Razzle Dazzle Show:
The Complete Series
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
ne of the most visceral pleasures a television critic can experience is to watch a series that aired during their childhood and, although they haven’t seen it in decades, find themselves being washed over by more waves of déjà vu than they ever could’ve thought possible. Such is the case for me with “The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show,” which I remember fondly but hazily until I slid the first disc into the player and was overwhelmed by memories I didn’t know I still had.
Although the trio of Bill, Bret and Mark Hudson released a film in 1983 (“Hysterical”) that’s fondly remembered by some, the legacy of the Hudson Brothers as a performing entity is one that’s predominantly limited to the 1970s. First, they were a recording group. Then they were pitched to television as being the closest thing to the Marx Brothers that pop music had seen since The Monkees, a description that earned them their very own prime-time variety show. From there, it was on to the more slapstick-friendly surroundings of Saturday morning television with “The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show,” and after that? Well, nothing, really, unless you remember their short-lived syndicated series from 1979, “Bonkers!” But, wow, did that Saturday morning show make an impression!
The variety show was still thriving in the 1970s, and to create their series the Hudsons teamed up with a couple of guys who knew plenty about scoring success in the format. Bob Arnott was a longtime writer with “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” and Coslough Johnson, who in addition to his work with the Bonos, had also spent time as a scribe for “Laugh-In” and – what a coincidence! – “The Monkees.” Together, they built a kids' show that kept the same format throughout every single episode, but by rarely veering away from it, their sugar-cereal-eating audience kept coming back because they knew what to expect.
Each episode of “The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show” began in the same way: with the entire cast being loaded into the back of a van. In addition to the brothers themselves, there was a standard gang of regulars, including Murray Langston, later to be known as The Unknown Comic, and Peter Cullen, who’s now best known for providing the voice of Optimus Prime in every incarnation of “Transformers” to date. Others featured in the cast were “Sonny and Cher” stock players Ted Ziegler, Billy Van and Freeman King, proving that variety shows were downright incestuous back then. After the great cast unloading, it was on to the set of the show, where the brothers would sing a song, sometimes one of their hits (surely you remember their sweeping Beatle-esque ballad, “So You Are A Star”) or occasionally someone else’s, such as CCR’s “Traveling Band.” Inevitably, they were interrupted by their resident gang of idiots before getting more than a few moments into the song, but after a brief comic interlude, they’d get the opportunity to croon the tune in its entirety.
There are plenty of recurring sketches, but the most consistently hilarious (to viewers of all ages), is that of Rod Hull and his highly temperamental emu. If you’re unfamiliar with Hull, his schtick was to wear an emu puppet on his right hand and have it “attack” when least expected, and although the gag is essentially the same throughout all 17 episodes, it never fails to be funny. The Bear is also amusing – albeit in a more surreal way – with a guy in a bear suit showing up in various situations, but what’s funnier is the way he’s introduced as simply “The Bear” in the opening credits of each episode, as if he’s just another actor. The attempt to provide a valuable lesson at the end of each episode was pretty painful, as it always felt completely saccharine and totally tacked on, but give them credit for at least trying to talk to their younger audience. Plus, they always end with a laugh by having the brothers hauled off in a net for trying to prolong the show, which provides comedic redemption.
The show’s zany blackout sketches will prove entertaining to younger kids, as they’re highly reminiscent of what “The Electric Company” was doing at the time (though they’re decidedly less educational). But what really holds up on “Razzle Dazzle” are the songs, which is kinda funny, given how none of my childhood memories of the series surround the music. Mark Hudson went on to co-write Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge” and serve as Ringo Starr’s songwriting collaborator and producer for pretty much everything the former Beatle recorded from 1998 to 2007, so it’s no wonder in retrospect that he could whip out some seriously catchy tunes.
If you’re a fan of ‘70s variety shows and like to let your inner child come out and play once in awhile, show it a little “Razzle Dazzle” and watch it perk right up.
Special Features: It’s a shame the brothers Hudson couldn’t be swayed to do any audio commentary for the set, or to sit down in front of the camera and reminisce about the series, but the three-DVD collection isn’t without a few bonuses. There are a handful of sketches from the brothers’ prime-time series attached to the third disc, including several randomly selected segments featuring guest spots from Andy Griffith, Ken Berry and McLean Stevenson. A separate spotlight is shone on the character of Chucky Margolis (a kid who lives in a basement and offers tales of his day’s activities) by offering several additional Chucky sketches, that appeared only on the prime-time series.