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Ernie Kovacs: The Centennial Edition (DVD)

During the 1950s and early 1960s, Ernie Kovacs stood out from his comedy peers who approached television with a vaudeville and Borscht Belt vibe. Kovacs’ ingenious use of visual sight sags and off-kilter sound effects created a new school of small-screen comedy, and his gallery of brilliantly warped characters – including the mincing poet Percy Dovetonsils, the hostile Hungarian cook Miklos Molnar and the musically violent derby-hatted simians of The Nairobi Trio – brought a subversive sense of humor to a comedy scene that was often a little too safe for its own good.

In anticipation of next year’s 100th anniversary of Kovacs’ birth, Shout Factory has released a nine-disc, 22-hour collection of Kovacs’ television output. Much of the material was previously released in different anthologies, but compiling his work in this output offers a fascinating study of how his style developed. For starters, Kovacs’ early work on daytime television before a live audience offers a fascinating hit-and-miss evolution of his comedy, with the droll Kovacs gamely pushing ahead when the audience responded in a less-than-boisterous manner. Also of interest is a rare surviving color episode from his 1955 NBC prime time series – the color is a bit faded and the picture may not be pristine, but it is extraordinary to see how readily Kovacs embraced this early foray into color broadcasting.

For those who are not familiar with Kovacs and those who need to be reminded of his genius, this DVD offering is an ideal tribute to a true original.