are truly special, and they include appearances by Walston and Bixby on other shows of the time frame like a Lucille Ball interview show and game shows, as well as pilots by MFM producer Jack Chertok. One of those pilots “The Man in the Square Suit” has Paul Dooley starring as a writer hired to pen a show about a hip ad agency. When Dooley goes to check out the office everyone of the employees is dancing and singing while they work.
Mr. Warmth! Don Rickles: The Ultimate Collection (Time Life, 10/20) packages four 1970s-era television specials along with two complete seasons of Rickles’ short lived series 1970s CPO Sharkey on eight discs.
CPO Sharkey plays rife with Rickles’ politically incorrect persona. The real gravy on display are the network endorsed specials where Rickles gets high on pot, crosses the pearly gates, hangs out with ‘70s icons like John Wayne and Frank Sinatra, and even does a dramatic scene from Inherit the Wind with Jack Klugman. I defy a modern day entertainment show to mix pathos and humor to the degree that Rickles mined such emotions.
— Michael Bergeron