The Get Smart franchise made it into its fourth broadcast television network in 1995 (the original 1965-1970 series had aired on NBC and CBS, and the 1989 reunion movie Get Smart, Again! aired on ABC). Aired as a midseason replacement on FOX, the 1995 revival of Get Smart was designed as a vehicle for up-and-coming comedy star Andy Dick, but the understandably nervous producers convinced Don Adams and Barbara Feldon to reprise their roles as Maxwell Smart and 99.
Critics and a large and vocal number of Get Smart fans consider this FOX series an atrocity, using words like "dismal, "feeble," "demeaning," "unfunny," and "a stinker" to describe it. But I'm here to tell you that it's not as bad as you've heard. With a new DVD release (and a big-screen adaptation coming this summer, starring Steve Carell), the time is right to reappraise the revamp: yes, it's a shadow of the original series, but it has its high points.
Adams had returned to the role of Maxwell Smart before, in the lackluster feature The Nude Bomb (1980) and the warmly entertaining TV-movie Get Smart, Again! The 1995 series—created by Michael J. DiGaetano & Lawrence Gay (and based on the Mel Brooks-Buck Henry original)—falls somewhere in between. The Nude Bomb reunited only Adams and Robert Karvelas (Larrabee), while Get Smart, Again! additionally rounded up Feldon, Bernie Kopell (Siegfried), King Moody (Shtarker), Dick Gautier (Hymie), and Dave Ketchum (Agent 13). The presence of Feldon in five of the seven FOX episodes is important, Ketchum (Agent 13) appears in "Goodbye Ms. Chip," and Kopell reprises his role of Max's main nemesis Siegfried in "Wurst Enemies." Original series executive producer Leonard Stern gets a ceremonial "executive consultant" credit.
Smart's Agent 86 now served as Chief of Control. Given that Adams was over 70, this choice was the only plausible one. Obviously, a spy comedy on FOX was not going to be handed over to a 71-year-old actor—not even Don Adams. Given that the series needed a young lead, Andy Dick was not a bad choice to play Zachary Smart, 86 and 99's son who gets promoted in the pilot from researcher to field agent. As he would prove to greater effect on NewsRadio, Dick is a talented physical comedian with good timing. Imagine some generic schlub in the role: the series would genuinely be unwatchable. Dick hardly seemed like the offspring of Adams and Feldon, but like Adams, he has talent, comic acumen, and a distinctive demeanor.
Dick was paired with Elaine Hendrix as Agent 66, a character that fails to gel in the series' brief, seven-episode lifetime. The highly capable 66 turns 99 upside-down: 66 doesn't outwardly admire her partner. Though it's apparent she's regretfully developing feelings for Zach, 66 remains witheringly dry-witted. Hendrix makes an attractive foil for Dick, and it's certainly possible that she would have grown into the role as the writers did. Though Adams, Dick, and Hendrix were the only series regulars, Feldon was usually on hand. Now a Congresswoman, 99 controls CONTROL's budget—rather irresponsibly, I might add, but she could never resist Max. (The Chief also has a ditzy secretary named Trudy, played by Heather Morgan.)
The series finds CONTROL still battling KAOS, now a multinational corporation branded as KAOS, inc. The head of KAOS is a shadowy, faceless woman, typically issuing orders on a phone and photographed from behind: a poor substitute for the colorful villains on the original series. The new show fared better in depicting the gadgets and field agents. Zach predictably wears a sneaker phone, but he also whips out the powerful Magnet-O-Ring, X-Ray specs, and an oversized swiss-army knife, while Agent 66 sports a Madonna-esque bullet bra. Agent 0 (played by multiple actors) is a master of disguise capable of turning up as either gender and any race or age, while Agent 9 (Gabrielle Boni) is a red-haired, nine-year-old girl with gadgets to match.
Most fans single out the enjoyable "Wurst Enemies," with its Max-Siegfried rematch, as being the only worthwhile episode (it was written by creative consultant Craig Hoffman), but the series' writing could have been much worse, and is often strongly reminiscent of the original series. Take this nostalgically corny exchange, from "Goodbye Ms. Chip":
Max: Well, 99, I think we've finally got this seating arrangement down right...
99: Where did you seat Bishop Tutu?
Max: Uh, Tutu is at 3-3.
99: You can't put Tutu at 3-3!
Max: Why not?
99: For one, Tutu is at sixes and sevens with King Laszlo the Eighth.
Max: Okay, 99, I'll 86 Tutu from 3-3, and put him at 4-4.
99: That's ten times better.
The writers revived the familiar catchphrases ("And loving it...", "Would you believe...?", "Missed it by that much," and "Sorry about that, Chief") while making halfhearted efforts at fishing for new ones: Zach tries on a "That didn't hurt" runner, for example.
Even in the worst episodes, of which the pilot is one, the mission is one that could have easily fit into the '60s series. "Casino Evil"—written by Michael Corrington & Gary Apple—is a conspicuously entertaining outing, with a sizable role for Max, a singing cameo by Robert Goulet (yep, it's Agent 0), and a story that feels as if it could be adapted straight from one of the '60s scripts. There's even a bit of political satire, as Congresswoman 99 explains where she got the stake for Zach's risky gambling ("I got it from the National Endowment for the Arts, like everyone else"). Mamet regular J.J. Johnson has a cameo, and Terry Kiser (Night Court) gives a bit of heft to the villainous casino runner.
The show didn't get the production values it deserved (emblematized by the uninspired, cheesy opening title sequence), or the time it needed to hit a stride, though it's probably all for the best. When Dick, still contracted to Get Smart, got an offer to become a regular on NewsRadio, he made it known that he wanted out. Dick began publicly trashing Get Smart in interviews (he also claimed Adams didn't want to do the show). The lousy ratings no doubt made the issue moot, with the network having effectively written off the show before ever airing it. Dick went on to NewsRadio—a classic sitcom—and lived strangely ever after.
Pilot (Aired January 8, 1995)
Max assigns Zach to his first big case. Zach and Agent 66 go undercover at a fashion show anbd learn KAOS agent Larz, a fashion designer, is stealing a new indestructible fabric called Du-Tracalon.
Casino Evil (Aired January 15, 1995
Zach and Agent 66 head for Las Vegas to shut down a KAOS-owned casino.
Goodbye Ms. Chip (Aired January 22, 1995)
KAOS kidnaps Agent 66 and implants a chip in her brain, programming her to assassinate African President Mazabuka.
Shooting Up the Charts (Aired January 29, 1995)
Agent 66 poses as an aspiring singer to foil KAOS' plan to build a powerful new weapon.
Passenger 99 (Aired February 5, 1995)
Agent 99's deal with a valuable diplomatic asset is threatened by a KAOS assassin.
Wurst Enemies (Aired February 12, 1995)
Zach's new girlfriend Jessica turns out to be Siegfried's daughter. Luring Zach into a trap at a lighthouse, Siegfried orders Max to come to the lighthouse, where Siegfried unveils his newest plot to launch a nuclear missile.
Liver Let Die (Aired February 19, 1995)
Zach and Agent 66 are sent to break up KAOS' sinister human-organ-theft ring.
Though it's a strictly-business move based on the impending big-screen remake, Sony's decision to release the other Get Smart—The Complete Series is one for which they can be grateful. The episodes, which seem to have been shot on Super-16, inevitably look their age, but given the challenges, the hi-def transfer of pre-hi-def TV is solid, and the stereo sound is likewise serviceable.
The seven episodes are housed on one disc, with token extras. Sony includes two "minisodes." The first, from the hilarious "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" episode of NewsRadio (5:10), oddly includes no scenes with Dick's character of Andy. The other minisode features the unintentionally humorous "Partners in Death" episode of T.J. Hooker (5:49), directed by star William Shatner. Rounding out the disc are previews for Vantage Point, Casino, My Mom's New Boyfriend, and TV Action Favorites.
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