By John Lane
For a background history of the genius of Ernie Kovacs and his influence, I refer readers to my previous article concerning the grand, pioneering master.
One can say it is an embarrassment of riches when one holds anything product-wise in your hands having to do with Ernie Kovacs. But that having been said, I feel like the release of Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials is a slight misstep on the part of Shout! Factory.
This one DVD comprises eight half-hour specials, which is a generous serving of Kovacs, for sure. However, a slight disservice is done unto the hungry Kovacs fan, for he or she will recognize this as basically being Disc 5 of the already-released Ernie Kovacs’ box set. This immediately ostracizes the loyal fan and holds open the door for the curious passerby.
To my mind, the marketing and selling of Kovacs now is heavily dependent upon the persons who have already established a loyalty; when that demographic is dismissed, well, it seems that the company is hoping that they will simply recoup some of their losses (imagined, on my part) for what it costs to sell box sets to aficionados. (And I do have a Kovacs box set, yes.)
Additionally, this sampling of specials—because that is what it is—inadvertently cuts out most of the trademark Kovacs stuff for the most part. There’s a whole litany of character performances by Kovacs that have been marginalized or gone missing from here, by default. I could have used a plentiful fix of Percy Dovetonsils and Uncle/Auntie Gruesome, for example. And where’s Chef Miklos Molnar? When the Nairobi Trio does surface on this disc, I find myself gasping in gratitude.
The bonus feature of this disc is a whopping portion of his Dutchmasters Cigar commercials—funny gags that advertise cigars while sneakily subverting the commercial medium itself. However, the bonus feature should have really been a powerhouse collection (even if brief) of his idiosyncratic characters.
Now there is an argument to be made that this disc is worth it totally for the inclusion of Kovacs’ silent half-hour show titled Eugene, in which Kovacs plays a Tati-esque, bumbling character who leaves a wake of minor disasters behind him. It’s surreal, subtle, and reveals Kovacs at the top of his game in terms of how he could buck TV formulaic convention and expand the parameters of what this medium can actually do. Eugene is Looney Tunes, Salvador Dali, and Charlie Chaplin rolled into one, with that special Kovacs charm.
Because I’ve determined that this disc is not for the Kovacs aficionado, then I guess it’s really a primer for newbies. Further detaching myself from the equation, I watched this disc with my two children to gauge how a shorter-attention-span generation might relate to Ernie Kovacs as presented on this collection, and it was a resounding hit. That said, they wanted to see more beyond this to truly get what I’ve been raving about, because he’s not quite as well represented here as on the box set.
Perhaps Shout! Factory should go back to the drawing board and take the time and care to craft a disc that satisfies newcomers and rabid fans alike. I’d shell out for a Greatest Hits that had more . . . hits!
Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials was released by Shout! Factory on April 17 and is available to order from their website.