Get Smart- Would you believe a show could last five seasons with just a few stupid recurring jokes?
The 1950s and 1960s were the height of the cold war, and spy thrillers were extremely popular during that period. James Bond movies were so popular that they went through several different Bonds like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and many more. The Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers were also top box office hits from the spy world. In 1965, this fascination with spies was fertile ground for parody, and there were none better than the TV show Get Smart, which made light of the world of espionage while mixing stupidity and silliness with action and suspense.
Get Smart was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, but only Henry went on to be involved in the show past its pilot episode. For the bumbling secret agent 86, Maxwell Smart, they cast Don Adams, who had perfected his nasal funny voice on the Bill Dana Show, after first considering Tony Randall and Tom Poston for the role. (Dana replaced Adams for one episode, Ice Station Ziegfried when Adams balked at the stupid plot line). Adams was joined by Barbara Feldon as agent 99, his female partner and straight woman who would make sense of Maxwell Smart's bumbling. The Chief of Control, played by Ed Platt, rounded up the cast as a father figure to Max who had to put up with his bumbling ways.
The show ran for five full seasons, four on NBC and one on CBS. The first two seasons are the best, and when Max and 99 get married in season 4 and have twins in season 5 the plots get less engaging. The jokes in Get Smart are predictable but still enjoyable every time the writers use and re-use them. Here are the classic jokes that made Get Smart the pop culture staple that it became.
"Would you believe....? No. How about...? I don't think so. What about ....."
"Missed it by THAT much."
"Sorry about that chief."
"You'll be facing constant danger." "And loving it"
"Don't tell me..... I asked you not to tell me that."
"The old such and such trick. That's the second time I've fallen for it this week."
As with most spy shows, Get Smart poked fun at the fancy gadgets that spies get to play with. The opening credits show him getting into a telephone booth and disappearing. The Cone of Silence is a running gag that's supposed to add security but always seems to malfunction in the funniest ways. Guns and bombs are concealed in all types of objects, but my favorite gadget is the various phones that they use.
Get Smart was prophetic in a way, because back then there were no cell phones, but Maxwell Smart had a telephone in his shoe that was played for laughs, going off at inopportune moments. They also concealed phones in balloons, cigarette lighters, test tubes, sandwiches, toilets, fire hydrants, hairdryers, and more. The creativity of this gadget alone makes up for the constant re-use of the same jokes over and over.
The first three seasons also include three of the best bit players- Agent 13, 44 and Hymie. All of these agents are played for laughs, and Hymie the robot was hysterically funny in the six episodes that he appeared in. The main recurring villain is Siegfried, played by Bernie Kopell of Love Boat fame, and he heads KAOS, a thinly disguised Eastern European cold war organization at war with CONTROL, a cheap knockoff of the CIA. The last season gets rid of all these characters and promotes Larrabee, the Chief's clueless assistant to a main recurring character, with middling results.
Get Smart went on to win seven Emmy awards, including best comedy,best writing, and best actor in a comedy, and it thrived in reruns for a long time, though it's currently hard to find episodes except on DVD. Sadly, several reboots were attempted, none of which could recapture the silliness of the original series. Adams reprised his role in The Nude Bomb (1980), Get Smart Again (1989) and a short lived Get Smart sequel tv series focused on his son the secret agent. Steve Carrell tried his hand at being agent 86 in 2008 for a new Get Smart movie that played to mixed reviews.
The show has faded from view now that no streaming services offer it, and the only surviving cast member is Barbara Feldon, who narrates all of the DVD's. James Bond movies have faded a bit too, as the cold war ended and a new type of espionage emerged where the good guys and bad guys were hard to figure out. Unless spies become cool again, I don't look for any other Get Smart type comedies any time soon. But for five funny years it made the world a bit less scary and a lot more funny.