Jerry Lewis is revered in the film industry as the inventor of the 'video follow', a device which is now standard equipment on big-budget movies: it gives film directors an instant video playback of each film take, without the time-consuming and expensive process of printing daily rushes. While I give Lewis credit for this innovation, I find his talents as a performer and director quite minor. The only Lewis performance which impressed me was his dramatic turn in 'The King of Comedy' (which, to Lewis's credit, apparently he largely improvised). In the rest of his filmography, there are occasional flashes of extreme originality, such as the typewriter sequence in 'Who's Minding the Store?'. Apart from such sporadic delights, Lewis remains for me someone who walks on the sides of his feet while screeching "Hey, lady!".
Jerry Lewis starred in two self-named TV series. The first one (1963) combined a chat-show interview format with comedy sketches. Advance word predicted that this series was incredibly bad. A few hours before the premiere episode was aired live, a protester was seen outside the ABC-TV studio with a sign reading 'Ban the bomb before it goes off!' This same wisecrack applies just as well to Jerry Lewis's 1967 TV show.
'The Jerry Lewis Show' ('67 edition) used a variety format ... but was slow, dull and self-indulgent with it, featuring some very bad artistic decisions. The main visual motif was a fingerpost: an elaborate depiction of a hand with one pointing finger, and a sign or label to tell us what the finger is pointing towards. On 'The Jerry Lewis Show', each sketch or musical number began with a rostrum camera panning slowly across a brightly-coloured drawing of a long and elaborately designed arm, ending in a fingerpost with the name of the guest star who was about to perform, or the title of the sketch we were about to witness. There was an attempt to vary the designs of the fingerposts to match the acts which they introduced: for instance, the Osmonds (a quartet at this point) were introduced with a shot of four intertwining fingerposts, each a different colour, converging towards a caption reading 'THE OSMONDS'. All that effort to such little effect.
Tone-deaf Jerry Lewis saw fit to afflict us with his musical 'talents' in some weird production numbers. One episode featured a dreadful song called 'An Epicurean Delight', in which Lewis and two guest stars, all dressed as chefs, cavorted round a banquet table and sang(?) about how to create the perfect meal whilst getting drunk on cooking wine.
This short-lived series featured Jerry Lewis in awful comedy sketches which were so generic that any performer could have done them just as well ... or just as badly. Examples: a fingerpost points to a caption reading 'A TOMB WITH A VIEW', which leads into a sketch featuring Jerry and a woman guest-star as archaeologists opening an Egyptian tomb. (She precedes him with an aerosol spray which we're meant to think is an air freshener, but she's really killing a fly.) Another sketch: Jerry is sent to a lumber camp to sack a brawny hot-tempered foreman named Brannigan, and then Jerry must take Brannigan's place in charge of a crew of hostile lumberjacks. Have another: Jerry and a male guest star (doing a bad imitation of Dean Martin) play jobless vaudevillains. The other guy decides to do a ventriloquist act, and he bullies Jerry into pretending to be his dummy. He draws vertical lines on Jerry's chin to make his mouth look like a vent-figure's jaw.
Just occasionally in this brief series, Jerry aspired to something greater. In one long sketch with no dialogue, Jerry played a schlub who's locked in a penny arcade after closing time. He spots a Ray Bradbury-ish waxwork fortune-teller with a sign reading 'The Power of Positive Thinking'. This inspires Jerry to make various things happen just by pulling faces and making wishes. Of course, all the things he wishes for are stupid. This sort of silent character-study reminds me of Ernie Kovacs and the brilliant sketches he performed as his silent Everyman character named Eugene. But Kovacs's 'Eugene' sketches were very funny and featured some clever technical innovations, whereas Jerry Lewis (here, at least) isn't funny at all.
I suppose that the real culprits on 'The Jerry Lewis Show' are the inept scriptwriters. But, as one-man-band Jerry Lewis was the producer who hired them, he must ultimately take the blame for their presence.
'The Jerry Lewis Show' is totally unworthy of revival. Its badness doesn't even attain the level of so-bad-it's-good campiness. It's just bad, full stop.
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