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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster:" They're Awesome

The upcoming DVD release of the first 16 of 32 episodes of the 1962-63 sitcom "I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster" has so many elements of one of Shout Factory's terrific releases that it warrants a rare departure from only reviewing DVD sets from that company. 
I would have guessed that Shout had released this set if I had not known better. This set also seems out of place as the only sitcom set in Lightyear's catalog of obscure seemingly guilty pleasure films, such as "Jailbait." 

As Jerry Seinfeld would say "not that there's anything wrong with that," but Lightyear releasing "Dickens" seems akin to Shout Factory releasing a DVD set of a Kardashian sisters special. I am just excited beyond words to have discovered this "lost" show.

"Dickens" has all the elements of a hit show and likely would have succeeded if Tivo had been around then or its leads had not made it in their "before they were stars" era. I recall hearing about "Dickens" from time-to-time but had never watched it.

My curiosity was strong enough to start watching episodes the day that my review copy arrived, and the show was strong enough to watch several episodes in one sitting. Discovering it has been a real treat.

The future Gomez Addams John Astin was devoted husband Harry Dickens and well known character actor Marty Ingels played Dickens' best friend and construction crew co-worker/blue collar playboy Arch Fenster.

As a huge "I Dream of Jeannie" fan, I was thrilled to see Emmaline "Mrs. Bellows" Henry as Harry's wife Gloria.

The series had the simple but traditionally successful sitcom premise of Dickens and Fenster working and socializing together. They were also competent enough at their jobs to believable and not stooge-like but accident-prone enough to be amusing. I would not be surprised to learn that they were part of the inspiration for Tim Allen's "Home Improvement" character.

As one of the terrific Shout Factory quality essays stated, much of the "Dickens" quality is attributable to its creator Leonard Stern. Stern is perhaps best known for being part of the creative team of classic sitcom "Get Smart."  

In fact, "Dickens" seemed to be the love child of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Get Smart." Harry and Gloria have a very Petriesque modern marriage, and sight gags that largely revolve around construction gag mishaps are very reminiscent of Maxwell Smart's bumbling.

Stern helped create a great deal of the good blend of physical and spoken humor that made '50s and '60s sitcoms so special. One particularly great scene from "Dickens'" pilot revolved around Dickens attaching a comically strong magnet to a kitchen cabinet door.

A hilarious sight gag regarding the magnet had pots and other metal kitchen utensils flying up to attach to it. A spoken gag had Fenster making a remark to the effect that he hoped that the magnet did not pull a jet out of the sky.

The DVD set also took a page from the Shout Factory book by including hours of features that included interviews with the stars and series commercials.

I would love to have folks who experience the same thrill that I did on discovering "Dickens" to email me their thoughts.