Anthony's Film Review
(TV Series, 1965-1970)
Hilarious satire of Cold War espionage that is truly one-of-a-kind...
Get Smart is a brilliant sitcom that works for many reasons. It features clever humor and jokes involving everything about the business of spying. It aired in the late 1960s, which was exactly when espionage became a hot topic in both fiction (the James Bond films) and reality (the Cold War). With that, let's talk about why this show is a classic.
Each episode focuses on the battle between the spy organization CONTROL, based in Washington, D.C., and the enemy spy organization KAOS, recruiting from all over the world. There is so much about spying to make fun of. The show makes you laugh about passwords, hidden devices, kidnappings, disguises, government bureaucracy, political relationships, defectors, protecting witnesses, secret hideouts, formulas, weapons plans, smuggling, spy communications, and much more. No wonder the show went on for 138 episodes.
The main character is Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 (Don Adams). He is a goofy version of James Bond who succeeds despite his bumbling ways because, according to executive producer Leonard Stern, Smart doesn't recognize his own limitations. At his side is the beautiful and tough Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), whose real name is never revealed. Completing the main cast is the no-nonsense Chief (Edward Platt). Max and the Chief are funny by being opposites of each other. 99 provides balance by being trusted by the Chief and liking Max for who he is. Putting any seriousness aside, the Chief's office is sort of a comedy stage for this comic trio to perform.
The show succeeds with likable characters even beyond the principal cast. You will definitely laugh at Agents 44 and 13, who are assigned as scouts in the most claustrophobic spaces. There is also the killer robot Hymie, programmed by KAOS but reprogrammed by CONTROL, and the Chief's assistant Larabee, who is even more dumber than Maxwell Smart as seen in the show's fifth season. On the side of evil, many KAOS agents are memorable characters, including the Craw ("Not the Craw! The Craw!") and Siegfried ("Zis is KAOS. Ve don't du-du-du here.").
And you've got to love the recurrent quotes in the show, mainly those by Max. The most famous catchphrase comes when Max tries to intimidate a villain or impress someone only to find himself on the losing side, best exemplified in the pilot episode. Max says to the villain Mr. Big, "I happen to know that at this very minute, seven Coast Guard cutters are closing in on this boat. Would you believe it? Seven." Mr. Big responds, "I find that pretty hard to believe." Max, frozen by his unsuccessful tactic, makes a second weaker attempt with, "Would you believe six?" Even funnier is when he makes an even weaker third attempt, as if bargaining with the villain. His other catchphrases are heard when he upsets the Chief ("Sorry about that, Chief."), sees a surprising spy trick ("The old _____ trick."), gets involved in a close call ("Missed it by THAT much."), and shows no fear with his job ("And loving it!").
There are other recurring jokes in the series, not just these catchphrases. Max has a secret phone in his shoe, and you can imagine a lot of funny stuff with it. My personal favorite is the Cone of Silence, a device in the Chief's office that allows two occupants to talk in secret without anyone outside of it eavesdropping. However, something always goes wrong with it. All of this does not mean the show relies entirely on these same jokes over and over. The episodes demonstrate much humor that is original and unique, a sign that the writers over the years had so much great material to use. In fact, Get Smart is a great example of a show that works because the writers always have great material to contribute.
That's not to say that the cast doesn't hold the show together. On the contrary, nobody could have done it better than Don Adams, Barbara Feldon, and Edward Platt. Don Adams's audition is an interesting bit of trivia. His name used to be Donald James Yarmy but because auditions were held in alphabetical order by last name, he would be trying out towards the end. Changing his name was a wise move. I'm sure he made a lasting impression by being one of the first to audition. I don't think anyone after him could top Adams's unforgettable performance.
I first watched the show on Nickelodeon when they decided to play episodes of Inspector Gadget and Get Smart back to back, because Don Adams played the principal roles in both. I laughed and laughed until I cried. Many years later, I took a trip down memory lane when I stumbled on WouldYouBelieve.com, the oldest Get Smart web site by Carl Birkmeyer. From there, I purchased the DVDs containing all the episodes plus a ton of extras. I have now watched all the episodes and the amazing extras.
With all of this, I can say that Get Smart is truly one of the best television sitcoms ever. It was made at just the right time. There has never been a show like it since and I doubt there will ever be one. Everyone involved in the show should be proud, especially the late Don Adams. If you get a chance to watch episodes of this show, I urge you to do so. You will be laughing a lot, and to use Max's words, and loving it.
For more information about Get Smart, visit the Internet Movie Database and WouldYouBelieve.com.
In addition, check out my review of the remake film Get Smart.