We're lucky here in Washington because on Sunday mornings, whenever "This Week With David Brinkley" gets dull, we can tune over to the Three Stooges, beating each other's brains out on Channel 5.
Instead of David, Sam and George, you get Larry, Moe and Curly.
"Disorder in the Court: 60th Anniversary Tribute to the Stooges," the two-hour syndicated special Channel 5 is airing at 8 tonight, sounds like a long-overdue celebration of the Stooges and the endearingly stupid physical comedy they practiced in dozens of shorts made for Columbia Pictures in the '30s, '40s and '50s.
Not the stuff that dreams are made of, maybe, but the stuff that makes men and boys laugh and women and girls groan.
But the special is boldly unimaginative and, perhaps as a symptom of the current television recession, dismayingly cheap. And it goes awry at once, when Alan Thicke, inexplicably chosen as the host, announces at the outset that there will be no such touches as a "cleverly edited montage" of Stoogian tomfoolery. He's not kidding.
Instead, he wastes three minutes wandering around what is supposed to be a film vault, encountering three skeletons with Stooge haircuts. Now it may sound odd to say this when discussing grown men who used to gouge one another's eyes and crunkle one another's noses, but the skeleton bit is appallingly tasteless.
In the overlong show that follows, there are indeed welcome clips from Stooge shorts, and bursts of rare footage (including fuzzy shots from a never-sold TV pilot), but even after conceding Curly was the "most beloved" of the Stooges, the show uses clips that mainly feature Shemp, who replaced Curly in 1946. Perhaps there was a problem in securing rights.
The producers do reprise the arguably delightful 1984 music video "The Curly Shuffle," in which the clever editing has been done for them.
From a special on the Stooges, though, you would expect more attention to detail. The boys made several hospital spoofs punctuated with the refrain "Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard" (their last names) and it became so famous it was later used as background on "St. Elsewhere," but it is not heard here.
They made surprise cameos in legitimate feature films, like "My Sister Eileen" and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," but these are absent too. So is a charming Technicolor musical number with original Stooge boss Ted Healy that was shown occasionally on the dear departed USA Network series "Night Flight."
What we get instead is lame comedy from inappropriate guest stars (of whom only Gary "Laugh-In" Owens and MTV's Julie Brown acquit themselves honorably) and Thicke laid on thick. Finally comes the murky point of the whole exercise, the premiere of a poorly colorized Stooge short, their remake of "Malice in the Palace" from 1947 with Curly absent once more.
The Stooges used one of their trademark gags in that one. When a bearded man grandly addresses them as "gentlemen," all three turn their heads to look behind them, and Larry asks, "Who came in?" This lazy Stooge tribute was produced by, among others, Thomas W. Holland, Paul Abeyta and Peter Kaikko, and based on the evidence, they ain't no gentlemen, either.