Friday, September 11, 2015

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Get Smart

The original Smart Phone
Would you believe that Get Smart will be 50 years old on September 18th?

It's true. The show that introduced Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86, to the world is reaching its fiftieth anniversary this month. And since the only thing I know being done to celebrate this event is a release of the episodes on digital download (cool, but since I've already got everything on DVD, it means little to me), I figure I need to do something to ensure that this occasion is remembered.

For those who don't know, Get Smart is a spoof of the secret agent genre most typified (at least, at the time the show premiered in the 1960s) by James Bond, although the gags are by no means limited to Bond pastiches. Maxwell Smart, played to bumbling perfection by Don Adams, was a secret agent working for the supposedly-super secret organization called CONTROL (although, as one episode revealed, the local telephone operator knew all about them). In most episodes, Max would be assigned to thwart some evil scheme perpetrated by the evil KAOS organization. Although Max was a bit of a dunce and a klutz, his dedication to the job could never be called into question, and he would inevitably foil KAOS' plans by the end of each story.

Barbara Feldon Get Smart 1966Max was assisted by the agent known only as "Agent 99." Her real name was never revealed (although it was certainly teased on a few occasions). Undeniably competent, and unquestionably much smarter than Max, 99 was nonetheless relegated to the role of sidekick and often given stereotypically "girlish" things to do (it was the 1960s, after all!). 99 was played by Barbara Feldon, the only member of the main cast still alive as of the time of this writing.

Don Adams Barbara Feldon Get Smart 1965The original run of Get Smart lasted for five years, the first four on NBC, the last on CBS. Ten years after its cancellation, there was a (mostly forgettable) theatrical movie, followed nine years later by a much better made-for-TV reunion movie that aired on ABC. Six years after that (1995, for those not wishing to do the math) a short-lived revival series aired on FOX, completing the circuit of Get Smart broadcasting on all of the four major American television networks. Finally, a theatrical movie reboot starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway came in 2008.

Most of these revivals have received a lukewarm reception at best (I think I can safely say that the ABC movie was an exception to this rule), causing some to wonder if the magic of the original series can ever be captured again. Truly, it came at a particular point in history where the cultural realities and technological capabilities of the era combined with the specific writing and comedic talents of its creators to make something special, and when any element of that formula is changed, the question of whether the new combination will work is up in the air.

Whether or not Get Smart can (or should) be revived to its former popularity, it is a show that any serious student of pop culture would do well to seek out. You'll be reliving a show that millions of people have enjoyed before you...

...And loving it!

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