Jackie Gleason was one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century. Too bold of a statement? With an acting career that spanned over forty years, numerous incarnations of his variety show including an ongoing sketch that became its own iconic series, and an incredibly successful record-producing career including the 1953 Music for Lovers Only which spent 153 weeks on Billboard's Top Ten, I think the statement is pretty accurate.. The Tony winner and Oscar nominee was appropriately named; “The Great One”. Gleason was successfully not only because of his incredible talent, but also because of his relatability. No matter the role, Gleason always seemed like someone we knew and liked. It was easy to invite him into our homes every week because it simply seemed like he belonged there.
With what could be considered the fifth incarnation of his show, from 1966-1970, Gleason entertained audiences across the country with his popular variety series featuring sketches, celebrity guest stars, the June Taylor Dancers, and much more. Taped in beautiful Miami Beach, The Jackie Gleason Show delivered an unforgettable gallery of characters Gleason himself created and fine-tuned, including his most indelible and legendary creation -- Ralph Kramden -- as he and Art Carney revived their Honeymooners roles (with Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean added as the new Alice and Trixie), all presented in color for the first time.
On May 15th 2018 Time Life once again gives us the opportunity to bring Jackie and Friends into our home with a deluxe edition of The Jackie Gleason Show in Color. This three-DVD set includes twelve never before released episodes.
It’s a wonderful walk down memory lane where we not only Jackie and his regular cast, but also guest appearances by Jack Benny, George Burns, Milton Berle, Tony Bennett, Red Buttons, Phil Silvers, Florence Henderson, Frankie Avalon, Nipsey Russell, Edie Adams, Sid Caesar, Alan King, Robert Goulet, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra Jr., George Carlin, and more. Though enjoyable, my advice is that you keep the walks short. Watch one episode, and wait a week, as it was originally designed. Binge-watching these episodes doesn’t work as you quickly become aware of the formula that they follow.
Every episode starts with Jackie coming out after the June Taylor Dancers do a number. Although not here since Time Life has cut the wonderful dancers from each episode. Jackie Says “How Sweet it is”, makes one joke about the jacket of band leader Sammy Spear, and immediately introduces a guest comedian with whom he performs a scripted routine. The highlights of these routines are when someone goes off script, which causes the other to break into laughter. Some episodes have singers, so we get one song, and more comedy with Jackie always starting with the comedian and then leaving them to perform. Each episode ends with Jacking letting the audience know that the Miami Beach audiences are the greatest tin the world.
There are seven Honeymooners sketches to be found in these twelve episodes, but none of the other Gleason classic characters are here. Unfortunately, the Honeymooners sketches lack energy and seem to be missing much of the familiar schtick. Gleason looks tired in each one and the episodes seem to be thrown together.
It’s unclear what else has been edited out of these episodes besides the June Taylor dancers, but it does appear that there have been more cuts. What we do know is missing from this new release is bonus material.
Recommendation: Though it could easily be argued that other incarnations of The Jackie Gleason Show are better, there is still plenty of good stuff here. Gleason brings on some of the greatest comedy talent of all time and the mutual respect and friendship between the performers is evident and makes it enjoyable to watch in doses. One will quickly tire of the repetition when binge watching.
Ultimately Gleason was a great one, and that makes this worth the time. Should make for a wonderful Father's Day gift.