The Complete Man from U.N.C.L.E. Boxed Set Extras Review

The Complete Man from U.N.C.L.E. DVD Review Special Features and General Review
Previously published on my Live Journal (now hosted on Dreamwidth) on: 05/20/2008

The U.N.C.L.E. DVD set is very nice. If you order the complete set from Time/Life, it comes packed in an (albeit cardboard) silver-colored attaché case, with the U.N.C.L.E. logo on the front. The handle moves and the metal locks work. However, the inner liner is cardboard and can’t be taken out, so you’re stuck with it being set to hold the four season sets and the two bonus discs. The bonus discs are in simple cardboard sleeves (CD size). I took mine out of the sleeves and put them in a plastic DVD case, then slid the empty sleeve into the plastic case front.

NOTE:  You only get the two bonus special features disks and the attaché case if you purchase The Complete Man from U.N.C.L.E. as a set from Time-Life. Yes, it’s worth it, to get the extra discs.

Each season set is boxed separately, and the cases are glued on the left and each page (which holds two DVDs) opens like a book. There’s also an annoying clear plastic sleeve that you have to pull up towards the top (or towards the bottom) and remove completely before you can open the DVD set. Unfortunately, the discs overlap, which is bad for long-term storage. I’m going to have to re-package my sets into the same thin-line plastic DVD cases I put the bonus discs in. (Update: I did leave the discs in the Season Set boxes on my DVD shelves, because they do look nice, but I worry about scratches on the discs due to the overlapping nature of the discs in the cases.

Restoration: The Time-Life website claims the entire set is digitally restored. The problem is the restoration seems really hit and miss. Season 1 (which was filmed in black and white) actually looks really, really good, with the only problems being with the ubiquitous stock footage. And even then, the stock footage shots look cleaner in black-and-white. However, in the color seasons, for the most part, the actual U.N.C.L.E. shots look either really good or OK, but again the stock footage looks awful (at the very least having a lot of white “dust”, or vertical scratches). By the third season, some episodes even suffer from scratches, dust, etc. For example, “The Hot Number Affair”, with Sonny and Cher (one of my personal favorites from season 3) has long vertical black scratches on several scenes – and these are on scenes shot for the episode, not re-used footage or stock footage lifted from the MGM library. Season 4 though looks a tad better. Overall, I’d give the restoration effort 3 out of 4 maybe 5 stars.

For a comparison, try watching some classic Doctor Who episodes on DVD. The first season of Doctor Who originally aired in 1963, and although it was filmed (or done on video) in black and white until 1970, the restoration team’s work is better than the work done on Man from U.N.C.L.E., hands down. We are talking about material that’s the same age or older. Not to mention that videotape is even more fragile than film.

Oh, and while on the topic of restoration, I do realize that U.N.C.L.E. was probably done using Technicolor, and the cameras are huge and the restoration process is difficult because of the four separate rolls of film that must be synced. Also, I will say that the color sparkles in the three color seasons and in the color pilot included as a special feature. The color restoration is perfect, it is flaws in the film itself that I found annoying.

Briefly, here’s what the Complete U.N.C.L.E. set includes:

  • Season 1 (black and white), 29 episodes, 11 discs, 3 episodes per disc plus special features disc.
  • Season 2 (color), 30 episodes, 11 discs, 3 episodes per disc plus special features disc.
  • Season 3 (color), 30 episodes, 11 discs, 3 episodes per disc plus special features disc.
  • Season 4 (color), 16 episodes, 6 discs, 3 episodes per disc plus special features disc. NOTE:  Disc 6 includes the last 2-part episode of the abbreviated season, and the special features.
  • Two bonus discs.

Season 1 Special Features

  • “The Clock and Swagger Affair: The Untold History of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
  • “Solo” – Original Color (70 minute) Pilot
  • U.N.C.L.E. VIPs – A Celebration of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (First Season) Guest Stars

Season 2 Special Features

  • “The Spy-Fi Tour:  Archives, Art and Artifacts”
  • Feature Film:  One Spy Too Many, 1966
  • U.N.C.L.E. VIPs — A Celebration of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Second Season) Guest Stars

Season 3 Special Features

  • Interview –  Double Agents: The David McCallum and Robert Vaughn Reunion
  • The Secret Tapes of Illya Kuryakin: (David McCallum’s) Home Movies from the Set of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  • U.N.C.L.E. VIPs – A Celebration of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Third Season) Guest Stars

Season 4 Special Features

  • MGM’s Secret Operations (overview of what it was like making the show at MGM, such as the studio lots, the access to classic film sets, and the last breath of the Studio System)
  • U.N.C.L.E. VIPs – A Celebration of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Fourth Season) Guest Stars

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Debriefing Bonus Disc 1

Featurettes:

Cold War, Hot Spies: U.N.C.L.E. and the Cold War
Guns, Gizmos, Gadgets, and Garb
Behind the wheel: U.N.C.L.E.’s Piranha (the gull-winged sports car used in Season 3)
Fandemonium (U.N.C.L.E.’s male and female fan base. Including the similarities and differences)
The Music from U.N.C.L.E.
The Girls of U.N.C.L.E.

Promos and Trailers:

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Show Promo – Summer, 1964
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Show Promo – 1966-67
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Show Promo – “The Test Tube Killer Affair” (9/18/67)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Show Promo – Fall, 1967
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Feature Film Trailer – To Trap a Spy, 1964, 1966
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Feature Film Trailer – The Spy with My Face, 1965, 1966
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Feature Film Trailer – One Spy Too Many, 1966
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Feature Film Trailer – One of Our Spies is Missing, 1966

Official Debriefings: Interviews with U.N.C.L.E. Actors and Production Staff

Dean Hargrove, Writer
David McCallum, actor, Illya Kuryakin

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Debriefing Bonus Disc 2

Official Debriefings: Interviews with U.N.C.L.E. Actors and Production Staff (continued)

Richard Donner, Director (yes, THAT, Richard Donner of Lethal Weapon and Superman fame)
George Lehr, Producer
Joseph Sargent, Director
Robert Vaughn, Actor, Napoleon Solo

TV Appearances and Spots

The Golden Globe Awards for 1965, aired live on The Andy Williams Show, 1/31/1966 (Vaughn and McCallum)
1965 Emmy Broadcast 9/12/65 – Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, presenters
David McCallum on The Andy Williams Show 9/20/1965
Tom & Jerry Cartoon – “The Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R.” MGM, 1967

Photo and Image Galleries

Behind the scenes designs and Blueprints from the Set of U.N.C.L.E.
Hidden Camera: An U.N.C.L.E. Photo Gallery
Classified Files: Network and Studio Docs
For Collectors Only: U.N.C.L.E. Memorabilia
Top Secret:  U.N.C.L.E. Motion Picture Advertising and Publicity

Needless to say, the extras are extensive and beautifully produced. All of the featurettes are introduced (on audio) by either Robert Vaughn or David McCallum. The featurettes also have tongue-in-cheek credits such as “With special thanks to the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, music division.”

The best, and not to be missed, extras include: the interview of Vaughn and McCallum together – it’s truly marvelous as I remarked in my S. 3 review, as are the separate additional interviews of Vaughn and McCallum. Vaughn’s especially was very touching, and almost made me cry. I knew he was a personal friend of Bobby Kennedy and has worked on Kennedy’s campaign for the Democratic Nomination in 1968, prior to Kennedy’s assignation. But I didn’t know that Vaughn also knew Dr. Martin Luther King. Hearing him remark that he was on a plane when the pilot announced that King had also been assassinated – frankly, it must have been hell. Considering that both assassinations happened in 1968, the year U.N.C.L.E. was canceled. It must have been a very hard year for Vaughn, to say the least, and you could see he was, thinking back and remembering how upsetting it was. That moment in the interview just felt very personal. McCallum, of course, is also fun to watch, especially in interviews, but he’s more career-focused than personal or politically-focused. Other excellent extras include, the Fandemonium featurette, which includes an interview about the female fan base, as well as the more well-known male fans (such as the two hosting various featurettes on collecting U.N.C.L.E. memorabilia and U.N.C.L.E. gadgets and such), and of course all the TV spots, especially the one for the Golden Globes.

Overall, I’m pleased with the Complete set. I got my money’s worth. I’m really happy to finally have gotten to see ALL of U.N.C.L.E., something I missed since I initially saw it in syndication on TNT in the 1980s. Also, no doubt, that in the future, U.N.C.L.E. episodes will be something I pull out of the DVD shelving unit when I want to watch something fun, adventurous, and full of danger, escapes, and really good-looking men!

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 4 Review

  • Series: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes: 16
  • Discs: 6
  • Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
  • Network: NBC
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 05/13/2008, now hosted on Dreamwidth

Note: This is an older review, previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!

Season Four of U.N.C.L.E. is known for it’s more serious tone and boy, is it!

“The shift in tone under new producer Anthony Spinner was abrupt – from a silly kid-friendly series to a much darker, adult-oriented adventure show that clearly belonged in a later time slot. The season opened with three especially grim episodes: “The Summit Five Affair”, in which Solo is accused of being a double agent on the eve of a high-level meeting of U.N.C.L.E.’s top executives; “The Test Tube Killer Affair,” about Thrush-created superhuman … being chased from Mexico to Greece; and “The ‘J’ for Judas Affair” one of the few U.N.C.L.E. episodes to acknowledge the military-industrial complex that was of growing concern to American youth as the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular.” (Jon Burlingame, introductory liner notes to Season 4, included with the season set).

Burlingame is right, though he doesn’t quite hit all the details. In “Summit Five”  Napoleon’s in Berlin (at UNCLE’s HQ there) when it’s attacked – it becomes obvious that one of three people who were there during the attack is a double agent. Napoleon is then TORTURED (at one point, Illya coldly looks on while the Berlin chief of Operations tries to break Solo) by UNCLE to confess he’s a double agent, in the pay of Thrush. Solo then breaks, crying out that he wants to see Illya. He’s put in a cell with audio surveillance, but no video; and at this point, we find out Solo’s “confession” is an act (as was Illya’s coordination of the torture), and it’s the Berlin chief of ops who is under suspicion. The plot takes a few more nicely played twists and turns, which I won’t spoil. But still, Solo tortured by UNCLE??? Now, that’s grim. Similarly, Thrush’s plan to create unfeeling supermen in “The Test Tube Killer Affair” touches on Nazi-style Eugenics, and is as Burlingame mentioned is quite dark. Then there’s “The ‘J’ is for Judas Affair” a confusing tale (sorry) of a rich military-industrial magnet and his estranged sons. The story includes one son killing the father to get the family business, and ultimate fratricide between the two competing sons. Illya and Napoleon, while trying to figure out the mess, end-up looking on in horror. (The last shot of the episode, rather than a light scene between the two agents or between the agents and Waverly is a close-up of the babe du jour/Thrush badette dead in a car crash).

Other Season 4 episodes have similar moments of darkness, in “The Thrush Roulette Affair”, Illya is temporarily brainwashed into killing Napoleon. In “The Gurnius Affair”, while under deep cover, Illya tortures and “kills” Napoleon (much to the horror of babe-of-the-week Judy Carne). In “The Maze Affair” (an episode oddly framed from a Thrush pov), Illya witnesses and reports to Waverly, “Napoleon Solo is dead, sir.” When Waverly questions this, Illya adds, “I saw it myself, sir.” ‘Course Solo isn’t dead, and he’s pitted against time to stop Illya from carrying a supposed Thrush disintegrator gun (really a b*mb) into UNCLE HQ. “Deadly Quest Affair”, or UNCLE does “The Most Dangerous Game” has Darren McGavin as the bad guy and chasing Napoleon with intent to kill, while Napoleon tries to find Illya who’s been kidnapped and McGavin’s character threatens to kill.

So, dark stuff indeed. It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened if UNCLE had remained on the air just a tad longer, especially following the darker format. But, alas, the show was canceled mid-season (thus only 16 episodes were made).

Overall, though I like all of UNCLE, I must say, I really like the first and last (#4) seasons the best. But, season 2 has it’s moments, and even in the “dreaded” third season, there are a few good episodes and good moments. Overall, it’s a brilliant series that is tightly written, clever, intelligent yet fun (most of the time), and starring two really good and really cute young actors, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. The show also had a brilliant number of incredible guest stars, something highlighted in the special features (each season set includes a featurette on UNCLE VIPs or famous guest stars). The show also made great use of the MGM backlots and various left-over sets from various MGM movies.  Which was something I found that actually kinda’ dates the show and adds to the “cheese” factor sometimes associated with UNCLE in more general TV histories/info. books.) On the one hand, lavish sets left over from various MGM movies allowed UNCLE to do plots and have a look it wouldn’t have had otherwise. On the other, though, constantly being on the lots gave the show a slightly “stagey” look and it never had the immediacy of NBC’s other spy series, I Spy, which filmed abroad with the help of NBC News. But considering how depressing I Spy was, UNCLE’s considerably more fun!

Overall, I highly, highly recommend the show but for watching and to keep in one’s DVD library.

General series review (e.g. packaging, special features, etc.) to come.

Read my review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 1.

Read my review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 2.

Read my review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 3.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 3 Review

  • Series: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes: 30
  • Discs: 11
  • Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
  • Network: NBC
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 05/05/2008, now hosted on Dreamwidth

Note: This is an older review, previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!

Finally finished off Season 3! (Hey, my life has been busy lately!) Okay, Season 3 of UNCLE, it’s no surprise is not a favorite of fans because of the campiness/silliness. It’s time to re-evaluate Season 3 because it’s not all bad (mind you, at times it’s not all good, but anyway). Yes, Season 3, gets into more fantastic episodes, especially the first couple (“The Sort-of-Do-It-Yourself Dreadful Affair”, “The Super-Colossal Affair”) are incredibly fantastical. Tho’ “..Do It Yourself Dreadful” is a Harlan Ellison script so it has a snarky fun-ness to it (Ellison was a writer-for-hire at the time and also wrote Classic Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever” which is often listed as the best Classic Trek ep.) Ellison also wrote the UNCLE Third Season episode “Pieces of Fate Afr” which is great fun. But, there are plenty of Third Season episodes, which are no more fantastical than season 2 (One of which is “Pieces of Fate” – in which a Midwestern School Teacher writes a b*mbshell book about a secret spy organization — which just happens to resemble quote “real” unquote UNCLE and Thrush operations. Napoleon and Illya are assigned to find out where she got her information for the book, but when they reach her at a publicity event someone tries to shoot her – and although she’s physically fine she’s conveniently lost her memory. So the episode involves the two trying to piece together the woman’s life to figure out her past to find out how her fictional book could resemble “real” events. It’s a great episode, which I won’t spoil, but it’s also full of Ellison’s typical twists and turns and snarky writing.)

Another episode I really liked was the 2-part “The Concrete Overcoat Affair”. The ep. has everything — Napoleon barely avoiding a shotgun wedding to a young Italian girl (he’s caught in her bedroom, though he’s actually completely innocent for once). The girl’s mother and mafioso’s Uncles (yes, I said uncles!) chase after Solo to get him to marry the girl. Meanwhile, Illya and Napoleon are on an assignment to stop Thrush from changing the gulf stream and thus (a) warming Greenland turning it into Thrushland (b) melting the polar caps and flooding coastal cities, and (c) freezing northern Europe, esp. England, Ireland, parts of France, etc. Which, incidentally, is now all stuff that any scientific journal will tell you will be a result of Global Warming, but, I digress. So there’s the typical running around, finding clues, getting captured, escaping, etc. But what makes it fun is that while Solo and Kuryakin are doing all that typical stuff, you have these three older character actors playing old-time mobsters chasing them in order to get Solo to “marry the girl” as the saying goes – and all of them were in any number of old Warner Brothers gangster films. The other aspect of the episode, and a reason I’m sure most UNCLE fans consider it a favorite is that wonderful scene between Napoleon and Waverly. Napoleon and Illya get separated, and Napoleon ends-up back at UNCLE HQ, and he’s talking to Waverly and asking to go after Illya who’s been captured by Thrush. Waverly tells him flat out, no. Waverly explains UNCLE’s going to b*mb Thrush’s island back to the stone age. Napoleon then makes a really good, grand speech, saying first, “OK, fine, Illya’s expendable, so are the rest of us. But what about the girl, she’s innocent, are you going to let her die too?” Which cracks Waverly’s tough exterior and Napoleon is allowed to go rescue Illya and the girl, provided he do it and get out before UNCLE planes get to the island. The whole sequence on the Island is fantastic, I mean, in a good sense. It’s really well done. “Concrete Overcoat Afr” is the only two-parter I’ve seen so far that I really liked; the other ones are incredibly slow moving.

However, there are some negatives to Season 3 as well. First, although there are some good episodes (“Concrete Overcoat Afr”, “Pieces of Fate Afr”, “The Suburban Afr”, “Hot Number Afr”, “Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum Afr”, etc), there are also some really, really bad episodes (“The Abominable Snowman Affair”, “The My Friend the Gorilla Afr”, “The Jingle Bells Afr”, “The Apple a Day Afr”). Another problem was that even in the mediocre or average episodes (which most of the Third Season is), had a tendency to make Illya and Napoleon at times look almost incompetent – all the captures, missing clues right under their noses, etc., just really works against the characters. After all, Illya and Napoleon are supposed to be UNCLE’s crack enforcement agents.

Finally, special features. There is a special treat for fans on the S 3 special features disk. The modern-day interview with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum is wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. There’s so much warmth to it! And, you can just see the two are still friends. It is one of those cut & paste interviews, with the questions on a place card, then the filmed interview of the two of them – but it’s fun to watch anyway. The interview is also quite long, it is over an hour in length. There’s a few basic, probably been asked a hundred times questions at the front of the interview, but there are some very insightful questions as well. Definitely watch it!

Read my The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 1 Review.

Read my The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 2 Review.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 2 Review

  • Series: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 30
  • Discs: 11
  • Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
  • Network: NBC
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 04/01/2008, now hosted on Dreamwidth

Note: This is an older review, previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!

The second season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is probably the most UNCLE-ish or proto-typical of UNCLE’s four seasons. The plots are more fantastical than the more serious first season, but not as silly as season 3 (review forthcoming once I get a chance to watch the entire thing and re-evaluate it). Illya’s been “promoted” to number 2 of Section 2 (Operations and Enforcement) and full partner status with Napoleon, though there are still episodes where one or the other agent is heavily featured and their partner is hardly there. Season 2 also contained “The Moonglow Affair” which introduced Agents April Dancer and Mark Slate, who would be re-cast (to Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison) and spin-off to the short-lived series, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. – both Napoleon and Illya are taken out at the beginning of the episode by a radioactive gas, and April gets to strut her stuff finding the cure for our two agents and stopping yet another Thrush plot. Despite the lack of Napoleon and Illya, the episode isn’t actually that bad, especially as Normal Fell plays Mark Slate.

During Season 2 of U.N.C.L.E., Thrush becomes THE villain of the show – most episodes involve stopping Thrush’s plots in some way or another. Also, just as in the first season (well, all of UNCLE actually), Napoleon or Illya often gets captured and his partner needs to rescue him, and occasionally both agents are captured and need to figure out a grand escape. Also, in season 2, though we normally see both Illya and Napoleon, there are episodes where the two agents are separated, working on a case from different angles, such as “The Bridge of Lions Affair” (2 parts) where Illya’s in London Soho and Napoleon is in Italy (or France, I forget).

The move to color brings more life to the series (yes, those were the days of Technicolor), with brilliantly lit sets, and colorful backgrounds. However, as I said in my Season 1 review, because of the sheer size of the new color cameras (and the requirement of using dollies to move the camera around) the direction took a turn to the extremely static. Also, black and white, by its very nature, gave the series a more serious tone, while the color just makes things look bright and fun.

The partnership and friendship between Illya and Napoleon are more developed, though, and they work together more often, though not in every single episode, as I said earlier in this review.

Also, in both season 1 and 2, there are plenty of shots of both men that are just really, really nice to look at (after all both Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are incredibly good-looking men, especially back then. And, actually both have aged well, and Vaughn, especially is extremely good-looking now).

Read my The Man from UNCLE Season 1 Review.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 1 Review

  • Series: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 29
  • Discs: 11
  • Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
  • Network: NBC
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 04/01/2008, now hosted on Dreamwidth

Note: This is an older review, previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!

I finally got the money together to order The Complete Man from UNCLE and The Complete Get Smart from Time-Life (and received them). Now, with five seasons of Get Smart and four of The Man from UNCLE, it’s going to take me a while to watch everything, not to mention writing reviews, but I aim to get everything posted in the next couple of months (yes, I said months – I gotta’ work for a living!).

The Man from UNCLE is one of two series that established media fandom (the other is the obvious original Star Trek). Like Trek, UNCLE fans have produced fanzines (and still do, as well as online fan fiction), established conventions or fannish get-togethers, and just created fandom as a creative and positive place to be. One can even argue since UNCLE was incredibly popular from the very beginning, and the second season debuted at number 1 in the Neilson ratings (and never left the top ten for that season), UNCLE fandom preceded and eclipsed Trek fandom. Personally, I wouldn’t quite go that far, but I’ve seen the argument that UNCLE was really the first (and biggest) female-centered media fandom.

Briefly, in case you don’t know, U.N.C.L.E, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement is an international organization devoted to peace, order and good government (no, sorry, that’s Canada. Sorry that’s a joke – god, I don’t think I should have had wine tonight). Well, UNCLE is devoted to peace and order anyway. They basically step in to combat criminal activity. Often they are combating Thrush – an international organization of evil. Napoleon Solo (played brilliantly by Robert Vaughn) is the American number 1 of section 2 based in New York. Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum – who’s also brilliant) is Solo’s Russian partner. Alexander Waverly sends Napoleon and Illya on their missions – he’s UNCLE’s version of James Bond’s M or Austin Power’s Basil Exposition. And yes, UNCLE is the type of spy series that Austin Powers is satirizing.

Another thing to remember about UNCLE is that, like SeaQuest DSV, each season of the series had a different flavor. (It’s like Linux, we have flavors! Sorry, computer geek joke!) Anyway, each season had its own distinct flavor, though the seasons weren’t quite so different as Sea Quest (season 3 of SeaQuest is practically a different show entirely).

Here’s the basic breakdown:

Season 1 – filmed entirely in black and white, much more serious than later seasons, more intrigue/less camp, established the basic “look and feel” of the series (the Innocent, Napoleon and Illya’s partnership, Waverly playing the M/Basil Exposition role).

Season 2 – Probably the most UNCLE season of all. Details to follow when I watch all of it and post a review.

Season 3 – The campest UNCLE, but still fun and adventurous (details to follow when I watch all of it and post a review.

Season 4 – A return to serious UNCLE. I actually don’t think I’ve seen much of it. Also, only a half-season. (details to follow when I watch all of it and post a review.

Watching Season 1 – I really enjoyed it. Filming in black and white adds to the seriousness of the first season stories. Also, the writing has a much more serious tone than the campy/silly season 3.

The other thing about season 1, is that occasionally there are some absolutely brilliant directing, and fantastic shots. Some of the episodes actually remind me of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, not in content or story type but in shots and direction. Later, of course, with the switch to color, everything has a flat “locked-off” look (the same happened in early Technicolor films – the jewel tones look gorgeous but directing suffered because you can’t move a 1-foot square camera! – Yes, 1-2 foot – the early Technicolor film cameras were huge, mostly because they held four rolls of film, synced together.)

Anyway, there are some truly lovely shots in season 1 UNCLE – looking thru’ a glass table from the bottom for instance, and outdoor scenes with a sense of unreality to them.

The only bad thing about season 1 is “not enough Illya”. Illya is definitely a secondary character, especially in the early episodes of the season. As the season moves on, you do see more of him, but he and Solo tend to be separated. UNCLE works best when Napoleon and Illya are working together as unlikely but excellent partners and friends. Illya does get to be the lead agent in “The Bow Wow Affair” (which, unfortunately, is not a great episode), and “The Odd Man Affair”, because Napoleon gets shot half-way through the episode, and Illya takes over the mission (course, it’s the ubiquitous shoulder wound, and he’s fine at the end of the episode, except for a sling on his arm).

Oh, and I most emphatically don’t dislike Vaughn/Napoleon – Vaughn’s excellent (watch his expression in “The Love Affair” when he knows Illya’s been hurt or killed by a hand grenade for example, or his rolling his eyes at Illya in the beginning of “The Girl from Navarone Affair”). Anyways, I’ve always liked Vaughn, and he’s at his young, spry, and suave best in UNCLE. It’s just there’s something about Illya. Well, McCallum actually – who’s magnetic on the screen (I also love him opposite Joanna Lumley in Sapphire and Steel), and he’s also done several brill episodes of both the original and the remake of The Outer Limits.

Overall, I really enjoyed the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wouldn’t say it’s the best season, but only because I like David McCallum, and miss Illya when he’s not in an episode.