The Red Skelton Show: The Lost Episodes (Timeless Media Group, NR)

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It’s very funny and completely charming.

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Red Skelton was probably my parents’ favorite comedian, and the reasons are not far to seek—he was on television every week, making them laugh with physical comedy, guest stars, topical skits, improvisation (Skelton was famous for ad-libs and for purposely throwing off his sound effects guys) and recurring characters (Freddie the Freeloader, Clem Kadiddlehopper). At least as important, his show was adamantly inoffensive (no insult comedy, not even a hint of bad language) and agreeably silly, all the performers seemed to be having a good time, and, particularly in his opening and closing monologues, Skelton had a way of making you feel like he was performing just for you.

Skelton isn’t that well known today, probably because The Red Skelton Show went off the air in 1971, and he didn’t allow it to be syndicated during his lifetime (Skelton died in 1997). But that’s why we have DVDs, and The Red Skelton Show: The Lost Episodes presents 18 half-hour (well, 22-23 minutes) episodes. Skelton’s artistry and sense of fun comes through even when the material feels dated. In fact, I enjoy his monologues the most—no costumes, no props, just Skelton doing impressions and telling stories having a good time up there. I’m not sure why they’re called the “lost” episodes, other than that they have not appeared on DVD before, but I’m willing to chalk that adjective up to marketing hype and move on.

I can’t think of another performer who appears so relaxed before the camera, and Skelton came by that honestly, having performed just about everyone a person could perform during his 84 years, including medicine shows, the circus, radio, theater, and movies as well as television. And in support of my parents’ good taste, let me point out that they were not Skelton’s only admirers: Groucho Marx called him the natural successor to Charlie Chaplin, Edgar Bergen said Skelton was the last of the old-school comedians, and, to jump ahead a few years, Michael Richards of Seinfeld fame was also a huge fan.

Another reason for watching these shows is the variety of guest stars that appear, including Buster Crabbe, Sebastian Cabot, Eve Arden, Fabian, Rusty Hamer, and Angela Cartwright. In addition, two of the episodes have guest hosts—Danny Thomas hosts one, Jackie Gleason and Arthur Godfrey the other. Gleason and Godfrey create a truly minimalist episode: no skits, no acts, just them sitting on stage and smoking and chatting about this and that, with an audience behind them (seriously—Gleason and Godfrey have their backs to the audience) and it’s very funny and completely charming. Both guest-hosted episodes are very short (13 min. and 19 min., respectively), so it’s likely that there was more to the episodes when they were aired, but there’s not information about this included with the DVDs.

The picture quality on the DVDs is not great, but good enough to let you enjoy the shows. There are no extras other than the two guest-hosted episodes. | Sarah Boslaugh

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