Combining Spies and Comedy: Get Smart (TV Showcase #15)

Practically every comedy these days has to throw in a spy story every now and then, especially cartoons. It’s fun to parody the gimmicky gadgets, the codenames, and the sneaking around. “Phineas and Ferb”, along with Cars 2, are good examples of bringing comedy into the spy genre. But back in the 1960s, when shows like these were just becoming popular, it probably would have been seen as a bad move to make a sitcom out of a spy show. But there was a show that managed to do it relatively well, and that show was “Get Smart”.

“Get Smart” was started in 1965 by Mel Brooks (the master comedian who made the movies Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, among others). The show ran for 138 episodes over five seasons, ending in 1970. It later released two reunion movies, which spawned a TV revival, and let’s not forget the terrible 2008 remake movie. But anyway, the show was about secret agent Maxwell Smart, who was the most idiotic spy ever, but who somehow continued to be a top agent in Control, the US’s secret counter-intelligence agency. His partner only went by 99, her agent number, and together they worked with the chief of Control to battle against KAOS, who wanted nothing more than to destroy America. KAOS was run by Siegfried Schwartz, who was Max’s equal on levels of stupidity. Yeah, that about sums it up.

In today’s world of television, oftentimes a sitcom will achieve laughter by rattling off jokes in quick succession, or a really fast comment before moving on to something else, that makes the audience think “I can’t believe they just said that”, and they laugh because the show totally just “went there”. This is what “Get Smart” did, only in the style of the 1960s, not the 2010s. Max would often spew out a joke about another nationality, something offensive towards another character, or even a gag about World War II that would make the audience laugh in surprise. Now, this wasn’t overdone; in fact, I would’ve liked to see more of it, in light of what the show didn’t do so well.

“Get Smart” was known for it’s recurring gags and catchphrases, like “Sorry about that, Chief” or “I told you not to tell me that”, among others. But by season three, almost the entirety of an episode was running jokes, and the actual plot of the episode would often suffer because, as the audience began to learn, it would all line up to a joke that had been made before. While this is funny for a little while, or once in a while, “Get Smart” began to do it every week, and even though there were still original ideas and some pretty good episodes all throughout the series, I wish the running jokes hadn’t been so heavily relied on.

One more thing “Get Smart” did well was to get a fantastic villain: Siegfried. Played by Bernie Kopell (who was later the doctor in “The Love Boat”), Siegfried was always saying something new along with his own catchphrases. Plus, Siegfried was wonderful for situational gags, where just what he’s doing, the location he’s in, or the camera zooming out to see the whole picture creates the joke. I wouldn’t have minded seeing an episode or two all focused on him, but as he was, Siegfried practically made the show for me.

So, was “Get Smart” good or bad? I’d say it was definitely good, albeit a bit boring at times, but an awesome example of how to combine comedy and spies in the midst of spy dramas and still be successful. What do you think?

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