Monday, October 2, 2006

THE WILD WILD WEST - THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

In the mid-Sixties, the television Westerns, which had dominated the medium virtually from its conception, were starting to lose ratings to a handful of upstart spy shows, inspired by the cinema success of a certain double-O agent. Trying to find a way to exploit the success of the spy genre without losing the still-vast Western audience, producer Michael Garrison proposed combining the two genres, and the result was the one-of-a-kind adventure series, THE WILD WILD WEST (1965-66).

This innovative show chronicled the adventures of Civil War heroes-turned-Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (the late Ross Martin), as they toured the Western frontier in a private train, foiling the evil machinations of rogue Confederate generals, mad scientists and all the assorted other bad guys that threatened the peace and stability of our young nation. Chief among those menaces was the charming Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a brilliant inventor only three feet tall, whose capacity for murderous mischief reigned unparalleled. But no matter how bizarre or formidable the threat – be it flame-throwing cannons, deadly duplicates, earthquake machines, steam-driven cyborgs, or LSD-carrying ducks – Jim and Arte always managed to save the day with wit, style, some astounding stunts and an arsenal of anachronistic gadgets that even Bond's Q might envy.

Paramount/CBS Video have just released the entire first season of this amazing show on DVD in a high-quality package. The set includes all 28 episodes from the black & white first season, restored and remastered and looking virtually brand new. Each episode includes a brief audio introduction by star Robert Conrad, and there are a number of other audio features on the set, including a commentary track on the pilot episode, and interviews with some of the writers and other crewmembers from the show. There's also a still gallery, TV spots, the original title animation (minus one "Wild"), and one of Conrad's famous Eveready commercials, in which he dared viewers to knock a battery off his shoulder.

The 70-year-old Conrad sounds weary and a bit feeble in his audio introductions, and that's kind of startling, as I – and most fans – remember him as one of TV's perpetual tough guys. But age catches up with everyone, I suppose, and I'm glad he was able to participate in this release at all. He certainly still sounds proud of the show and his work on it, 40 years later.

It's a superior DVD set for a superior television series, and it gets my highest recommendation. Vintage TV rarely gets as creative, unique and smart as this.

BUY: The Wild Wild West - The Complete First Season