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Featured TV on DVD Review: The Phil Silvers Show: Season One

July 23rd, 2010

The Phil Silvers Show: Season One - Buy from Amazon

The Phil Silvers Show, a.k.a., Sgt. Bilko, ran for four seasons back in the 1950s, and boy do they not make shows like this anymore. Season One ran for 34 episodes, each episode clocking in at 25 to 26 minutes. The total running time is about twice as long as the average sitcom today. So it has quantity going for it, how about quality?

The Show

The Phil Silvers Show is a military life show that takes place at Fort Baxter, a tiny out of the way military base in rural Kansas. It is set in the military, it is about the military, but war very rarely interrupts the exploits of Sgt. Bilko, who is, to be blunt, a conman in a uniform. His usual targets are, well, the men under his command at the motor pool. When he needs big money and has already cleaned out his men, he plans something bigger. Or sometimes he uses his abilities to con the other sergeants at the base, or even the base's commander, Colonel John T. Hall. Occasionally his plans don't work out; sometimes he gets a little too cute for his own good, while sometimes he underestimates his mark. But he never stops trying.

Originally I was going to talk about the highlights of this 5-disc set; however, there are so many of them that by the time I got to the third disc, I realized that if I did so, this review would be ten pages long. So I'm going with the ten most interesting episodes, starting right at the beginning. New Recruits / Empty Store has Sgt. Bilko conned by the other sergeants, who clean him out in a poker game. Determined to get his money back, he is tempted to take advantage of a naïve new recruit, but his conscience gets the better of him. However, when these sergeants con his recruit, Bilko decides to get even. The WAC has Sgt. Bilko seeing the greatest three letters in the military: PTP. Personal Transportation Provided. It's his way to get a jeep of his own and all he has to do is con the other sergeants, which is easily done. However, he didn't count on a new sergeant coming in and taking his assignment, a Sgt. J. Hogan. He prepares his usual schemes, but he hits a snag in his plans when he learns the J. stands for Joan.

Disc two starts with The Hoodlum in which a new recruit is causing problems for Bilko. It seems this guy thinks he's a tough guy and doesn't take well to authority figures bossing him around. This wouldn't be a big issue for Bilko, but he needs a spotless record and can't afford the attention this guy would bring, so he decides to teach him a lesson by convincing him that they have something big planned that they want him to join. But what they have planned is too big for him. The Eating Contest features another new recruit. I assume Sgt. Bilko had high turnover in his motor pool, for obvious reasons. This time around it's Private Honigan, who has the most striking chin. I mention his chin, because Private Honigan is played by none other than Fred Gwyne, a.k.a., Herman Munster. In Bivouac, the men of Fort Baxter are ordered on Bivouac, which is, according to Wikipedia, a training exercise where they leave camp and put up a temporary outpost. Sgt. Bilko will have none of this, so like he does every year, he fakes an illness. However, after the doctor learns he's been conned, he gets his revenge the best way he knows how, by convincing Sgt. Bilko that he really is sick.

Disc three starts with The Reunion, in which Sgt. Bilko has the tenth anniversary of a dangerous battle in which he was involved. He expects the men he served with will be hurting for money, but it turns out they've all been hugely successful in civilian life. A hack filmmaker infuriates the Pentagon with his terrible war pictures in the episode Hollywood. When the latest picture needs a technical adviser, they send him Sgt. Bilko. That should solve the problem. In The Revolutionary War, Sgt. Bilko learns one of his ancestors was a hero of the Revolutionary War, so he dedicates himself to becoming an officer and doing his family proud. However, the story is a little more complicated than that.

In The Rest Cure, Sgt. Bilko learns of Camp Paradise, a camp soldiers are sent to when the stress becomes too much to handle. As you can imagine, this immediately gets him working on a scheme to get sent there. This arguably has the best ending of any episode on this DVD. Dinner at Sowici's is a bit of a mixed bag. In the episode, Sgt. Bilko feels pressured into marrying Joan, so he comes up with a plan: They will have dinner at the Sowici's and after Joan sees how bad their marriage is, she'll never want to marry, ever. The Sowici relationship starts out comically dysfunctional, but it goes over the top and becomes uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. That said, what happens next actually redeems the episode. It might not be as funny as some of the other episodes, but it is touching. In Army Memoirs, Bilko gets busted down to private, but plans his return by pretending to write army memoirs. This understandably gets everyone on the base in a panic. Sgt. Bilko's latest scheme is to have a hall of fame for the good looking girls his men are dating; however, that plan changes when one of his men shows a picture of a woman so beautiful Sgt. Bilko thinks he could make her the next Miss America. The Phil Silvers Show is a long time before my time; however, I've saw this episode years ago and it stuck with me. That's a good sign. In The Court Martial, Fort Baxter is trying to set a record by enlisting 309 men in under two hours, but when one of those men turns out to be a performing chimpanzee, they have a serious problem on their hands.

Okay, I've already passed a dozen episodes, and I'm not even finished with disc four. Suffice it to say that The Phil Silvers Show is a classic and it holds up to this day. The show only ran for four years (partly because it became too expensive to continue) and in that time it won 8 Emmys, including three for writing, two for Best Comedy Series, and one for its lead, Phil Silvers. It deserved all those accolades, and more.

The Extras

This show was previously released as a 50th Anniversary 3-Disc set and a lot of the extras that were on that DVD are also found here. This includes the "Lost" pitch pilot, which is essentially the first two episodes. There are audio commentary tracks on a couple of episodes, and original cast commercials. Finally, there's an episode of The Lucy Show that features Phil Silvers in a guest spot.

The Verdict

If you bought the 50th Anniversary 3-Disc set, you will certainly be happy with the DVD release of Season One of The Phil Silvers Show. If you held off on that DVD hoping for a full-season set, the wait was long, but it was worth it. If you've never seen the show, check it out. This five-disc set is an easy recommendation.

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