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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

'Route 66' Complete Series Set: Good Marriage Between Steinbeck and 'Quantum Leap'

Shout Factory's upcoming release of a 24-disc complete series DVD set of the awesome four season 116 episode '60s drama "Route 66" reinforces Shout's role as classic television's savior. This release also shows that the range of Shout's catalog extends well beyond some of the best sitcoms ever and childhood favorite cartoon series.

Shout deserves a further shout out for its clever promotion of offering 66 cent shipping on the "Route 66" set.

Before discussing the  "Route 66" series, I would like to share a memory of that historic highway. A friend who I visited in St. Louis insisted that I try a Ted Drewes concrete at that small chain's Route 66 location.

Ted Drewes frozen custard stand is very typical of the Americana mom-and-pop businesses for which Route 66 is known. A concrete, which is a mix of the best frozen custard that I have ever eaten and one of numerous mix-ins, ekes out ooey gooey butter cookies as my favorite St. Louis treat.

"Route 66" the series would be memorable enough if its noteworthy (no pun intended) elements only consisted of its jazzy Nelson Riddle-composed theme song and of centering around two young men on a Kerouacesque adventure to simultaneously discover America and themselves. 

The show goes beyond being a great piece of art  to present highly literate and compelling stories that depict the plight of the oppressed and disenfranchised. This includes veterans who were injured in combat, wage slaves, and women who lacked the options and legal protections that they later earned.

"Route 66" additionally helped sell scads o' Corvettes by prominently featuring that car 20 years before Kitt bossed The Hoff around. 

The wonderful extras in the "Route 66" DVD set includes a special feature that reflects the car's role by celebrating Corvettes. An included 1990 Paley Fest panel is also worth a look.

"Route 66" is particularly special to me because it shares many characteristics with the early 90s scifi classic "Quantum Leap." On the surface, both series had highly addictive instrumental theme songs (and the "Quantum Leap" theme just got stuck in my head) and two well-cast male leads who play characters who share wonderful bromances despite vastly different backgrounds and outlooks on life.

"Route 66's" Tod and Buzz generally stumbled into a bad situation or witnessed an injustice that they felt needed correction; "Leap" took things a bit further by having Sam face being trapped in the past if he did not meet the deadline for putting "right what once went wrong." (Yes, remembering that phrase triggered the theme song anew.) 

"Leap," like "Route 66" also tackled social issues, but in a more lighthearted manner. Racial prejudice and the challenges that divorced women face are two of numerous examples.

A friend's comment illustrates another  similarity between these exceptional series. He told me that he liked "Quantum Leap" because it did not just have its characters sitting around the Regal Beagle week after week.

That comment relates to the terrific semi-anthology method of storytelling that was common in '60s dramas and that continues today in a modified format in the horror series "Supernatural," which has a larger number of regular characters than a traditional semi-anthology.

This format has one or two primary characters travel about and interact with characters who they meet. This one-shot-deal also facilitates bringing in talented and highly-regarded actors without a cheesy "special guest star" element.

The almost endless list of luminaries who appeared on "Route 66" includes Buster Keaton, Robert Redford, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and even Ronny "Opie" Howard.

In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that cheesy "Quantum Leap" episode that had both the "evil leaper" and "special guest star" Neil Patrick Harris as a despicable frat boy is one of my favorites.

The bottom line is that they truly do not make them like "Route 66" any more and very few shows share that series' cultural impact. 

I encourage anyone with thoughts or questions regarding "Route 66" to email me.