Last year I received one of the coolest gifts ever — a 41-DVD boxed set of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” the TV spy series that ran from 1964-’68. The set came in a package that looks like a secret agent’s briefcase, and includes all 105 episodes of the program, plus a ton of extras such as documentaries and commentary by the show’s stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.
I’m still sifting through this pop-culture treasure chest, and having a blast. The series was my favorite TV show from my childhood — I had a bunch of toys related to the show, and I read and collected books, gadgets, magazines — anything to do with U.N.C.L.E.
I’ve been struck by a few observations about the show, in light of 40 years of being a fan, and then suddenly being able to see every episode on DVD.
First (and relevant to this blog), I’m surprised at how many Asian Americans were cast in the show as guest stars. There were some episodes set in Asia, like one that takes place in Japan, and that’s kinda hokey since all the sets and scenes are actually shot in Hollywood. But in many episodes, the requisite woman who’s an innocent bystander but gets dragged into the plot as a sidekick is Asian American, and I mean Asian American as in, no phony accents. They’re Asian American actors cast in American roles, which is nice.
Second, they had some big name guest stars. I just watched a goofy one from the third season (of the four, the third was the one where the show got silly, comedic and unbelievable) titled “The Hot Number” that featured Sonny and Cher. Cher was a snooty fashion model (not a stretch) and Sonny was a bumbling fashion designer. The episode also featured Sonny and Cher’s music, which was a neat cross-marketing gimmick.
Third, a lot of the episodes are slight to the point of being anemic. The story lines are sometimes clunky and the writing often forced. And little of the acting, even from Vaughn and McCallum, is Brandoesque. It’s more like Shatneresque.
But then, the artifice is actually part of the charm of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Continue reading