52° Good Afternoon
52° Good Afternoon

‘Carol Burnett’s Favorite Sketches’ review: More like a promo than a program

"Carol Burnett's Favorite Sketches" on PBS. Pictured: Carol Burnett in the late 1960s. Credit: TJL Productions

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Who doesn’t love 83-year-old comedy queen Carol Burnett? The past few years have had her fans feeling the Burn — a 22-disc “Carol Burnett Show: Ultimate Collection” DVD box, a half-dozen smaller releases, the Mark Twain Prize for comedy, a Screen Actors Guild lifetime award and guest shots on shows from “Hot in Cleveland” to “Hawaii Five-0.” Not to mention her fabled 1967-78 CBS variety show back on the tube, reworked into all-comedy half-hours weeknights on MeTV as “Carol Burnett and Friends.”

And now, it seems, we’re getting the capper. Carol Burnett’s favorite sketches? Like, wow! The best of her beloved spoofs of movies, TV, family life, work life. And on PBS, no less.

Why, here it is in the listings, lasting 90 whole minutes. But wait a minute. The preview screener runs less than an hour. Hmm. Could it be — cue that soap-opera organ used by her show as comedic punctuation — pledge drive time??

Why, yes, it could. A dozen sketches are crammed into 56 actual program minutes as interrupted/lengthened by donation pitches — her Civil War movie lampoon, “Went With the Wind,” soap spoof, “As the Stomach Turns” (with ’70s-young Betty White and Steve Martin), those acid-tongued visits with The Family, and, of course, cast members Tim Conway and Harvey Korman breaking up as a first-day dentist and his pained patient.

MY SAY While it’s always a joy to revisit Burnett’s classics, this special feels more like a commercial for a greatest-hits album than the real thing. A fragment here, a snippet there. Skits starting halfway in or stopping partway through.

So when the show’s news release brags about Burnett’s new intros, they serve to steal time from her claim-to-fame parodies. And when she says the show essentially staged “a musical comedy revue every week,” what does that even mean to young fans unfamiliar with such a thing?

Those unversed in Burnett do get a sense of her skills from these abridged bits — sharp timing, characterization, physical comedy — but not the full effect. The show’s Family excerpt falls a bit flat, as does its Mrs. Wiggins/Mr. Tudball office routine. Even the special’s wait-for-it climax — unaired since its ’70s debut: Korman in majestic drag as a soap opera busybody — is impaired by being truncated out of context.

Because the rest of that sketch is killer, with old-time TV standby Paul Lynde as a mad masochist. But of course, you can see it complete if you buy the DVD “The Carol Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes.” Hmm . . .

BOTTOM LINE. Less a program than a promo.

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