Sunday, May 21, 2006

SGT BILKO - The Phil Silvers Show on DVD

Here in the UK we were lucky enough to have The Phil Silvers Show, perhaps the greatest television sitcom of all-time, on permanent rotation.

Silvers played Master Sgt. Ernie Bilko, a bespectacled middle-aged huckster, running riot whilst trapped in an out-of-the-way Kansas Army camp. Constantly scamming (or bilking) his motley Motor Platoon of slovenly layabouts and befuddled, long suffering Colonel, Bilko generated a never ending supply of get-rich-quick schemes that rarely came to fruition, and played terribly with his conscience if they did. It was a role that vaudeville comic Silvers was born to play - so sublimely, in fact, that he was never able to escape the character or repeat it’s success.

As far back as I can remember, nary a year would go by without the BBC trotting out a batch of classic episodes from the 1955-59 series for another welcome airing.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and in 2003 BBC schedulers discharged Bilko from the airwaves - the same year their own TV listings magazine revealed the show had once again been voted the ”Best Sitcom Ever”. Such comedy luminaries as Larry David and Ricky Gervais site Bilko amoung their favourite shows, and it’s banishment from UK TV means a whole new generation of comedy writers and performers are missing the chance to watch, enjoy and study near-perfect sitcom construction.

Luckily we also live in the DVD age and thanks to This Is Pop I’ve discovered a (year late) 50th anniversary collection has just been released. It features 18 remastered episodes plus a Kinescope of the lost pilot episode, appearances on Ed Sullivan and the Emmys, commentary from special guests and surviving members of Bilko’s Platoon, original titles and much more. Packaging is pretty bland, using the graphic design from the 1993 video releases, and only a few of my favourite episodes are featured, but it’s not a bad start.

Far from being an archaic monochrome antique, the Phil Silvers Show remains sharp, nimble and above all, incredibly funny – a testament to the brilliant writing and one-of-a-kind ensemble cast. One look at episodes such as The Twitch, Doberman’s Sister or The Court Martial should quickly convince you of that.

There’s a few Bilko websites out there, but this is the best.

Among the beauties on show is an insightful backstage article from the May 1956 edition of Collier’s which is certainly worth a read.


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