This winter the series I decided to tackle was none other than THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW also known as SGT. BILKO, a program which I gotta admit I've been waiting a very long time to take on considering that I've always had this life-long craving for pre-hippoid entertainment and that BILKO...well...seemed to ka-CHINGA! somehow within me even though I was one who was not front and center for years of reruns like many of you undoubtedly were. That's because for whatever reasons NOBODY (not even those distant independent stations who would be most likely to air such a series as this) would run the show probably because they thought they could hook more viewers broadcasting THREE'S COMPANY incessantly.
I sure coulda used more BILKO when I was fifteen than I could MAUDE or whatever else the powers that be were shilling us rubes with. Yeah I knew who Phil Silvers was...I mean what GILLIGAN'S ISLAND fan didn't know of Harold Hekuba...but to me he was mostly a guest star on other people's programs and maybe he wasn't that funny at all to begin with. Just try watching him on the 1965 SALUTE TO STAN LAUREL special and if you don't come away thinking that he was saluting himself more'n the subject at hand you've certainly got your head screwed on wrong. But digging the atmosphere, humor and general karmik wooziz of those old shows well...I certainly wanted to be standing at attention for BILKO just as much as I wanted to be plopped in front of the boob tube for DOBIE GILLIS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE and a whole slew of "real" Golden Age of Tee-Vee (for me roughly 1957-1967 and none of that PLAYHOUSE 90 snivel for me!), and if that made me a pariah amongst my peers who were too busy getting bonged up while appreciating the innate intricacies of the morning farm report well---so be it!
Sheesh, I even remember back inna early eighties when WOR-TV 9 (at the time available in the area via cable television) was running BILKO during their eleven o' clock evening slot and me, at the time, was toiling away on a midnight shift as a security guard patrolling a junk yard that only a nutzoid would wanna invade. I can still recall with unbridled disgust those icy nights wishing like anything that I had some REAL LIFE daytime job with moolah and benefits and all those fun things if only so's I could stay home, watch cable tee-vee and experience BILKO like I'm sure a whole load of like-minded suburban slobs were doing at that very same moment.
Well, flash forward thirtysome years later and whaddaya know...not only is BILKO available to me but sheesh, I now own a copy of the entire series which is something my frostbit younger self never would have imagined in a millyun years! (But then again, if my younger self could see what a wretch he would become throughout the years he might have decided to stay frostbit in that still-operating junkyard of miserable memories.) 'n yeah, it's nice finally having seen the show's entire run, but picky me still wishes that I had experienced it back when I was a young and impressionable teen because sheesh, something is missing from the overall effect when you're watching something low-fi class as this on a home entertainment system instead of some UHF station complete with ads for roll-a-sage chairs and Friday Night Wrestling bills interrupting the ethereal feeling of fifties bliss.
's overall a good series. Maybe not as groundbreaking or as earth-destroying as some may lead you to believe---heck it ain't even as good as THE HONEYMOONERS but it's still a whole lot more top-notch'n N.C.I.S. MERCER COUNTY. And yeah, as you'd expect there perhaps are a few dudster, or at least not sparking on all cylinders episodes to be found, but most of 'em are what'cha'd call good enough plop yerself down in front of the set 'n don't bother me watchable! And of course next to ANYTHING that's been churned out from the bowels of moderne day execrable entertainment a show like this is total triumph but I assume some of you readers will believe that's a given!
No need to tell you just how smartzoid an idea it was to slap Silvers into an army sitcom working with and against the perfect ensemble cast devised at that time or any other I can think of. An ensemble of people who seemed more like you 'n me 'stead of those puke-inducing pre-packaged army types you used to see in World War II moom pitchers who were so squeaky clean Amerigan you were hopin' the Nazis'd win. Not to mention the boffo mid/late-fifties ambiance of the thing which always worked wonders even with series that didn't exactly tingle the senses. What's even more surprising about THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW is that it busts a whole buncha current day misconceptions (actually, outright LIES) about fifties tee-vee in general and like, it's about TIME they were all busted like teenage zits onto the bathroom mirror.
I'm sure you all have read articles about just how WASP and segregated television was---y'know, along with the rest of the same fifties that is so loathed these enlightened times. F'rexample, I still recall this one newspaper piece from about twenty years back where some Jewish woman was downright distraught that there were no Jews on television during that by-now infamous decade (and what does that make Molly Goldberg---Ilse Koch???). Well on BILKO there were outright Jews front and center like Private Duane Doberman, the idol of EVERY ranch house bloatbelly who epitomized the layabout lives that those with strict fathers could only dream of. Of course I'm not talking about Jewish actors but actual Jewish characters, and although the likes of Joe E. Ross' Ritzig and Bilko himself were "suspect", Doberman was the real deal and hey, his character was such a standout that actor Maurice Gosfield actually got secondary billing unlike the rest of the platoon! (And how about such barracks buddies as Fleischman and Fender...they weren't exactly Proper Bostonian types y'know!) That's saying something positive about kosher tee-vee inna fifties, and if I wanted to pursue the matter any more I could bring up none other than Judy Hennsler on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER!
As far as black people go who could ignore the plain unadulterated FACT that one of Colonel Hall's secretaries was of the African persuasion, not to mention that the equally negro Frederick O'Neal, star of Larry Buchanan's racial taboo-breaking FREE, WHITE AND 21, plays a fellow sergeant and friend of Bilko! And y'know what---I most certainly do get the feeling that the uberlib types you see these days who like to espy Nazis and Klansmen under the bed would be utterly shocked that none of these characters were doin' the ol' shuffle and jive lick whitey's hand act they believe to have been so prevalent back in them days before their enlightened selves revolutionized the world for all time! (This proven FACT does make me suspicious of Whoopie Goldberg's rather disingenuous claims about Lt. Uhura on STAR TREK being the first non-maid black woman she saw on a non-variety show...guess ol' Whoop never tuned into either BILKO, THE OUTER LIMITS, TWILIGHT ZONE, NAKED CITY, THE DEFENDERS or a few more programs that were slipping blacks token or not into their casts!) I dunno if there was any backlash from showing such high-profile black people on BILKO, but then again I guess that Ameriga was used to seeing blacks in the army and at work and living about so why should whites care one iota if they're on tee-vee? (And I didn't even mention the platoon's single black, who ironically enough mugged Silvers himself years later before saying that he was good, but the rest were "pigs"!)
Also interesting to note are all of the soon-to-be big names to be seen in minor roles, from Tom Poston, Al Lewis, Fred Gwynne, Dick Van Dyke, Orson Bean, Peggy Cass and others who would clutter up the pre-prime time schedules of the seventies in various revivals of fifties panel game shows. And of course there's the presence of George Kennedy in a recurring role as an MP, the story of which Silvers would constantly repeat on afternoon and late-evening talk shows for years to come.
The extra-added bonuses are sometimes good and usually iffy....more of the original ads would have been nice and less of Phil Silvers' daughters (or at least the one who played Jenny Piccolo on HAPPY DAYS) talking about their own pet projects would have been welcome. The entire hour-long 1959 BILKO special should have been here even though the fragment shown doesn't really convey much in the way of hefty ha-has (it was a "musical", so I have my doubts it would have been a real belly-shaker). Surprisingly enough, the one episode of Silver's '63-'64 THE NEW PHIL SILVER SHOW wasn't bad at all unlike what most people who have tuned into this long-forgotten series may say. True Silvers doesn't come off as the right kinda talent who would be best suited for yet another convoluted family sitcom (in this case he being a bachelor living with his widowed sister and her two offspring) but he pulls it off with typical suave style even if the script handed him wasn't exactly anything suitable for those of us who still roll on the floor while watching MY LIVING DOLL. Other added funzies like Silvers on THE LUCY SHOW only make me wonder when that reet series is gonna get the Dee-Vee-Dee treatment...I mean if anything typified post-homework pre-prime time television jollies during my high school days it was that series which still jolts me back to the calming evenings of my mid-teen years more'n a handy ad for ladies undergarments ever could!
If BILKO pops up on one of those satellite stations I sure wish I could snatch up definitely give it a watch. If not maybe you can dig up a complete run somewhere and it sure would be worth the time and effort, if only to wash away fortysome years of relevant grit from your soul. And you most certainly need that, you postmodern eunuch you!