CAR 54 Where Are You?: The Complete First Season
by Jef Burnham
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Shanachie Home Video celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the television comedy classic, CAR 54 Where Are You?, with the release of the series’ 30-episode first season in this terrific 4-DVD set. From creator Nat Hiken (creator of the Sgt. Bilko show), CAR 54 features Joe E. Ross (Sgt. Bilko) and Fred Gwynne (The Munsters) as partners Toody and Muldoon, the most incompetent patrol officers in New York City’s 53rd Precinct. Each episode finds the duo faced with a dilemma that any normal person might easily cope with; but in the hands of Toody and Muldoon, simple dilemmas spiral wildly out of control with disastrous results.
You’ll be surprised, even if you are not yourself of that era, how well the series’ humor holds up fifty years later. This is a testament to the brilliance of creator/writer Hiken, who was routinely hailed as a comic genius. The series’ humor is at its best when Toody and Muldoon’s solutions to the aforementioned dilemmas precipitate a series of events in which they have little continued involvement as the situation deteriorates. The greatest comedy is found in the ways in which their schemes affect others. The first two episodes in this set, “What Happened to Thursday?” and “No More Pickpockets,” are perfect examples of this. But on those rare occasions that the humor starts to feel stale, there are plenty of phenomenal performances for you to revel in. Harvard-graduate Gwynne is an exceedingly brilliant performer, and the supporting cast is jam-packed with familiar comic faces, including Al Lewis, who would again star alongside Gwynne as Grandpa in The Munsters.
There are some minor interlacing problems with this release, but the only major complaint I have is that the episodes, as I’ve found in my research (and maybe I’m wrong), are not presented in the order of their original air dates. Additionally, the packaging is kind of strange in that the standard method whereby DVDs are held into the case by tabs through the disc’s center hole has been replaced by one in which the discs are pressed down on two levers and held in by tabs at the top or bottom of the disc. Although I had no problems with the packaging per se, as it undoubtedly prevents cracking around the disc’s center, it seems strange to move to a new method when dealing with the old has become downright instinctive.
As for special features, the set includes a wonderful roundtable conversation, moderated by Robert Klein, with two of the series’ supporting stars reminiscing about the production.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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