Friday, January 24, 2014

When Love Still Kept Them Together: The Captain & Tennille's Variety Show

Comfort TV proudly lives in the past, so it’s rare when a current news headline will inspire a new piece. But then I read that the Captain & Tennille are headed for divorce court after nearly 40 years of marriage. 

The two most prominent reactions to this unexpected development were as follows:

1. Who? (This was from the under-30 crowd)

2. I guess love “won’t” keep them together (or a similar variation on one of their song titles – see also “I guess he won’t be doing that to her one more time.”)

My first thought was, “I wonder who gets custody of the bionic watermelon.”

Confused? You won’t be if you were among those who watched the couple’s short-lived variety series. If you missed it, there’s a “best of” DVD from R2 Entertainment featuring 11 of the 20 episodes that aired on ABC from 1976-1977. 

Is it worth a look? Yes, if you have fond memories of ‘70s TV, when one hit song was enough to get you your own show. New variety extravaganzas popped up every season, ranging from the still entertaining (Donny & Marie, Sonny & Cher) to classic kitsch (Tony Orlando & Dawn, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr.) to "What were they thinking?" (Pink Lady & Jeff, The Starland Vocal Band).

Within that groovy to gross scale, the Captain & Tennille fit squarely in the middle of the road, much like their music catalog. If you’re unsure about whether to revisit the show to see Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille in happier times, here are five highlights and five lowlights from the R2 set.

Highlight: 1970s TV Casts
These episodes feature guest appearances from Charlie’s three original Angels, Gabe Kaplan and the Welcome Back Kotter Sweathogs, the Happy Days gang (including Pinky Tuscadero!) and the cast of What’s Happening!

Lowlight: Erin Moran sings “My Guy”
While it’s fun to see so many classic TV casts outside their familiar roles, no one needed to hear Joanie “Shortcake” Cunningham drone her way through a Motown classic.

Highlight: “Love Will Keep Us Together”
The duo’s first hit, written by Neil Sedaka, stayed at #1 for four weeks in 1975, and still sounds great. 

Lowlight: The Bionic Watermelon
The show’s comedy bits have not aged well. None was more groan-inducing than this tired takeoff on The Six Million Dollar Man, about a watermelon that falls off a truck, is put back together by scientists, and now apprehends bank robbers by hurling itself at their heads. 

Highlight: The Musical Guests
The R2 set includes performances from The Sylvers, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Bread, Dionne Warwick, Leo Sayer, and Heart with a live version of “Dreamboat Annie.”

Lowlight: The Captain’s Hat Jokes
Besides his prodigious keyboard skills, the only thing interesting about Daryl Dragon was his trademark hat. This inspired several sets of purposely lame hat jokes, which were the show’s way of acknowledging that Dragon had the personality of an eggplant.
Sample: What goes on your head and hit a lot of home runs? Babe Hat. 
Highlight: Toni Sings with her Sisters
From the Everly Brothers to the Beach Boys to the BeeGees, there’s always something special about close musical harmonies within families. Several episodes feature performances from Toni and sisters Louisa and Melissa, including a wonderful salute to classic girl groups from The Shirelles to The Shangri-Las. 

Lowlight: Toni Sings with Leonard Nimoy
Technically this isn’t a duet – Toni and Daryl play piano while Nimoy recites one of his poems. Between stanzas, Toni sings a few lines from Elton John’s “Your Song.” Surprisingly, this isn’t one of the comedy segments. 

Highlight: The Closing Song
Most variety shows featured a musical signoff, inspired by Carol Burnett’s famous “I’m so glad we had this time together…” The Captain & Tennille closed each show with “We Never Really Say Goodbye,” a lovely ballad as appealing as any of their charted songs. 

Lowlight: Run! Giant Mutant Muskrats!
The DVD set includes not one but two performances of the duo’s most unlikely hit, “Muskrat Love.” In one, Toni peers into a gingerbread house that is home to Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam. Faster than you can say, “Call the Orkin man!” Toni and Daryl are inside the rodents’ residence, where they have a tea party and dance with their furry new friends. The 1970s were indeed a strange and wondrous time.

And that’s just a sample of the delights on this 3-DVD set, now available on for…7 dollars and 6 cents. That’s less than ten cents per hat joke.

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