The Phil Silvers Show

TV classics: aka Sgt. Bilko

USA 1955-59, four seasons, 143 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Phil Silvers, Paul Ford, Allan Melvin, Harvey Lembeck, Mauriece Gosfield, Joe E. Ross, Billy Sands, Herbie Faye, Mickey Freeman, Bernard Fein, Maurice Brenner, Jack Healy, Terry Carter, Karl Lukas

Plot summary: Hold on to your wallet when Sgt. Bilko is in command.

Review: Military-themed shows have been around since the early days of television, but unlike NCIS, JAG or Army Wives, The Phil Silvers Show did not focus on country and honor, it rather dealt with a cheeky Sergeant Bilko and his men at a small fort in heartland America. Bilko, always protective of his subordinates and oddly paternal, was the perfect conman. Although untalented for making money, he didn’t miss a chance to invest plenty of it in obscure schemes and poker games and, as a reliable loser, wasn’t able to return any of his men’s (in)voluntary investments. He wasn’t hated though but rather liked – a charming character played by Phil Silvers with a perfect blend of quirk and charm. He was supported by an ensemble cast of formidable chums, Allan Melvin and Harvey Lembeck as his partners in crime, as well as Paul Ford as Colonel Hall. A large recurring group of guest stars topped off each episode with hilarity and exaggeration, a perfect treat for anyone who enjoys classic comedy and has a heart for a dazzler who’s too clumsy to run away with your savings.

The first season of The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko) is available on DVD. To refresh your memories of this hilarious show, you can check out the pilot here.

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The 2000s

The 2000s

The new millennium started with a scare that influenced pop culture as much as everyday life. 9/11 in 2001 and the beginning of a lasting financial crisis in 2008 – the 21st century’s first decade did not live up the promise of a pampered life. But like in most crises, pop culture, fashion and the media took the turn towards entertainment. Reality shows seemed to increase by the minute, an interest in the clothes and trends of the 1980s was reborn with a vengeance, long retired musical acts from the 1990s celebrated their revivals and tabloids ran scandals and mayhem about an endlessly growing teenage starlet generation. Comebacks now referred to returning artists who had taken a break from their work for sometimes less than a year and everyone who knew how to submit an application to a song contest was labeled a star. New rules applied, enforced by social networks, youtube and the ever-growing internet media. Andy Warhol’s famous prediction that in the future everyone would claim fifteen minutes of fame seemed to turn into reality.

Apart from scripted reality, TV also offered a whole new set of new shows such as CSI (and its respective spin offs), Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, NCIS or Lie To Me. The credo was to present established genres from a new angle with characters who are skilled, a tad odd but also likeable. There’s no such thing as too screwed up as long as the characters excel at work and find a way to communicate with their peers. Slowly but thoroughly the nerd turned into a new hero and women were allowed to be just as silly, pitiful or sorry as men. The Gilmore Girls met the voice of an entire generation of young women and The O.C. brought soapy material back to prime time. Fantasy and science fiction was still on the rise, offering a variety of shows with strong female leads such as the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, Dark Angel or Pushing Daisies. Brothers & Sisters, Monk, Castle and The Good Wife used more traditional ways of presenting their genuine leads, nicely blending school-book storytelling with a fresh set of ideas. Veronica Mars, The Closer or Rizzoli & Isles offered a new insight into women of the new century, a lot less grim and sexed-up than some of their predecessors but every bit as empowered.

Another TV trend was the publication of shows on DVD – contemporary ones, short-lived hits or vintage shows such as Perry Mason, The Donna Reed Show, Bewitched or I Love Lucy. As an addition to on-going re-runs on TV or Hulu, those retro shows attracted an audience already familiar with their favorite childhood stars, ranging from baby boomers to a generation that had fallen in love with the classics in the 1980s and 90s. The shows offered an alternative to the different values, aesthetics and storytelling of contemporary shows that were sometimes perceived as unsuitable for families or plain unoriginal.

At the movies, Pixar was still one the rise slowly pushing old-school animation out of the market with films such as Monster Inc. or Finding Nemo. Serial adaptations were popular such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight or The Chronicles of Narnia, showing a preference for a blend of fantasy and improved special effects. Action movies, buddy films, comic book adaptations and science fiction sagas also met the audience’s increasing interest in fairytale worlds, video game aesthetics and escapism. The 2000s also brought on a growing interest in Meryl Streep’s diversity in films such as Mamma Mia!, Doubt or Julie & Julia. There was also room for Nancy Meyer’s love stories that featured a mature cast of stellar actors, such as It’s Complicated or Something’s Gotta Give, as well as for numerous other romantic comedies. All in all, the 2000s featured a diverse list of film titles, including The Inconvenient Truth, Lions for Lambs or The Visitor. Like in previous decades, popular successes were not the only contribution and it will be interesting to see where this new decade of the 2010s is headed.