The Best of Mister Ed: Volumes One & Two
(January 1/05 & April 28/07)
Though it's hard to believe a show about a talking horse managed to last for five seasons, it becomes clear almost immediately that there's a lot more to Mister Ed than that admittedly out-there premise. For starters, there's Alan Young's engaging and charismatic turn as Wilbur, the only human that Mister Ed will talk to. Young's easy-going persona and distinctive sense of comedic timing ensures that the series never becomes dominated by gimmickry, which can also be said of Allan Lane's surprisingly effective voice work.
In terms of these sets, MGM Home Entertainment has taken the unusual step of bypassing the expected season-by-season presentation and instead presents the "best" of Mister Ed in a pair of two-disc sets. Since my exposure to the series is limited to these DVDs, I have to assume that these are indeed the best episodes the show has to offer - primarily because there's hardly a rotten apple in the bunch.
Fortunately, the first set includes the show's pilot, which does a fine job of explaining how an architect named Wilbur came to own a talking horse. The episode opens with Wilbur and his wife, Carol (Connie Hines), moving into a country estate - though on closer inspection, the two soon realize that there's a horse living inside an adjacent barn. Carol wants to sell said horse, while Wilbur forms an unusual bond with the animal - something that's cemented when he learns that the horse can talk (but only to him).
There are several highlights among the rest of the initial set's episodes, with The Horsetronaut an obvious standout. When Wilbur decides to move his home office into a building downtown, Mister Ed gets his revenge by successfully trying out for the coveted position of Horsetronaut (ie the first horse to be sent into space). Despite the loopy premise, the episode deftly blends humor with character development - furthering the friendship between Mister Ed and Wilbur (a combination that seems to be present in most of the shows).
Other highlights include: Ed's Ancestors, in which Mister Ed discovers the unpleasant truth behind his origins; Ed, the Emancipator, featuring a talking cockatoo that Mister Ed takes under his wing; and Clint Eastwood Meets Mister Ed, which really doesn't require much of an explanation (there's something kind of jarring about watching Eastwood act opposite a talking horse).
Standouts within volume two include: Mae West Meets Mister Ed (in which the aging starlet hires Wilbur to design her new stables), Ed, The Race Horse (Mister Ed is forced to embark on a rigorous training regimine after he loses a race), The Bank Robbery (a group of thieves are thwarted by Mister Ed), and Ed, The Artist (Mister Ed's portrait of Carol catches the eye of an art professor).
The Best of Mister Ed stands as an ideal introduction to the series, though there's no denying that fans of the show will be left disappointed by the decision to eschew full season sets.