The Abbott and Costello Show: The Complete Series 

Too early to call one of the year's best DVD releases? Nonsense! Not when "The Abbott & Costello Show: The Complete Series" is this strong.

Although I'm a fan of the comedy duo, I sheepishly admit I wasn't aware of this show's existence, having had it confused with their "Colgate Comedy Hour" appearances that have made their way to many a shoddy public-domain package. From 1952, this two-season syndicated wonder cast the pair as, essentially, themselves —? or at least the comic personas they mined for decades.

Bud and Lou are struggling actors living in an apartment building run by a cranky landlord (Sid Fields). When not irritating him, they get themselves into all sorts of slapstick-heavy trouble, in purposely loosey-goosey plots that allow them to work in — or shoehorn in, as the case may be —? their classic stage routines. (Episodes are introduced and bridged by them appearing on a stage, breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly.)

These 52 episodes play like miniature versions of their movies. In fact, you'll be reminded of many. Their taking a dare to spend a night in a spooky castle in the episode "The Haunted House" harkens back to their horror comedy films like "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein," which they were just coming off at the time. "Safari," meanwhile, recalls 1949's animal antics of "Africa Screams." Several episodes do, what with Bingo the Chimp being a supporting cast member. Whereas monkeys in comedies usually signify a dearth of laughs, that's not the case here.

Bingo doesn't even have the weirdest role. That honor goes to lesser Stooge Joe Besser, playing a precocious, problematic kid —? yes, kid —? named Stinky. Anything but Stinky is the gorgeous Hillary Brooke, fulfilling the show's straight role of female foil.

The show's in remarkably good shape in E1 Entertainment's restored, remastered set, which comes packed with extras, including a ninth disc full of them. Chief among these is a 70-minute TV special hosted by Milton Berle, introducing vintage clips. There's also a 20-minute short for Costello's youth foundation, narrated by none other than Jimmy Stewart. And Costello's daughters, Chris and Paddy, are interviewed at length and share home movies. All this comes with a 44-page commemorative booklet that includes a detailed episode guide, and four oversized postcards.

If you invested in Universal's 28-film box set a couple years back, this release makes a perfect, wealth-of-riches boob-tube companion. The only drawback is finding 22 hours to carve out of your schedule to watch it all. —?Rod Lott

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Rod Lott

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