• D.C. Follies: The Complete Series



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 14, 2017
    Director: Rick Locke
    Cast: Fred Willard
    Year: 1987-1989
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Once upon a time in the magical land known as the 1980’s, the master puppeteers and inspired children’s programming (H.R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, Land of the Lost) impresarios Sid and Marty Kroft needed a hit show that would regenerate some of the goodwill they had squandered on high-profile duds like Pink Lady and Jeff and Pryor’s Place. They teamed up with Cannon Films heads Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus to produce a new series for syndication that would combine the Kroft brothers’ love of puppets with light-hearted humor aimed at the then-current political and media culture in Washington, D.C.

    The result was D.C. Follies, a show that ran for two seasons and 44 episodes and one that I remember watching occasionally as a child and almost completely forgetting about it as I aged into adulthood. The title refers to a Washington D.C. bar “just a stone’s throw away from the White House” as its proprietor and bartender Fred, played by perennial comedy MVP Fred Willard, where the nation’s political and media elite come to drink away their troubles and frequently engage in both hijinks AND shenanigans. Oh yes, there are shenanigans here, my friends.

    D.C. Follies is a popular haven for U.S. Presidents past (Nixon, Ford, Carter), present (Reagan), and future (Bush Sr., not Dukakis), as well as television news personalities (Dan Rather, Andy Rooney, Geraldo Rivera), movie (Sylvester Stallone, Sean Penn, Cher) and music superstars (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Dolly Parton), religious figures (Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Pat Robertson), and more. They’re all realized as animatronic puppets designed by Randy Simper (Men in Black) based on the caricatures of Robert Myers, and given life through a combination of skillful puppeteering and the vocal talents of master cartoon voice performers like Maurice LaMarche and Joe Alaskey.

    Most episodes of D.C. Follies bring in a special guest star to give Willard a fellow human to interact with for a brief bit or two and the guests were usually popular celebrities of the time whose presence adds to the show’s dated appearance. I’m talking people like actresses Bo Derek (10), Vanity (The Last Dragon), and Julia Duffy (Newhart); famous comedians Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Mull, Robert Klein, Mort Sahl, and the indomitable Yakov Smirnoff; Dynasty/Charlie’s Angels star John Forsythe; sports legends such as Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis and world heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson; Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach; music parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic; and many more.

    By far the strangest guest appearance during D.C. Follies’ two-season run was made by Robert Englund during the second season as his iconic horror movie villain Freddy Krueger. This happened during that wonderfully bizarre time during the late 1980’s when a child-murdering monster who returned from the grave to terrorize his teenage victims in their dreams could be embraced as an unlikely pop culture hero. The Freddy episode is probably the funniest in the set as the Springwood Slasher finds himself at Fred’s bar helping Oliver North shred documents (guess how) and having an existential crisis that only a heartfelt conversation with Willard can help solve. Hey, in the 80’s there weren’t many problems that couldn’t be resolved on television during a 21-minute comedy show.

    The Krofts specialized in producing children’s programming that adults could also enjoy, but I’m at a loss as to figuring out what audience D.C. Follies was intended to entertain. It’s too childish for grown-ups, and yet kids who might have come for the puppets couldn’t have been terribly interested by the watered-down political humor either. Only on rare occasions does the show’s humor sport an edge, but the rest of time Follies goes easier on its targets than a Jay Leno monologue. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s one of those annoying laugh tracks (highly doubtful there was a studio audience for this program) telegraphing the moment when each lame joke is supposed to land.

    Since the puppeteers didn’t provide the voices of the characters they controlled, there’s an oddly unsettling disconnect in the way the recorded vocals attempt to match with the on-camera performances that cruelly undermines the attempts at humor and Willard’s own acting as his interactions with the puppet characters lacks chemistry and conviction. You get the feeling that you’re watching a prime-time variety show gone horribly wrong. In the end, D.C. Follies retains a goofy, cheeseball charm that makes most of the shows watchable in a real “turn your brain off for 21 minutes at a time” manner. Sure the puppets are creepy, the jokes more miss than hit, the guest stars gamely trying to make the most of what is clearly an uncomfortable paycheck for them, and Willard looks like the last sane man in a world gone mad, but it all adds up to a supremely dated guilty pleasure you can’t believe even exists and you can’t help but pat on the head for trying its darndest to please.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Each episode of D.C. Follies is presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio with English Dolby Digital mono audio tracks. There are 44 episodes in this set, totaling close to 16 hours for the running time, that are spread across four DVDs. No subtitles have been provided.

    An opening disclaimer on each disc states that the episodes have been mastered from the best available video sources. I wasn’t expecting a series currently three decades old that was produced on a meager budget for syndicated television to look its best, but the quality of the video transfers is as close to each episode’s original broadcast condition as we are likely ever going to see. The camera work is a little soft and slightly fuzzy at times, but damage to the source elements is nowhere to be found. Color timing is solid and accurate, while framing is stable and smooth.

    The English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks are also as good as they can get here. Often you will have to manually adjust the volume for the dialogue to be adequately audible, but the music by Freaked/Leprechaun composer Kevin Kiner (you know what I’m talking about, that saxophone-heavy music every 80’s sitcom had) and the unnecessary laugh track doesn’t overwhelm it.

    Shout! Factory has provided no extra features for this DVD set. A retrospective documentary or vintage promotional material might have sweetened the pot a bit, but the complete series is all we’re getting this time.

    The Final Word:

    Only in the 1980’s could a show like D.C. Follies come to exist, but the Krofts’ oddball fusion of kiddie show puppetry and “Doonesbury without the edgy wit” Beltway political humor remains a cheesy little charmer of a television artifact from an era where anything could happen and often did repeatedly. Despite the lack of bonus features on this DVD set from Shout! Factory, the picture and sound quality are better than you might expect. D.C. Follies: The Complete Series is something I would easily recommend to lovers of the 80’s most bizarre cultural creations. Just don’t expect to laugh much, except at the madness of the entire endeavor.





























    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark C.'s Avatar
      Mark C. -
      I had forgot about this until seeing this review. Might have to pick this up.