For many this may be the first time you have heard of The Great American Dream Machine, which aired on PBS from 1971 to 1973 and has a new four-DVD release from S’More Entertainment. Even if you have never heard of it, when you find out that it featured the talents of Andy Rooney, Albert Brooks, Henry Winkler, Chevy Chase, Marshall Efron, Charles Grodin, Penny Marshall, Linda Lavin, Martin Mull, and more, you could easily become interested. Comparisons to Saturday Night Live, Monty Pythons Flying Circus, The Daily Show, and Laugh-in, could easily turn that interest to excitement.
At first glance, The Great American Dream Machine is an eclectic mix of pieces ranging from musical performances from the likes of Mel Torme to segments on the adventures and injuries of Evel Knievel. From animated segments to comedic shorts. From a group of people sitting and smoking in a bar and discussing world events to Andy Rooney doing what he would eventually do on 60 Minutes.
At second glance, the pieces seem quite long and lack a point of view. Basic information seems to be missing. A segment on a woman who creates art out of manhole covers never tells us the name of the artist, though it can be found in the credits. The pieces that appear to be meant to garner laughter aren’t particularly funny. The lack of continuity becomes distracting.
To have so many stars get their start and/or hone their early skills is certainly a feather in the cap of any show. To have a segment such as Rooney's become a staple of one the most successful shows in television history is arguably an even bigger feather.
So how could such an amazing show fly so far under the radar? Could it be because it aired on PBS? Sesame Street aired on PBS and started in 1969. Could it be that the references to more successful shows are generous and that the “featured” talents are hard to find? The more likely answer is that times, and tastes, they are a-changing. More importantly, attention spans have changed. By today’s standards, the segments are long and in many cases pointless. The Great American Dream Machine was not only created for another era, but not intended to be held to any standards.
To truly appreciate The Great American Dream Machine, you need to look at it as if you are walking through a museum. You’re going to find paintings that you find intriguing, sculptures that you can’t take your eyes off of, and works that will leave you wondering what in the world was the artist thinking.
Appreciating The Great American Dream Machine on this new release from S’More Entertainment is a bit challenging. The production value from the packaging to the menu operation leaves much to be desired. The visual and sound quality is adequate though the opening segment music on the actual show becomes quickly annoying and will send you rushing for the fast-forward button.
Recommendation: This is a tough call. If you remember watching The Great American Dream Machine when it originally aired and you maintain fond memories, this could easily shatter what you found amusing and enjoyable during that period of your life.
If you’ve heard about it and want to watch it and see all the stars mentioned, it could make for a fun drinking game. If you’re looking for the humor of Saturday Night Live and the satirical perspective of The Daily Show, you are going to be disappointed.
If you have an open mind and are able to appreciate the creative freedom encouraged, embraced, and displayed in an era of television that has long since passed, then you may be able to appreciate The Great American Dream Machine.
This is going to make a good Christmas presents to either give to a fan of television or to bring to a white elephant gift exchange. It’s all about finding the right person to give it to. Ultimately, those involved in The Great American Dream Machine didn’t care who got it.