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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

THE HEE HAW COLLECTION DVD Review

Article first published as DVD Review: 'The Hee Haw Collection' on Blogcritics.

I wasn’t yet born when Hee Haw had its heyday (hehe). But, of course, so far-reaching was its influence and reputation that I’d heard of it, even if I didn’t exactly know what it was. So when Time Life offered me the chance to review The Hee Haw Collection, a three disc DVD set featuring five early episodes that have rarely been seen, I figured now would be a perfect opportunity to check it out and educate myself on a vital part of TV history.

the-hee-haw-collection-dvd-coverFor those unfamiliar with Hee Haw, it was created as a folksy answer to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Full of overalls and cartoon pigs, it was an hour-long program of corny jokes and country music performances, complete with the small-town feel of a bygone era. It ran for over twenty years, despite an early attempt by CBS to get away from country-themed programming, and remains important to this day.

Viewing Hee Haw is an interesting experience. I doubt I would have watched this thing week after week for multiple decades, but it’s cool to get a glimpse of the past. The jokes told are almost all groaners, but they were never meant to be clever. The down-home sensibility is maintained pretty consistently, and it’s style is charming. I can’t say that I was riveted through all five hours, but there is enough here, especially if you didn’t watch the show before, to get a taste of what this program is about, and appreciate it for what it was. And if you were a fan, the nostalgia at seeing the characters and personalities again, especially if you remember these episodes (all from the first few seasons of the series) that haven’t been widely available, is sure to make it an even better experience.

For me, the best part of Hee Haw is the musical performances. While not a big fan of country music as a genre, the performers of this era are quite impressive, and it’s great to get to watch them do their thing, displaying their talent in this format. This DVD set includes Tammy Wynette doing “Ways to Love a Man,” Merle Haggard with “Okie from Muskogee” and “Today I Started Loving You Again,” Loretta Lynn singing “I Wanna Be Free,” Conway Twitty performing “Hello Darlin’,” and many more. This is music my father loved (probably still loves), and I remember it fondly.

Besides the five full episodes, there are special features totaling more than an hour, which seems an appropriate amount for this size set. There are comedy selections and classic sketches from other episodes of the show, including Archie Campbell’s “Rindercella,” Junior Samples struggling with “Trigonometry,” and a couple of Cornfield segments. “Hee Haw Laffs” is actually a pretty great compilation of pieces, giving viewers just the best stuff cherry-picked from installments, without the weaker bits you’d get watching an episode in its entirety (think a Best Of Saturday Night Live release). An interview with Roy Clark is insightful and grounds the show in a good way. Several other interviews add to the depth, and I think most people will come away feeling like they have a pretty good understanding of Hee Haw, even if this DVD is their only exposure to it.

I won’t say The Hee Haw Collection made me a fan who will run out and buy the bigger sets being released right now, in which you can get many, many more hours of the show. However, this three-disc set is a valued addition to my television collection, and the perfect entry point for those just wanting to tip their toe into the water and find out what Hee Haw is. For that purpose, I definitely recommend this release. If you’re a fan, go for the bigger sets, which will include these items, as well as quite a bit more.

The Hee Haw Collection (this one and larger sets) are available now from Time Life and in stores.

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