During the four years The Flip Wilson Show was on the air, it generated some friction between those who wanted the first hugely successful black-hosted TV variety show to be more radical, and those who preferred to bask in the accomplishment, whatever its outcome. Between 1970 and 1974, Wilson was one of TV's biggest and unlikeliest stars, presiding over a slick hour of music and comedy that relied heavily on sketches about sassy dimwits. The six episodes on the three-disc DVD set The Best Of The Flip Wilson Show feature counterculture-era comedy heroes like Richard Pryor and The Committee, as well as some uplift-the-race appearances by the likes of Bill Russell and Miss Black America. But the positivity is frequently undercut by the procession of crooks and dropouts that Wilson liked to play.
Still, Wilson had such a strong small-screen presence that even when his jokes were corny—or self-demeaning—his delivery was thoroughly disarming. In one of the set's standout sketches, Wilson, Pryor, and Tim Conway do a set of semi-improvised riffs around a single prop—a chair—and though none of it's laugh-out-loud funny, the three of them take such obvious pleasure in their mutual gifts that it's like watching a trio of professional musicians slip into a spontaneous jam.
The set's episodes seem haphazardly selected, with an emphasis on the kinds of stars who often appear on early-'70s TV-on-DVD sets, like Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Phyllis Diller, Albert Brooks, and the inevitable George Carlin—the latter doing hippie shtick that toes the line between knowing and parodic. But from a documenting-its-time perspective, The Best Of The Flip Wilson Show is notable mainly for those moments when Wilson and one of his black guests make a mostly white studio audience laugh by playing up stereotypes of poverty and ignorance. When Wilson and Russell stumble dumbly through a chess lesson—because they want to make some of that Bobby Fischer money—it's painful to watch. But when Redd Foxx joins Wilson in a con-man sketch and grumbles, "The last time you made us a million dollars, it cost me 26 bucks!", well, that's just funny.
Key features: A too-short Tim Conway interview, and two dull, dated animated specials that Wilson produced and voiced in the early '70s.