Like many people, most of my waking hours in the 1970’s were spent in a hazy, drooling stupor, babbling incoherently while periodically vomiting all over myself. Unlike most, I have a valid excuse: I was only an infant at the time. Thank God for that: I can’t imagine what my life would have been life if I’d been born just ten years earlier. Speaking purely as an outside observer, the 70’s seemed like a miserable decade in which to grow up. All of the most appealing aspects of that decade – the casual sex, the easy access to psychotropic substances, the explosion of adult fare at the cinemas, both pornographic and otherwise – were off-limits to youngsters, and all that remained was the decade’s worst forms of entertainment: namely the insipid television and pop music that permeated those years. So you can imagine my trepidation when I was tasked with reviewing the most horrifying combo platter of 70’s music and television ever conceived: A series of television specials starring the Captain and Tennille. I feared that by the end of this review, I might be reduced to my drooling, babbling stupor once again.

Not that I was all that familiar with the musical stylings of Captain and Tennille, mind you. Oh sure, I had a passing familiarity with “Love Will Keep Us Together”, their hit single, but for the most part I’ve always known them as little more than a comedy punchline: Whether it was The Simpsons or Arrested Development or any number of sketch shows, whenever a comedy writer needed a cheap laugh at some lame musical act’s expense, the Captain and Tennille was always a reliable target. You can’t really blame them: With a name like “Captain and Tennille”, you’re almost begging to be mocked. It’s the musical equivalent of naming your child Gaylord: You’ve doomed yourself before you’ve even begun.

Imagine my surprise upon discovering that the Captain and Tennille television specials, while certainly a product of their time, are not all that terrible. Granted, that might seem like faint praise. But when you consider that I fully expected to be near-suicidal with boredom by the end of these four discs, any level of entertainment, no matter how infinitesimal, would’ve come as a pleasant surprise to me. Well, color me pleasantly surprised. “Captain” Daryl Dragon (a name more befitting a C-grade 80’s action star than a C-grade 70’s pop musician) and Toni Tennille might sing syrupy, stomach-wrenching love ballads, but they’re so genuine when they perform them, and their musicianship is so proficient, I simply couldn’t help but be charmed by the pair. They are inherently likeable, albeit in a nauseating sort of way. Like a Tilt-a-Whirl of bad pop music.

That said, I don’t plan to run out to my local music store and snatch up the Captain and Tennille back catalogue anytime soon. Their music is simply dreadful, but it’s their chemistry as performers that elevates this material just past the threshold between unwatchable and barely tolerable. And although the performances by Captain and Tennille comprise the bulk of these specials, the best material on these discs comes from the various guest musicians that appear, including acts like The Pointer Sisters, Fats Domino, Kenny Rogers, B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, and… David Soule? Okay they can’t all be world-class musicians, but one or two clunkers aside, the guest musicians are the real highlight of these sets, and with the broad range of musical styles and genres on display here, these specials truly earn the right to call themselves “variety” shows. So without any more unnecessary ado, let’s run down each disc individually:


BUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: Retroactive Entertainment
MSRP: $14.98
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 50 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:



• Commentary by Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille



The Pitch

“It’s the vaguely non-denominational yet full-of-religious-music holiday-themed Captain and Tennille music-and-comedy variety hour!”

The Humans

“Captain” Daryl Dragon, Toni Tennille, Don Knotts, Tom Bosley, The Pointer Sisters, The Tennille Sisters

The Nutshell

Come on it’s lovely weather for a completely untethered revue.


Intoducing… Slightly-differing-points-of-view-cam!

The Lowdown

Shot on soundstages and filled with canned audience reactions, The Christmas Show is easily the most artificial and choreographed of the four specials. As it turns out, there’s a reason for that: The Captain and Tennille had their own variety show in 1976, and this “special” is simply the Christmas episode from that show. According to the back of the DVD case, “The show ran just one season and what you have here is the only Christmas show from the series.” No kidding. Here I thought Christmas came twice that year. I guess only Pierce Brosnan can make that miracle happen.

Most of the music is your typical Christmas fare, but the Captain and Tennille generally put enough of a spin on these old standards to keep them interesting. These include a boogie version of Tchaikovsky’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers”, a fully-synthesized performance of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Dragon (which was probably quite a novelty in 1976: The Tennille Sisters seem particularly fascinated by his newfangled synthesizer), and a salsa rendition of “Jingle Bells” that involved the Captain driving around the soundstage on some kind of piano/zamboni hybrid. The special is peppered with these moments of sheer, unadulterated lunacy that completely endeared the Captain and Tennille to me as individuals, even if I didn’t care too much for their music.


“There’s an unfunny man on the wing of the plane!”

But this being a traditional 70’s variety show, it doesn’t simply end with the music. Rounding out the special’s 50-minute runtime are about a half-dozen comedy sketches, which are without a doubt the six worst comedy sketches I’ve ever seen in my life. This is not hyperbole, I assure you. They’re not even funny on a corny 70’s variety show level. These are comedy black holes from which no humor can escape. Try as they might, poor Don Knotts and Tom Bosley can’t escape their wrath, although Bosley is at least smart enough to roll his eyes though the whole show and acknowledge the inadequacy of the material through his performance. Unfortunately Knotts tries his best to redeem this awful material, which transforms the material from simply unfunny to sad and uncomfortable. There’s a level of desperation to his performance that’s enormously depressing to watch. Which is not typically the reaction you want an audience to have when watching your comedy sketch.

4.6 out of 10


BUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: Retroactive Entertainment
MSRP: $14.98
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 50 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:



• Commentary by Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille



The Pitch

“Who can we get to guest-star in a Hawaii themed television special? What about Kenny Rogers! He’s Hawaiian, right?”

The Humans

“Captain” Daryl Dragon, Toni Tennille, Kenny Rogers, Don Knotts, David Soule, The Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau

The Nutshell

The Captain and Tennille are surrounded by the ocean, yet never put their nautical skills to good use.


Only the horse knew the awful truth: That’s not sand.

The Lowdown

I take it back. This is the worst sketch comedy I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think it was possible to get any worse, but I was wrong. It’s a miracle that poor Don Knotts’ career ever survived his association with Captain and Tennille, frankly. I’ll get to the bonus features at the end of the review, but just briefly I want to share an exchange between the Captain and Tennille on the commentary track, as they watched Don Knotts bomb onscreen:

Tennille: “Was he making that up?”
Captain: “No.”
(pause)
Tennille: “That was written by our writers?”
Captain: “Yes.”
(long pause)
Tennille: “Oh dear.”

Thankfully the comedy is kept to a minimum this time around, as the focus is placed firmly on the music. Freed from the confines of the soundstage, the Captain and Tennille aren’t obligated to follow the variety format as closely as in The Christmas Special, and while you might expect this newfound freedom to improve the quality of the show, for much of In Hawaii the opposite is actually true. Without the plastic, artificial feel of the studio, the show loses some of its goofy 70’s charm, and most of the special comes off as a series of primitive music videos crossed with some kind of half-assed travelogue. Aside from Daryl Dragon performing a synthesized disco version of the Close Encounters theme (the most Hawaiian of all motion pictures), I was bored stiff by Captain and Tennille In Hawaii, with one syrupy ballad after another running together in my mind, a bland hodgepodge of lip-synching and sandy beaches and Kenny Rogers.


You need to know when to walk away from a paycheck, Kenny. And know when to run.

But then something funny happened: About thirty minutes in, the entire special changed. Suddenly the cast was having a luau, sitting around a fire together and singing –  live performances now – while a small crowd sat and watched, singing along and enjoying every minute of it. And soon I discovered that I was too. The last few minutes of In Hawaii, and I mean this sincerely, is absolutely fantastic. The Captain and Tennille are amazing live performers, and they have a great chemistry that doesn’t translate to their recorded music. The rest of the performers are great in this segment as well: Kenny Rogers leads a singalong with the crowd, David Soule is a surprisingly competent musician, singing a goofy song about his dog (not nearly as stomach-churning as it sounds), and even Don Knotts manages to acquit himself, with a purposefully-poor ventriloquism act. If the entire special had been in this format, I think I would’ve actually been willing to tentatively recommend this disc, even to non-fans. But fifteen minutes of quality and thirty-five minutes of crap is not a very good ratio, even if it was more than I expected.

6.0 out of 10


BUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: Retroactive Entertainment
MSRP: $14.98
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 50 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:



• Commentary by Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille

The Pitch

“Okay fine, we’ll allow blues and jazz music to appear on primetime television, but only if it’s sung by the whitest couple in America.”

The Humans

“Captain” Daryl Dragon, Toni Tennille, Hal Linden, John Byner, Fats Domino’s hairpiece

The Nutshell

The French Quarter gets shortchanged.


“My name is not Gum.”

The Lowdown

Just like the Hawaii special, Captain and Tennille In New Orleans is a mixture of bad lip-synched production pieces, bad comedy sketches, and fantastic live performances. Unlike the Hawaii special, they weren’t kind enough to group all of the live performances together for our viewing convenience. For the most part, this special basically has the same problems as In Hawaii: roughly fifteen minutes of enjoyable live performances and thirty-five minutes of misery. Thankfully, Don Knotts decided to pass this time around, so we’re not forced to watch him desperately flail for laughs here: Like Bosley in the Christmas Special, all of the actors are phoning it in from the word go. Which doesn’t make these sketches any funnier, but it does make them less uncomfortable to watch.

The highlights of this disc are the live performances by Hal Linden (Turns out that Barney Miller plays a mean jazz clarinet) and Fats Domino, whom Daryl Dragon seems to have a genuine admiration for. As Dragon and Domino (There’s a cop show for you) jam on a piano duet, you really get the feeling that this moment is a dream come true for the Captain, which is a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, the live performances don’t have the sense of intimacy that the Hawaiian show has, which makes them feel awfully bland by comparison.


After his demotion, the Lieutenant and Tennille carried on as best they could.

On top of this, there’s a real sense of condescension to the Fats Domino portion of the show that I didn’t care for. The man is one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century, the man who practically invented rock and roll out of thin air, and now he’s reduced to a cameo performance on a Captain and Tennille special? Why isn’t he being given his own damn special? In between songs, Domino is interviewed by Tennille and the Captain, and poor Fats can’t stop thanking them for having him on their show. I suppose he probably needed the money but still, it’s sad to see the man reduced to that state. But there’s still time for that television special, Fats. With the writer’s strike dragging on and on, network execs are only going to get more and more desperate to find unscripted programming. Now’s your chance to get in there and get that special you deserve. Let’s make this happen.

4.8 out of 10


BUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: Retroactive Entertainment
MSRP: $14.98
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 50 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:



• Commentary by Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille


The Pitch

“Seriously? You’re giving us a fourth special? You know we only had one hit, right?”

The Humans

“Captain” Daryl Dragon, Toni Tennille, Ella Fitzgerald, Glen Campbell, B.B. King

The Nutshell

The Captain and Tennille return to the soundstage, only this time they aren’t rescued by their guest stars.


The Captain can’t take it anymore and goes to his “happy place”.

The Lowdown

If The Christmas Show had its own goofy charm, then The Captain and Tennille Songbook is the complete antithesis of that approach: Here the couple is taking themselves far too seriously, as if trying to prove their worth as honest-to-God musicians. Which is fine if you’re a Captain and Tennille fan – Songbook is probably the special that will most appeal to anyone who genuinely likes their music. But speaking for myself, I don’t want to watch Captain and Tennille taking their music seriously. I want to see the Captain playing the Close Encounters theme on twelve Styrofoam keyboards. I want to see Tennille trying to dance in a ridiculous Chiquita banana outfit while the Captain drives circles around her on his pianomobile. These were the moments from the previous specials I most enjoyed – after all, I don’t take their music seriously, so when I see them not taking it seriously either, it gives me permission to enjoy the show.

Not so, here. The Captain and Tennille Songbook is exactly the sort of thing I was dreading at the start: a series of syrupy pop songs lip-synched to camera, one after another after another. Only B.B. King was there to save me: His segment was like an oasis in the middle of the wasteland that is this show. Glen Campbell’s songs are utterly unremarkable, and poor Ella Fitzgerald is far too elderly at this point in her life to give a decent performance. By 1979, Ella really couldn’t sing anymore, so once again we’re faced with the uncomfortable prospect of watching a once-great musician at the nadir of their career. It’s nice that Captain and Tennille were trying to draw attention to these great artists, but it doesn’t exactly make for good television.


Even God can’t stop them from singing.

But as I said earlier, for a genuine Captain and Tennille fan, Songbook might be the special they would enjoy most. Or maybe not, I don’t know. I can’t imagine anyone watching any of Captain and Tennille’s specials more than once, no matter how much a person might like their music. These specials were designed to be disposable: intended to air, be seen, and be forgotten. According to the commentary, each of these shows drew close to thirty-million viewers, but due to the television landscape of the 70’s, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of those people watched only because there was nothing else on. This isn’t the kind of thing you watched because you enjoyed it, you watched just to kill time before you went to sleep. The very concept of putting these specials out on DVD seems strange to me, but then again I wasn’t around when these shows aired, so clearly I’m not their target audience here. Maybe there’s a certain level of nostalgia for anyone who watched thirty years ago and have fond memories of these television specials, but if you’re one of those people be forewarned: Just because you have fond memories of something doesn’t mean it was good.  

2.8 out of 10


The Package

Although sold separately, all four specials have the exact same packaging and features. First is the audio presentation: You have a choice between the original mono, stereo, or 5.1 surround. That might sound great, but honestly the difference between the audio tracks is not very pronounced. I’m not sure taking a mono track and splitting it evenly over five channels can technically be called “surround sound”, but it sounds to me like this is exactly what they did. There is almost no dynamic range to the stereo and 5.1 tracks, and while I’m sure this is due to poor source material, I have to wonder why they even made the attempt.

Each special also includes a commentary track by Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, which is not very informative, but still interesting enough if only to get their perspective on their specials thirty years later. They definitely have a healthy perspective on these shows, as they poke fun at themselves and at each other, and freely acknowledge some of the flaws these specials had. The whole thing feels like listening to a husband and wife commenting on old home movies, which is fun for a little while, but ultimately tedious to listen to for more than a few minutes. And that pretty much sums up the entire Captain and Tennille experience right there.