Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On The Road

I’ve got a peculiar jones, an incessant desire to go back through the television time machine and relook at some of the past product, seeing if any of it withstands the test of time. Route 66 (Critics Choice, $59.96, 4 discs), which rumbled through 116 black and white 1 hour episodes from 1960-64, passes easily, and, in fact, actually deserves another look. From the pen of Naked City creator Sterling Silliphant, and featuring both an iconic score from Nelson Riddle, and an iconic vehicle (a Corvette Convertible) driven by it’s protagonists, youthful wanderers Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis), the show was filmed on location and functioned as an anthology show, changing characters and plots from episode to episode. Tod and Buz, poised somewhere between neo-beatniks and college frat boys, are simply on the road seeking jobs and adventure, implicitly discovering themselves and exploring the American landscape. The series has the modest air of much of the sixties TV fare, the humor is low key and largely un-ironic, the episodes unfold slowly without any pumped up pop and sizzle (with the exception of at least one or two bits of old school fisticuffs each hour), and the general mood is one of a sturdy and quiet hopefulness punctuated with periodic hints of the dark side of the American dream: racism, small town hypocrisy, governmental wrongdoings, all of it depicted on a dusty postcard of an off-road landscape. The episodes are usually tied up with an ironic or neat little moral, but the central theme of pre-hippie wanderlust, the parade of soon-to-be-names (Lee Marvin, Robert Redford, James Cann, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen), the detailed authenticity of the job-of-the-week (shrimp fishing, oil-rigging, logging, prospecting, et al), plus the neatly captured images from a more innocent time mark this a series both artfully rendered and ahead of its time.

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