Somehow it seems appropriate that "Get Smart" is back on the tube with the U.S. on the brink of a questionably advisable shooting war in the Persian Gulf. The 1965-70 sitcom about secret agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) last night joined the Nick At Nite lineup on basic cable, airing at 9 o'clock nightly.
Far from being the silly series it may have seemed on the surface, broadly spoofing the James Bond genre of movies that blossomed in the mid-1960s, the show was really a sharp political satire from the creative writing minds of Mel Brooks and Leonard Stern. And it is no coincidence it thrived during the controversial escalation of U.S. forces in Vietnam.
President Johnson, for example, was an occasional target of the show, such as when he would answer phone calls from The Chief (Edward Platt) on a longhorn steer phone.
"Get Smart's" broad target was Cold War paranoia and government obsession with secrecy, as expressed by the unsubtle names of the dueling spy organizations depicted: Control, Smart's Washington-based employer, and KAOS, the evil international conspiracy.
The reality-based irony was that neither organization was very efficient.
Smart, for instance, frequently bumbled the use of secret technology, such as his shoe phone and the ill-functioning "cone of silence" he demanded be used for conferences with The Chief. And KAOS undertook fruitless efforts to develop ridiculous super weapons (such as a giant, ship-attracting magnet or the double-barreled pistol), or to subvert the efforts of loyal Americans through kidnapping or mind control.
There was also a subtle reflection in "Get Smart" of the women's movement that was gathering force in the late 1960s, through the quiet competence of Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon).
Nick at Nite's series, of course, is merely a rerun of the old shows. But watch with an eye and ear tuned to today's news and you may find it surprisingly topical, once past the surface farce.
GEOGRAPHY LESSONS? -- One was an obvious slip of the tongue, the other an apparent mislocation, but a couple of moments on WJZ-Channel 13's 6 p.m. newscast last Friday may have reminded viewers of those studies showing American students are bad at geography.
First, anchor Al Sanders said that Saddam Hussein was still refusing to leave Iraq. He meant Kuwait, of course, the nation which the Iraqi leader invaded last summer.
Then anchor Denise Koch repeatedly talked about an anti-war student demonstration which took place that afternoon as having been located in Towson. In fact, as the reporter on the scene made clear, the event really occurred at York Road and Northern Parkway, which is several miles south of Towson inside the Baltimore city limits.