Tossing the complete-season model for TV-on-DVD out the window, Tom and Dick Smothers are debuting The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on DVD with its infamous third season: the one that led to CBS unceremoniously firing the duo for stretching the boundaries of acceptable social commentary in a lighthearted variety show. And the Smothers don't offer the whole season, either—just 11 of the season's 25 episodes. According to Tom's audio introduction, he wishes he could've cut even more. If he'd had his way, the set would only contain the season's most memorable, trouble-stirring moments.
Frankly, if Tom had gotten his way, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best Of Season 3 would be insufferable. As Tom points out in the intro, in spite of the show's reputation for being incendiary and controversial, the political jokes and sketches typically took up five to 10 minutes of any given hour. The rest of the airtime was filled out by musical performances and relatively benign stand-up comedy by the Smothers' weekly guests. By the time the brothers reached the third season of the Comedy Hour in 1968, they'd begun to drum up media attention for their behind-the-scenes battles with the network censors, and were occasionally making jokes about the ruckus on the air. As a result, the more socially conscious material on the Comedy Hour now often comes off as self-congratulatory and insular, alluding to offstage business that was headline news at the time, but feels distant today.
Nonetheless, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is still entertaining—and radical. A lot of the material that CBS cut still stings, like David Steinberg's "sermonette" about Jonah's trouble with Gentiles, or Harry Belafonte's comparison of the 1968 Democratic Convention to a carnival attraction. But what plays even better are the Smothers themselves, harmonizing on old folk songs, then slipping easily into semi-improvised banter, in which Tom would fumble for words and Dick would chastise him, not entirely in jest. The's wonderful sense of recklessness to the Smothers' bits fits squarely between the parade of entrenched showbiz types and quasi-radicals they invited onto their stage. The show's politics were so potent because they were part of an hour of entertainment as mainstream as a voting booth.
Key features: A slew of interviews, previously censored material, archival rehearsal footage, a hilarious 2000 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival panel with the Smothers and three of their best-known writers (Mason Williams, Bob Einstein, and Steve Martin), and a fourth disc containing the one-hour 1968 Pat Paulsen For President special, plus related arcana.