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Steve Martin: The Television Stuff DVD Review

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Steve Martin: The Television Stuff (1966-2005)

Specials & DVD Details

Writer/Star: Steve Martin / Originally Aired 1966 to November 9, 2005 / Rating: Not Rated

DVD Producers: Andrew Solt (executive), Greg Vines (co-executive), Mary Sherwood

Running Time: 350 Minutes (6 specials and 16 clips), 41 Minutes (extras), 5 Minutes (DVD credits)

1.33:1 Fullscreen - 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Original Broadcast Ratios)
Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
DVD Release Date: September 18, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $34.93
Three single-sided discs (2 DVD-9s & 1 DVD-5)
Three Clear Slim Cases in Cardboard Box

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It's easy to take Steve Martin for granted. He's been around seemingly forever and his movies have long been moderately enjoyable at best. Today's youth perhaps know him as the star of broad family-friendly comedy remakes: Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther, and their respective sequels. Those who barely remember the 1990s might not have too different a perspective;
his two biggest hits of that decade were Father of the Bride and its sequel.

Older people and those unafraid to watch movies from before their time likely hold Martin in higher regard. IMDb user ratings and historically-skewed Rotten Tomatoes scores both establish Martin's earlier films as his better ones. 1980s movies like Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Roxanne, and All of Me are fondly remembered. They may not quite be old or beloved enough to be cemented as comedy classics just yet, but they definitely have potential to gain that status in time. Martin's other movies from that era, including ¡Three Amigos!, The Man with Two Brains, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and Pennies from Heaven, all have their fans too and enough to give them more esteem than many of their more commercially successfully contemporaries.

If we look beyond Martin's first full decade of movie stardom, we come to the 1970s, the decade in which he made his name. Over thirty years after its release, The Jerk stands as Martin's top "Known For" credit on IMDb. His breakout film and first leading role grossed $74 million in 1979-80 or the equivalent of $235 M adjusted for inflation today. Practically his big screen debut, it was an auspicious vehicle and if box office records make it look like it came out of nowhere, the subject of this review proves otherwise.

Playing banjo was an integral part of young Steve Martin's stand-up comedy act. The wild and crazy guys (Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin) are joined by a Czech female (John Belushi) in "Steve Martin's Best Show Ever."

Coming to DVD on September 18th, Shout! Factory's three-disc box set Steve Martin: The Television Stuff compiles a number of television specials Martin made right before and after launching his movie career along with assorted short broadcast appearances from more recent years.

More than ten years before unleashing Naveen Johnson on the public, Martin began working as a TV writer. He would gain experience on such variety series as "The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour" (for which he won his first and only Emmy), "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour", and "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour." The latest of those would begin putting him in front of the camera for roles in various sketches (it is one of the few relevant programs not represented here).

By this time in the mid-1970s, Martin was also enjoying some success as a stand-up comedian, frequently appearing on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show." Martin was tapped to host "Saturday Night Live" in its second season and by the end of the third, he had held those duties five times, often supplying a substantial ratings bump and lending credence to the common misconception of him as one of the early Not Ready for Primetime Players. The bulk of this DVD collection originates from around the time of Martin's rise, an era that had him host "SNL" eight times and work alongside Muppets twice, that won him back-to-back Grammy Awards for Platinum-selling comedy albums (one of which also produced the Billboard-charting novelty song "King Tut"), and that effortlessly transitioned him to A-list movie star.

Disc 1

Near the end of HBO's "On Location" Steve Martin ventures into the crowd wearing a balloon hat and a fake nose. Steve Martin strongly objects to a seemingly innocent line of audience questioning in "A Wild and Crazy Guy."

On Location with Steve Martin (55:13) (Originally taped October 31, 1976)

Producer: Michael Brandman / Director: Marty Callner / Guest Appearance: Henry Winkler

The set kicks off with this straight stand-up special, shot at Los Angeles' Troubadour as part of an irregular, long-running series produced and aired by a young HBO. This regularly entertaining hour clearly establishes Martin's comic voice, one marked by irony and props. He plays banjo, juggles, does some magic card tricks, wears bunny ears and a fake nose, and makes balloon animals. He also jokes about drugs, sex, farts, French, philosophy, stage lighting, and the public's short-term memory. The act is uncensored and includes a little profanity, but it is not nearly as dark or crude as what one would expect from an HBO stand-up comedy special today. If pressed for time, you can probably skip this in favor of Disc 2's Homage to Steve, which offers a more exuberant performance of the same material three years later.

Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy (34:18) (Originally aired November 22, 1978)

Executive Producers: Steve Martin, Marty Klein / Producer: Joe Cates / Director: Gary Weis / Writers: Steve Martin, Michael Elias (also supervisors); Alan Metter, Jack Handey

Supporting Cast: Mary Edith Burrell, David Dozer, Joy Garrett, Jay Gerber, Philip Baker Hall, Zale Kessler, Tom Lillard, Michael McManus, Anna Rodzianko, Rance Howard, Johnny Cash

A remark from Martin in the bonus features explains the unusual runtime of this hour-long NBC special; it has lost almost all of the concert footage from L.A.'s Universal Amphitheatre, a performance seen in full elsewhere on this set. What remains are short, filmed comedy sketches. These include: buying an upside-down car; the introduction of Martin's suave "love god" persona; the tale of a turtle-riding cowboy; important messages on dump preservation, parental abuse, and money littering; scenes from "Famous Doorslams" and "Tennis Court"; ballet parking; a skiing lesson; a Martin-led scouts camping trip; audience questions (which Martin regrets taking); guest appearances by Johnny Cash and "Muhammad Ali"; Martin hitting tough times ten years in the future; and people making excuses for not letting Martin into their living rooms.

Watch a clip from Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy:

Socrates (Steve Martin) is not pleased to discover that the hemlock he just drank is poisonous. A documentary host is disappointed to find the Great Pyramids of Egypt not so great in size in "Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty."

Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty (48:56) (Originally aired February 14, 1980)

Executive Producer: William E. McEuen / Director/Producer: Joe Cates / Writers: Michael Elias, Carmen Finestra, Bob Garland, Jack Handey, Connie Turner, Steve Martin Supporting Cast: Marty Allen (Igor), Richard Deacon (King of Cey What), Joyce DeWitt (Love God's Date), Phil Foster (Pyramid Owner), Peter Graves (Director), Werner Klemperer (Plato), Meredith MacRae (Hippie), Gary Mule Deer (Hippie), Louis Nye (Laundry Customer), Regis Philbin (Drunk Driving Public Service Announcer), Carl Reiner (Sportscaster), Paul Reubens (Cafe Counter Guy, Terrorist), Dick Schaap (Sportscaster), Noah Tutak (Steamroller Kid), Wil Albert, Paul Keith, Michael McManus, Carol Swarbrick

The conceit of this special is that the director's sidekick Igor (Marty Allen) replaces the script with his own deranged ideas. Things open with a Western short featuring Martin alongside chimpanzees, set to the song "El Paso." Martin also plays: a dry cleaner who speaks with religious fervor, a drunk steamroller driver, a new homeowner who has beaten inflation, the "love god" ordering in a restaurant (on a date with Joyce DeWitt), an unorthodox Olympic diver (in the special's standout bit), an investigative reporter eager to expose "60 Minutes", a lip-syncher of "Some Enchanted Evening", Socrates struggling to comprehend his sentence (another highlight), an unreliable insurance claims agent, a PSA spokesman advising about the dangers of in-store placement of plutonium, and the host of an anthropology documentary. The show concludes with the discovery of the real script and a jazzy closing dance number.

Disc 2

Pre-Pee-wee Herman, young Paul Reubens promotes a grocery bagging career in "All Commercials." Steve Martin pitches in on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's random performance of "Make a Little Magic."

All Commercials (48:59) (Originally aired September 30, 1980)

Executive Producers: Marty Klein, Ken Suddleson / Director: Walter C. Miller / Producers: Joseph Cates / Writers: Neal Israel, Steve Martin (head writers); Jeffrey Barron, Earl Brown, Gordon Doyle, Carmen Finestra, Denny Johnston, Sean Kelly, Michael McManus, Pat Proft, Mason Williams; Earl Brown (special musical material)
Supporting Cast: Bob Arbogast, Susan Carr, Gayle Crofoot, Christine Cullen, Diane Day, Lynn Eriks, Antonio Fargas, Joe Giamalva, Ken Grant, Julann Griffin, Spencer Henderson, John King, Robert Klein, Vincent Paterson, Paul Reubens, George Scott / Special Guest Appearance: Avery Schreiber

This celebration of television advertisements includes no shortage of parodies. Promoted products include a vague woman's product, flesh-colored toilet paper for shaving nicks, a speedily-unhooked bra, an unorthodox motivational book, Truman Capote jeans, and a sexy fall television lineup. Amusing award-winning real commercials from New Zealand, England, and Japan are featured, as is a vintage cigarette carton dance ad as part of a "Commercial Hall of Fame" segment. We also get a "local" ad, a "rejected" ad, the Japanese remake of the famous "Mean" Joe Greene Coke ad (featuring Paul Reubens later of "Pee-Wee Herman" and special guest Avery Schreiber). In addition, there is a sitcom family that acts like they are in a series of commercials, a glimpse at a costumed Morris the Cat stage show, a grocery store survey that unlocks huge secrets about a married couple, and a couple of amusing jokes at the expense of Orson Welles.

Mixing things up are a song performance of "Make a Little Magic" by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (with some fitting Martin participation) and a stand-up bit by Robert Klein on speed reading and humanitarian commercials. The special ends with a peek inside an ad agency trying to sell a disgusting, harmful Okra Cola, followed by the peppy all-American production they come up with. Though Martin's on-camera involvement is limited, he is one of the head writers and you can hear his voice in many of the bits. It is a solid near-hour of entertainment.

Fresh off "Pennies from Heaven", Steve Martin holds his own singing and dancing alongside Gregory Hines. Steve Martin puts his own spin on John Merrick, the Elephant Man, in "Best Show Ever."

Steve Martin's Best Show Ever (49:37) (Originally aired November 25, 1981)

Producer: Lorne Michaels / Director: Dave Wilson / Writers: Dan Aykroyd, Jim Downey, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Lorne Michaels, Sarah Paley, Alan Zweibel
Supporting Cast: Dan Aykroyd (Yortuk Festrunk, Irwin Mainway, Dr. Frederick Treves), John Belushi (Zhelezna Postruk), Gregory Hines (Lionel Foot, Himself), Lauren Hutton (The Artist), Bill Murray (Bytes), Laraine Newman (The Artist's Friend, Mona), Lynn Redgrave (Mrs. Kendal), Tom Davis (Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy), Eric Idle (Reporter), Don Pardo (Announcer)

Lorne Michaels produced this live special, a fact that accounts for the strong New York City flavor, familiar format, and appearances made by a number of iconic former "Saturday Night Live" cast members.
Martin and Dan Aykroyd play the wild and crazy guys, brothers Georg and Yortuk Festrunk, on the hunt for girls at a private art gallery showing and joined by a female fellow Czech (John Belushi).

Aykroyd's SNL character Irwin Mainway is host of a scam game show. Eric Idle plays an English host determined to discover if dinosaurs built Stonehenge. Talking up Pennies from Heaven, Martin sings and tap dances with Gregory Hines. Aykroyd portrays Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Martin livens up a performance by The American String Quartet with a lasso and some banjo. Steve Martin's "The Elephant Guy" gives us a new interpretation of John Merrick (with an appearance by Bill Murray). Alerted that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, Martin closes the show with thoughts on things for which he is thankful.

Steve Martin holds the title role of 1977's "The Absent-Minded Waiter", which was nominated for the live-action short film Academy Award. Steve Martin performs his hit novelty song "King Tut" to audience approval at the end of his 1979 Universal Amphitheatre stand-up show.

Homage to Steve (56:33) (1984)

The Absent-Minded Waiter (1977)
Director: Carl Gottlieb / Writer: Steve Martin / Cast: Steve Martin (Steven, the Waiter), Buck Henry (Bernie Cates), Teri Garr (Susan Cates), Ivor Barry (Carl, the Maitre D'), Naomi Stevens (Naomi, the Cashier)

Listed on IMDb as the 1986 video Steve Martin Live, this opens with the Oscar-nominated, Martin-penned 1977 short film The Absent-Minded Waiter, which casts him in the forgetful title role who waits on a couple (Buck Henry and Teri Garr) with amusingly disastrous results.

Comedians Segment (1984)
Writer/Director: Steve Martin / Producer: Randy Cohen / Special Guest Appearances: Alan King, David Letterman, Paul Simon, Henny Youngman

Next, Martin answers comedy questions from the likes of David Letterman and Paul Simon.

Concert Segment (1979)
Director: Gary Weis / Producer: Joe Cates

That bit leads into Martin's September 18, 1979 stand-up performance at the Universal Amphitheatre. It is an electric show, one which demonstrates how much Martin had risen since the HBO special three years earlier. The content is almost identical (more banjo-playing and juggling, the arrow through the head, the Wild and Crazy guy, the random bursts of "happy feet", even the inexplicable Henry Winkler appearance), but the delivery is less spontaneous and the reception is much stronger as the large crowd reacts warmly to every single bit. A little bit of the material is previously unheard: his discussion of cats, leading the audience in oath recitations, and the closing performance of "King Tut."

Disc 3: Bits and Pieces

Disc 3's odds and ends run 56 minutes and 6 seconds altogether. Viewed with Martin's insightful comments setting up most pieces, they run an additional 15 minutes.

Steve Martin accepts the American Comedy Awards' lifetime achievement trophy with much sarcasm. Steve Martin and his banjo make their first television appearance in a 1966 episode of the black & white children's show "Dusty's Attic."

The American Comedy Awards (4:39) (2000)
Martin's acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement Award displays his signature lack of humility. The crowd shots of predominantly TV stars of 2000 add intrigue.

"Dusty's Attic" excerpt (1:48) (1966)
A 20-year-old college student at the time, Martin makes his first television appearance as banjo-playing Tex on this black & white children's show.

"What I Believe" music video (3:08) (1981)
In front of a giant Patton-esque American flag, Martin shares his beliefs and values, which are illustrated.

Steve Martin gives an insincere tip of the cowboy hat at the end of his wordless "Freddie's Lilt" music video. Steve Martin does a speedy impression of a Las Vegas lounge act before an amused Johnny Carson on a 1974 episode of "The Tonight Show."

"Freddie's Lilt" Music video (3:46) (1981)
Martin shows off his lassoing skills in this amusing Western-themed video for his wordless banjo tune, which like "What I Believe" hails from his underperforming but Grammy-nominated album The Steve Martin Brothers.

"The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" stand-up (3:08) (Originally aired September 19, 1974)
In his rendition of a sped-up Las Vegas lounge act, Martin cracks up Carson, guest Sammy Davis Jr., and the studio audience.

Steve Martin appears as French country singer Jean-Pierre Louey on Johnny Cash's 1978 Christmas special. In one of three included "Saturday Night Live" sketches, Steve Martin's holiday wishes are less heartwarming than they first appear to be.

The Johnny Cash Christmas Special segment (4:50) (1978)
Martin plays cool country singer Jean-Pierre Louey, "the Johnny Cash of France" who is in America per a cultural exchange program.

"Saturday Night Live" sketch "A Holiday Wish" (2:30) (Originally aired December 6, 1986)
In his ninth time hosting (this time sharing those duties with his ¡Three Amigos! co-stars Chevy Chase and Martin Short) and first in 6½ years, Martin shares his holiday wishes, most of them quite hedonistic.

"Saturday Night Live" sketch "Ode to a Loved One" (2:22) (Originally aired May 20, 1989)
In a similarly self-centered solo sketch, Martin delivers an ode to his loved one.

"Saturday Night Live" sketch "Steve Martin's Penis Beauty Crème" (1:34) (Originally aired September 24, 1994)
Martin endorses penis beauty crème.

The Great Flydini pulls magic out of his pants zipper for Johnny Carson's last week on "The Tonight Show." Laura Bush makes sure her husband President George W. Bush is laughing at Steve Martin's jokes about him in The Kennedy Center's tribute to Paul Simon.

AFI Lifetime Achievement: A Tribute to Gene Kelly clip (2:01) (1985)
Feigning a long, close relationship to the dancer/actor, Martin amusingly relays a story of how he influenced movie history.

The People's Choice Awards (1:19) (1992)
Martin accepts the Best Actor in a Comedy award via a witty taped bit.

"The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (6:40) (Originally aired May 6, 1992)
Martin performs as magician "The Great Flydini",
a magician who impressively pulls things out of his fly, for Carson's final week on the air.

The Kennedy Center Honors (5:16) (2002)
Martin pays tribute to Paul Simon, claiming some influence on his music and making apolitical jokes about an amused President Bush sitting near the singer.

"The Late Show with David Letterman" clip (3:10) (Originally aired December 1, 1995)
A documentary crew reveals the arduous process to prepare both guest and host for Martin's appearance on Letterman's show.

"The Late Show with David Letterman" clip (3:26) (Originally aired October 2, 1998)
Steve and Dave enjoy a gay beach vacation together to the tune of The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited."

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (6:28) (2005) (Originally aired November 9, 2005)
In the disc's only widescreen clip, Martin accepts this honor with characteristic inflated pride and insincere diplomacy.

Steve Martin and David Letterman feed each other a cool treat in The Late Show short "Dave and Steve's Gay Vacation." Per his gal's wishes, Steve Martin rides a turtle in a green dress in "A Wild and Crazy Guy."

VIDEO and AUDIO

All of this set's content is presented in its original aspect ratio, which for all but the most recent clip is 1.33:1 full screen. The late-'70s, early-'80s programs in the foreground look about as you expect and hope them to. They have that dated TV appearance to them, the '70s pieces especially marked by garish lighting and the trails they leave. The filmed bits of A Wild and Crazy Guy also show their age with limited clarity. Picture quality improves as we move forward and even at its worst, it is extremely presentable, especially considering the scarcity of this material and the lack of foresight and resources with which it was made. Disc 3's clips are windowboxed within an anamorphic 16:9 frame, which lowers the available resolution with no noticeable effect.

Disappointingly but not surprisingly, the DVD lacks both closed captioning and subtitles. Shout! Factory rarely includes either, declaring them cost-prohibitive for the niche titles they typically release. Fortunately, the Dolby 2.0 sound remains clear enough that you won't need them without having pre-existing hearing difficulties. The audio is actually a little cleaner and stronger than expected, even on something as random and obscure as the "Dusty's Attic" clip.

In short while you won't be blown away by the quality, picture and sound are definitely as good as they ought to be and even slightly better.

In a brand new 2012 interview spread throughout the set, Steve Martin reflects on his television work generally and specifically. The menus of Steve Martin: The Television Stuff make it easy to access the favorite bit of any given special.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On a collection such as this, the line between featured content and bonus feature is not a clear and rigid one. Shout! could have designated certain inclusions, especially Disc 3's shorter and more varied bits, as extras. Instead, they consider "Steve's Comments", a new interview divided into many topical parts and spread across the three discs, as the lone supplement.

Nicely shot presumably at Martin's home, these reflections are extremely revealing regarding these featured telecasts, Martin's career, his influences (with pertinent excerpts) and the man himself.
An excellent inclusion, it's like an audio commentary with only the essentials and none of the lulls. Discs 1 and 2 features each feature 13-13½ minutes relevant to them, while Disc 3's 15 minutes of comments can only be viewed as introductions specific to each varied appearance.

A different 1-2 minute reel of DVD credits appear on each disc, containing acknowledgments and details on legally cleared songs, remastering, and the interview production.

Bonus features -- first the credits, then the new interview bits -- play automatically at the end of a "Play All" session.

The Television Stuff is packaged in a sturdy cardboard box with each disc claiming its own clear slimline case. A thick, nicely-illustrated 24-page booklet opens with New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik's essay "Dare to Be Silly: Watching Steve Martin." It is a dense and thoughtful article that deeply analyzes Martin's methods in the programs presented on this set and places them into context of other comedy performers and styles of the time. The booklet follows that with a complete listing of each disc's contents down to the specific bits in each program.

Each disc's mostly static main menu utilizes that platter's case artwork while clips from the contents play on a small television. Each special gets its own static two-page chapter menu for quick access to your favorite bits.

At the end of "A Wild and Crazy Guy", Steve Martin envisions a future in which he is drunk, messy, broke, and living out of a bathtub. An unorthodox Olympic athlete begins a sandwich on the diving board in "Comedy Is Not Pretty."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The types of specials that make up the bulk of Steve Martin: The Television Stuff have long been out of style, but the phony-skewering humor with which Martin launched his career is not yet outdated. That makes this collection a rare treat to go through, serving up multiple winning tastes of bygone formats made new by a fresh and rising personality. While a lot of comedy has a short shelf life and some of the most acclaimed works of the 1970s are somewhat unwatchable today, Martin's early TV programs hold up as consistently funny and never dull.

Shout! Factory's ambitious undertaking to gather and distribute all this material pays off in a 3-disc set that is easy to recommend not only to fans of Martin, but to aficionados of comedy and television too. Even considering the subjective nature of the genre, I have a tough time believing anyone could watch these shows and appearances without being regularly amused. You might not expect it (prior to viewing, I didn't), but this DVD is well worth a look.

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Reviewed August 26, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1976-2012 40 Share Productions; 2012 Sofa Entertainment and Shout! Factory;
1976 Home Box Office; 1980 Aspen Society Film In Association with Cates Brothers Company; 1980-81 Joe Cates, Co., Inc. and Broadway Video.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.