As we mentioned in the recent exploration of Abbott and Costello in the feature film The Noose Hangs High, by the late 1940s it felt like the best days of the iconic duo were behind them. Yet, it is a testament to their place in comedy history that one of the crowning achievements of their career was still right around the corner. While it is true that their feature film work was closer to the end than it was to the beginning, the pair were making quite an impression as one of the revolving hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour. It did not take a genius to decide that the pair should have their own television show, and in 1952 The Abbott and Costello Show debuted in syndication where it delighted audiences for two seasons of 26 episodes each. Despite the relatively short run, the sitcom endured in reruns for over 40 years and has even popped up on some classic networks in recent years. These two seasons were responsible for shows like Seinfeld ever existing and make up what is considered to be one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Not bad for a duo who were considered on their way out of fashion. 

While this is technically a 1950s sitcom, the comedic sensibility resembles modern comedy more than some of the stuffy staples that do not hold up as well as they used to. If you have fond memories of Dave Chappelle dropping some of the funniest lines between his sketches on Chappelle’s Show, you are likely to appreciate the peerless banter between Bud Abbott and Lou Costello at the top and throughout the show. It is not that each episode does not have a semblance of a plot, these fellas just do not seem interested in sacrificing a joke to make the story work. In the barest terms, they play a bizarro version of themselves where they are unemployed actors living in a boarding house with a colorful array of personalities around them. Sidney Fields has many great moments as the landlord who transcends the overbearing, money-hungry stereotype into something a bit more interesting at times – he does still want his money. Hillary Brooke is a lovely female presence on the show who finds herself getting drawn into their shenanigans more than she wishes. 

There are plenty of characters to appreciate throughout the season from the dim-witted cop who gets tied up by the verbal gymnastics of our duo to the jack-of-all-trades Mr. Bacciagalupe. A personal favorite personality just based on how bizarre it is is Stinky (Joe Besser), a little boy as played by a full grown man which the show uses to perfection. For all the great members of the ensemble (and I haven’t even mentioned the pet chimp), it is usually our main guys who are bringing the majority of the comedy. Those familiar with the duo will notice some of their famous bits dating back to their burlesque days being pulled out and given new life here. Even when they are doing “old” bits, the performances on the series give them a new life and in many cases serve as the only record of these skits at our disposal. These are not just funny for the time in which they were made; each episode has numerous moments that will literally make you laugh-out-loud and forget about your troubles for a half-hour.

Many modern audience members have been conditioned to believe that comedy before their time cannot match the boundary-pushing material we have in the present. The truth is, what is genuinely funny never really goes out of style if it is executed properly. Abbott and Costello were comedic geniuses, and what they delivered with this show can still connect seventy years later. As is to be expected, there is the occasional dated remark or stereotype that might take you out momentarily, but overall this is a truly joyous dive into comedy history. 

Video Quality

ClassicFlix presents The Abbott & Costello Show for the first time on Blu-Ray in collaboration with the 3-D Film Archive and the Library of Congress with a 1080p transfer sourced from a 4K scan of the original 35mm master elements. ClassicFlix usually delivers quality work, but the image is nothing short of stunning for a television show of this vintage. This black and white presentation has nice, natural film grain throughout that provides a great amount of detail to the image. There are elements of the costume and production design that are likely being seen for the first time clearly. The presentation has a pleasing amount of depth to it including in the shadows where there is no evidence of any black crush. Print damage is virtually nonexistent to these eyes throughout the duration of the season outside of the smallest bits. There are a few fleeting moments in some episodes where clarity falters ever so slightly, but this is likely tied to the condition of the original elements. It is always amazing to see how film preservation can bring new life to a project like this, and ClassicFlix has pretty much reached perfection with this release. 

Audio Quality

This Blu-Ray release comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mono track that sounds simply wonderful. The titular pair often have a quick and nimble delivery that always comes through crystal clear. As a matter of fact, none of the sound effects or the music ever overpowers the dialogue on this release. The more kinetic sequences including tussling and throwing of objects across the room are appropriately lively in the speakers. There does not appear to be any damage or age related wear to the track. The music can be a bit boxy at its peak, but overall its a pleasant experience. Overall, this is an excellent audio presentation that gives the material the life it deserves. 

Special Features

  • Audio Commentaries
    • Vacation: Audio Commentary by Gerry Orlando
    • Lou’s Birthday Party: Audio Commentary by Lou Sabini
    • Alaska: Audio Commentary by Ray Faiola
    • The Western: Audio Commentary by Toby Roan
    • Haunted House: Audio Commentary by Paul Castiglia
    • Hungry: Audio Commentary by Ron Palumbo
    • Music Lover: Audio Commentary by Stu Fink
    • Getting A Job: Audio Commentary by Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre
    • Television Show: Audio Commentary by Jim Mulholland
    • Actor’s Home: Audio Commentary by Lou Antonicello, Shane Fleming, Bob Greenberg, Jack Theakston and Michael Townsend Wright
  • Full and Partial Laugh Track
    • Politician
    • Wrestling
    • Chimpanzee
    • Hillary’s Birthday
    • Las Vegas
    • Safari
  • With and Without Audience Laugh Track
    • Getting A Job
    • Television Show
  • Alternate Curtain Segment
    • Hillary’s Birthday
  • Saving The Negatives – A Featurette with Bob Furmanek: A five-minute piece which explains the significance of this release from the finding of supposedly missing material to the restoration efforts that made this release a reality. Even if you do not know technical details about film stock, Furmanek makes the process truly come to life in a fascinating way. 

 

Final Thoughts

The Abbott & Costello Show is a landmark piece of television history that holds nearly as many laughs today as the day it first debuted. While the series would probably be well regarded if it was solely a collection of the “greatest hits” from the iconic duo, they actually push beyond this to deliver a lot of new laughs each episode, as well. There are so many talented performers in the ensemble that can rank as your favorite depending on the episode. This one is a pure treat to watch. ClassicFlix has delivered one of the Blu-Ray releases of the year with this first season set that features an astounding A/V presentation and a ton of great special features that makes the package even sweeter. If you are a comedy fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. Essential 

The Abbott & Costello Show: Season One is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.  

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: ClassicFlix has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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