The new DVD set of Get Smart may be the best set ever created for a non-current television series. And this in spite of the fact that it was done too late for Don Adams to participate in it. I hope to write a bit more about it later, but it's one of those DVD releases that actually improves my opinion of the show. I always liked Get Smart, but I thought it was a bit overrated or at least limited, because every episode was the same and it was hard to care much about the characters. But, even while acknowledging that these limitations are still there, I liked the show better when I was finished watching the extras. I got a better sense of how difficult it is to do what this show did, which is to do parody and satire in the form of a show with continuing characters. Most shows that tried to do the same thing have failed because no one could stand to watch a parody (something where we know the story can't be taken seriously) every week; the producers of Get Smart! were the only ones who managed to give a parody series enough story and character strength to sustain it for five years.
A lot of that, I think -- and creator Buck Henry implies this at several points -- comes from the show's executive producer, veteran writer Leonard Stern. The pilot, written by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, was very funny and included most of the show's best catchphrases and gags ("Would You Belive," lifted from Adams' work on the Bill Dana Show; the Cone of Silence; "And loving it"), but the story didn't make much sense and important plot points were disposed of in a very perfunctory way. As the first season went on, Stern helped add some solidity to the stories; they didn't have to be taken seriously, but they did have to work as effective action/mystery stories no matter how ridiculous they were, meaning there had to be a good hook to the story and it had to be resolved in a plausible way.
The DVD Beaver has a review and screen shots from the set, which is currently only available from Time-Life but should be in stores sometime later this year. One thing that struck me again is that long on-camera interviews with one cast or crew member (in this case, Buck Henry, Leonard Stern and Barbara Feldon among others) are far preferable to making-of documentaries with clips from a lot of different people. Same with the Criterion Collection, which usually does the long one-on-one video interview instead of breaking it up into little clips for a so-called "documentary."
Oh, and for people who are wondering if Agent 99's real name was ever revealed (there was an episode where she used the name "Susan" but it turned out to be another alias), here's definitive proof that it never was. This is from the fifth and final season, when she and Max had been married for a year: