The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
ne of my fondest memories of college is of a remark that I heard in a movie theater in Danville, Virginia. Although the film I had just seen has since been lost to the ages, I do seem to recall that it was a comedy. Or, at least, I hope that it was, since the remark in question – which came from one of my fellow movie patrons – was this:
“Well, it was good. But it wasn’t no ‘Ernest Saves Christmas.’”
What you must understand first and foremost is that there was neither a trace of irony in this statement nor any snicker of laughter after it was made: this person truly did believe that “Ernest Saves Christmas” was a viable yardstick by which to measure all comedy. What you must also take into consideration is that, although you might see or hear a reference to the character of Ernest P. Worrell – played by the late, great Jim Varney – and immediately write it off as cornpone comedy at its worst, the character started off as the star of some of the funniest commercials of the 1980s. That’s not to say that the “Ernest” films are necessarily cinematic masterpieces, but there’s every reason to see why Varney was able to get the go-ahead to expand on the character and make him into a movie star. When you consider that there are a staggering nine films in the “Ernest” franchise, it’s clear that plenty of others agreed with the decision. Often forgotten, however, is that between the first film (“Ernest Goes to Camp”) and the second (the aforementioned “Ernest Saves Christmas”), Varney was also able to parlay the character’s success into a Saturday morning show.
Although “Hey Vern, It’s Ernest!” only lasted for 13 episodes, a look back at Mill Creek’s recently-released complete series set of the show reveals that it is, in its own way, almost as much fun as the far-better-recalled “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” This isn’t really a surprise, given the chuckle that you almost certainly just got from that “it wasn’t no ‘Ernest Saves Christmas’” story, but it had to have been a disappointment for Varney, who created a show which is consistently fun, at least slightly educational, and, yes, is actually pretty darned funny, particularly if you can easily access your inner 10-year-old’s sense of humor. As you’d expect, Varney’s the star of the show, but he doesn’t stick solely with his Ernest persona: among the characters he plays on the show are Sergeant Glory, the hard-ass military man who reveals the lesson of each episode to his squadron of recruits, evil scientist Dr. Otto, crusty Auntie Nelda, pretentious Astor Clement, and the decidedly creepy Baby Ernest.
Of the “Hey Vern, It’s Ernest” ensemble, the most notable name is Gailard Sartain, who – should you be willing to admit it – you may remember from his days on “Hee Haw,” and of his recurring characters here, the one which never fails to earn a laugh is Lonnie Don, who, as the founder of his School of Hollywood Sound Effects, offers up lessons on how to make various vocal effects, all of which involve blowing a raspberry. Recurring sketches are definitely the name of the game on the series, including the faux family sitcom “My Father the Clown” and Ernest’s trips to the barber shop, where Earl the barber invariably mishears Ernest’s instructions. (“Like a Wall Street tycoon? I thought you said ‘like the man in the moon’!”) Sure, it’s silly, but it’s a Saturday morning show. More importantly, there are enough jokes which aim for the parents rather than the kids, thereby making it more tolerable than quite a lot of kids programming.
If your family includes anyone within the under-10 set that enjoys a little silliness, “Hey Vern, It’s Ernest: The Complete Series” deserves your consideration. It’s a show that didn’t get nearly enough love when it was originally on the air, and it definitely warrants reappraisal.
Special Features: Nary a one, as is par for the course for most Mill Creek releases, but it’s hard to complain too vehemently when you consider the obscurities they’re putting out and the small price tags they’re attaching to the product.