Monday, May 15, 2006

Some Grade-A Court Martial Material

Last week this hit shelves: The Phil Silvers Show 50th Anniversary Edition DVD collection.

I discovered Phil Silvers overseas two years ago on the BBC. It came on two days one week and three days the next, in a time slot that could vary by as much as three hours. No matter, that half-hour was worth scouring the listings to find.

And the show was a true thirty minutes, no the twenty-plus-commercials we are accustomed to today. The show was begun in 1955 when time slots were sold in whole to a program’s sponsor. The result is that after two-thirds (or even less) of an episode have gone by, the viewer is afraid that it’s over. Aiding the impression is the same kind of half-resolution at that moment that is today favored to actually end a sit-com. But fear not! A whole other act awaits! Which is truly a happy occasion, as it is hard to say goodbye to Mr. Silvers.

The show itself comprises the misadventures of Phil Silvers as Sergeant Ernest Bilko, a conniving genius with some lazy habits. He also happens to be the post’s best and most prolific gambler, though with a very well-tuned (if reluctant) code of fair-play.
While the storylines can focus on just about any brilliant plot cooked up by the schemer (and Bilko’s plans do tend toward a creativity beyond his imitators on later series), they tend to center around the poker table. Frequently they take on a sort of point and counter-point plot against Bilko’s rival cardsharps, as the villains are not above cheating green recruits out of their paychecks and Ernie feels called of duty to help those under his command.

If you’ve read to this point, my admiration for the show is clear. I must be over-joyed to see it available on DVD, right? Kinda.
I’m not actually planning to buy the set, which is made up of about 18 episodes culled from the entire four-year run of 144 shows. I personally would prefer a season-by-season release, particularly as the show—though hardly a serial—maintains an episode-to-episode continuity seldom attempted since.
Oh well, at least the 50th Anniversary celebratory distribution stands a chance of introducing this current generation to Sgt. Bilko—and not the version played by Steve Martin.

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