TITLE: I'M DICKENS...HE'S FENSTER - VOLUME ONE
DVD Release Date: December 6, 2011 (TV Time Machine Productions)
B&W / 1962-1963
Number of Discs: 3
Number of Episodes: 16
Running Time: 609 minutes
Runtime of Special Features: approx. 21 minutes
Audio: English mono
Subtitles and Captions: None
Special Features: Audio Commentaries; I'm Dickens...He's Fenster Get Physical; Episode Discussions; Tribute to Leonard Stern; ABC Network Promo; Cast Commercial; Sponsor Bumpers; Thank You Slide Show
The past year or so has been big for TV show anniversaries, and we've been seeing plenty of special anniversary releases for all of our favorite shows from the 50s and 60s. But this time, a lesser known series is getting the anniversary treatment...but it is also a series that could have lasted longer if only viewers of the era had the foresight to know that the cast and crew were going to become some of TV's greatest stars in the upcoming years. I'm Dickens...He's Fenster was a series that aired for one season in 1962-1963 on ABC. The series follows Harry Dickens (John Astin) and Arch Fenster (Marty Ingels), two construction workers who were great friends, but not so great at construction. The series offered plenty of great comedy and was lauded by critics at the time, but it aired against stiff competition of the era (including Route 66) and didn't make it beyond one season. It didn't even get a chance to air in syndication with so few episodes. But now, you can have a chance to see this classic gem in I'm Dickens...He's Fenster - Volume One, a three disc set containing the first sixteen episodes of the classic sitcom!
The series begins with the pilot, "A Small Matter of Being Fired," where Harry fears not being promoted at work. Yvonne Craig guest stars. Harry's wife, Kate (Emmaline Henry) is assigned to the night shift at the hospital, and Harry is jealous of the attractive doctors in "Nurse Dickens." In "The Double Life of Mel Warshaw," Harry and Arch become suspicious of their friend Mel (Dave Ketchum) during a weekend at the mountain after they discover his resemblance to a bank robber. Ellyn Burstyn guest stars in "Harry, the Father Image," where Arch becomes engaged to a stewardess. Fenster moves in with Harry and Kate (and nearly destroys their marriage) in "Part-Time Friend" In "The Acting Game," Dickens auditions for a TV commercial, but the results aren't so great. Harvey Korman guest stars. Mr. Bannister (Frank DeVol) decides to start wearing a toupee in "The Toupee Story." In "A Wolf in Friend's Clothing," Harry is looking after the daughter of an old Army buddy, but has to keep Arch away from her out of fears that he'll make a play for her!
Harry refuses a party invitation in "Party, Party, Who's Got the Party?" Mr. Banister fires Arch in "The Yellow Badge of Courage," but is he responsible for the problems that caused the termination? A joke could cause problems for the crew getting a safety award in "The Joke." Fenster adopts a dog in "Love Me, Love My Dog," but it quickly causes him to neglect all of his other relationships. The Dickens' throw a party for their married friends in "Here's to the Three of Us," but will Arch understand why he isn't invited? In "Get Off My Back," Arch is convinced that Harry has a severe back ailment, and will do anything to confirm his suspicions. The guys decide to go into business for themselves in "How Not to Succeed in Business." The set ends with "The Godfathers," where Mel allows Dickens and Fenster to babysit his children, but you know it'll be a disaster.
I'm pretty confident that the episodes on the set are unedited, as the runtimes seem very normal and nothing looks suspicious. Also, the series never had an opportunity to be destroyed for syndication. What is even nicer is that the episodes even have original sponsor tags on the closing credits. Runtimes are as follows:
1. "A Small Matter of Being Fired" (25:36)
2. "Nurse Dickens" (25:37)
3. "The Double Life of Mel Warshaw" (25:35)
4. "Harry, the Father Image" (25:22)
5. "Part-Time Friend" (25:19)
6. "The Acting Game" (25:24)
7. "The Toupee Story" (25:22)
8. "A Wolf in Friend's Clothing" (25:21)
9. "Party, Party, Who's Got the Party?" (25:19)
10. "The Yellow Badge of Courage" (25:29)
11. "The Joke" (25:25)
12. "Love Me, Love My Dog" (25:21)
13. "Here's to the Three of Us" (25:17)
14. "Get Off My Back" (25:24)
15. "How Not to Succeed in Business" (25:23)
16. "The Godfathers" (25:21)
The packaging for this set is very nicely done, as the distributor chose a professional studio with experience in doing packaging artwork to put this packaging together. The cover art has the series logo, along with a photo of Dickens and Fenster looking through a window that hasn't been installed. On the back, we have a few episode snapshots, and a brief description of the series, as well as a list of the special features. Inside, we have a three panel digipack. The first panel contains an insert that lists all of the episodes (along with descriptions and airdates), and also gives a brief history of the series and a biography of each of the stars. The other two panels contain the discs. The artwork on the discs is very simple, with the series logo on a blue background. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-8, Disc 2 contains episodes 9-16, and Disc 3 contains all of the special features.
Although this is not really a part of the packaging itself, early purchasers of the set will receive an autographed postcard featuring one of the cast members of the series. For my review copy, this came in a separate envelope (I'm guessing that is how it will be for all of the sets), and I had a limited edition postcard personally signed by Yvonne Craig. This is a very nice bonus to have with a DVD set.
Menu Design and Navigation:
On the main menu, you'll find a board, with a clipboard attached to it playing videos from the episodes. The theme song plays in the background. From the main menu, you have options of Play All or Episodes (except on Disc 3, where you get a selection of bonus feature categories). When you select Episodes, the clipboard videos and the theme song audio goes away, but the image on the clipboard is replaced with a notebook listing the episodes on a page of it. It is a very cool effect. Once you select the episode, it plays right away. There are chapters within each episode.
Video and Audio Quality:
Given that the series hasn't been seen in nearly 50 years, I expected the worst for the video and audio quality, but I was VERY wrong about that. In fact, the video and audio has been VERY nicely restored on this set, and the episodes look about like the average rerun of any series from the era on a reputable network. I'm imagining that they had to do a lot of cleanup of the episodes, but in any event, they did it very well. There is still some grain and debris here and there, but it is nothing to be concerned about. The audio is fine as well, and is presented in a loud and clear mono track. There are no subtitles or closed-captioning on the set, unfortunately.
The special features for this set are all on Disc 3, which is a little peculiar since some of them are episode related (like the commentaries), but if you want to view an episode from the first two discs with the commentary track, you'll have to watch the episode as it is presented on Disc 3 (which is, by the way, exactly the same episode, without any edits).
As for the commentary tracks themselves, these give very nice accounts of the series and the background of the series from those involved in the series. It is actually pretty amazing how much they remember from the series. And, perhaps one of the best parts, is that we get to hear Leonard Stern in one of the commentaries. Stern recently passed away (there is a tribute to him which we'll talk about a bit later in this section), but it is great that we got to hear the thoughts of the creator and producer before it was too late. Episodes and commentaries are as follows (note that the pilot episode has three separate commentary tracks):
"A Small Matter of Being Fired" - John Astin
"A Small Matter of Being Fired" - Leonard Stern
"A Small Matter of Being Fired" - Yvonne Craig
"Nurse Dickens" - Lee Meriwether
"The Double Life of Mel Warshaw" - Dave Ketchum
"Harry, the Father Image" - Marty Ingels
"The Acting Game" - Chris Korman (Harvey Korman's son)
The discussion of the series doesn't stop at the commentaries, though! There are also plenty of retrospectives on the set. "I'm Dickens...He's Fenster Get Physical" (7:07) is a look back at the physical comedy of the series, with recent interviews from Marty Ingels, John Astin, and Leonard Stern. "Tribute to Leonard Stern" (3:27) is a very nice featurette that was created a bit later, with Marty Ingels, John Astin, Arthur Hiller, and Norman Abbott reflecting on Leonard Stern, after his passing away (which happened while the DVD set was in the production phase). It is great that they were able to capture this in this set.
There are also plenty of other episodic featurettes where those involved with the series talk about specific episodes. Again, these are all on Disc 3, so unfortunately it is a little difficult to watch them while the episodes are fresh in your mind, but it is still great to see them. We have these for the following episodes:
"The Joke" - John Astin and Leonard Stern (0:59)
"Love Me, Love My Dog" - Arthur Hiller (1:23)
"How Not to Succeed in Business" - John Astin (1:43)
Finally, we have plenty of "Nuts and Bolts," which mostly contain archival material related to the series, as well as a "Thank You Slide Show." First in these, we have an ABC Network Promo (0:59), which is a commercial advertising the series just before it premiered on ABC. In the Cast Commercial (0:59), we get to see a cast commercial for one of the sponsor products of the series (in this case Ivory soap). Such commercials were common for TV series in this era. Sponsor Bumpers (2:09) basically just gives us the opening credits, but with the sponsor tags reattached to them. We get to see these for Tide and El Producto Cigars. Finally, the "Thank You Slide Show" (4:43) is a photographic slideshow tribute to all of those who made this set happen.
All in all, they really did a great job with the special features on this set, though it certainly would have been nicer to have had the special features more integrated with the episodes (i.e. commentaries on the disc that the episodes are included on).
This is an excellent series and DVD set, especially considering the obscurity of the series. It is very doubtful that there will be too many people who actually remember this series, but it is a series worth watching for sure. It is really too bad that this show got "lost in the shuffle" when it comes to TV series, but now, those who are interested can enjoy the series, many for the first time ever. It can only be ordered exclusively from the distributor (for now), but the price is very reasonable and the special features on the set make it worth even more. It would be even nicer to see some more releases of obscure series from this studio, as they have proven with this release that they are not only capable of putting out releases, but are capable of putting out high quality releases that rival some of the best. There are so many lost gems of the golden era of television, and this is definitely one worth checking out.
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 3/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 4.5/5
-- Reviewed by skees53 on 12/21/11
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