When Get Smart premiered in 1965, its blend of Inspector Clouseau and James Bond redefined TV comedy. And rightfully so. Show creator Mel Brooks designed Get Smart to be different. “I was sick of looking at all those nice sensible situation comedies. They were such distortions of life…I wanted to do a crazy, unreal comic-strip kind of thing about something besides a family,” said Brooks. “No one had ever done a show about an idiot before. I decided to be the first.” He succeeded.
Get Smart ran for five years and, later, spawned two movies, the Raspberry-nominated The Nude Bomb and 1989’s made-for-TV Get Smart, Again! While neither rekindled any interest in shoe phones, in 1995 the idea to revive the show bubbled, once again, to the surface. This time with Andy Dick.
Right before joining NewsRadio, Dick starred in Get Smart ‘95. Appearing alongside OG cast members Don Adams and Barbara Feldon as Maxwell and Agent 99, respectively, Dick became a symbol for everything wrong with the new series. Get Smart ’95 mixes the old and the new, hoping Andy Dick will be the adhesive to keep them all together. However, with his jokes and movements screaming over the rest of the cast, the show never matches the tone of the original nor sets a consistent one for itself.
Of adaptation and remakes, many directors talk about maintaining the spirit of the original version, honoring its traditions, but putting their own spin on it. This was not the case with Get Smart. Set thirty years after the original, Andy Dick plays the son of Max and 99, Zach Smart, an R&D wiz who somehow made it to the top of the Control, the CIA-like syndicate they work for. To help him, Maxwell, 99 (now a senator or something), and Agent 66, a younger, blonder version of 99, come to his aid, creating a nice spy family and the exact show Brooks avoided.
Get Smart fails to recognize its audience, mismatching classic Get Smart style with modern comedy. Max and 99 perform for the multi-camera playground of the 1960s, but don’t to realize how close this new camera is to their faces. Feldon, in particular, emotes as if we won’t be able to see her. The show’s laugh track, similarly, appears out of place; an audience guffaws, but this show was not filmed before a live studio audience. The mix of broad wordplay and sight gags that headbang at the original series, coupled with the loud gestures of Andy Dick, muddle the show’s tone, failing to decide who it wants to impress: series diehards or fresh consumers.
In the mid-90s, no one’s stock climbed higher than nostalgia. Between Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, not to mention a popular string of very Brady movies and an Oscar-winning adaptation of The Fugitive, the baby boomers had taken over the box office and brought all their favorite babysitters with them. A string of revivals soon followed and included remakes of: Sgt. Bilko, McHale’s Navy, The Avengers, Leave it to Beaver, Dennis the Menace, The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, Car 54, Where Are You?, The Flintstones, and, Space Jam, if that counts. Nostalgia ran so rampant throughout TV land that even Ben Stiller thought it necessary to dynamite the whole enterprise with the darker than dark comedy The Cable Guy, which also featured Dick.
Get Smart ’65 used its limitations and ran with them, relying on the straight-laced buffoonery of Maxwell and some innovative sight gags to revolutionize TV comedy. Thirty years later, pretty much everything that worked had been discarded. Combining cheapo gags with the look of a movie, and broad gags that sound like lines picked from Mel Brooks’ waste basket, Get Smart ’95 had its cards stacked against it. Maxwell’s superficial control had been replaced by Andy Dick’s complete lack thereof, and the whole story was beefed up by family, the one thing the original tried to avoid.
A remake has to recognize cultural changes to appeal to new audiences, or even the changing ideals of their previous one. And just to prove how wrong they got it in 1995, about ten years later, another remake to Get Smart was made, this time engaging today’s audiences and starting fresh. The movie grossed over $200,000,000 without a special appearance by Robert Goulet. Was it revolutionary? No, but at least it was consistent.
Stare blankly at Get Smart ’95 here: