An impossible episode and a love story

Max and 99's engagement photo.

Max and 99’s engagement photo.

With Maxwell Smart’s marriage proposal to Agent 99 hitting the 50 year mark, it’s worth a look back at “The Impossible Mission.”

Airing Sept. 21, 1968, “The Impossible Mission” served as the fourth season opener. This was the final season Get Smart would air on NBC. The network, hoping that an engagement and wedding would bump up the show’s ratings, had Max and 99 tie the knot during sweeps week. It wasn’t enough.

Despite Don Adams netting a third Emmy and the show winning its own Emmy, NBC canceled it. CBS would pick up the show for a fifth and final season.

There’s something of a love/hate relationship with this episode. Some fans loved the idea of Max finally confessing his love to 99. Others weren’t buying it. I find it to be one of my favorites, but I won’t deny that it has some problems.

Structurally this episode is clunky. Most Get Smart episodes are tight little units. All parts equal the whole. The Impossible Mission, however, is all over the place. It is something of a patchwork of three different parodies. Thankfully, it’s still very funny.

Parody Number One: Mission Impossible

Mission Impossible, which ran from 1966 to 1973, was a hot property and was ripe for

When messages don't self-destruct.

When messages don’t self-destruct.

being spoofed. If you judged this episode by title alone and assumed it was an MI parody, you would be wrong and perhaps disappointed. The episode’s tag starts off as a parody of MI’s tag. Like Jim Phelps, Max seeks out his taped instructions, which are supposed to self-destruct. In classic Get Smart fashion, however, they don’t.

Following the opening credits, the episode continues to mirror MI as Max goes through a file of photos and selects his “team.” His offerings for this mission are Larabee; Alfred E. Neuman; the Mona Lisa; Tiny Tim, which Max tears up; and 99, who Max would rather not have on the mission. 99 isn’t pleased to find herself in the reject pile.

99: You’re not taking me on this assignment, are you, Max?
Max: Eh… no, I’m not.
99: You can’t leave me out of this one, Max! This is the most important case that’s ever been given to Control, this could mean the end of the world.
Max: That’s exactly why I’m not letting you go on this mission. If it’s going to mean the end of the world, I want to make sure that you’re all right.

Thus ends any resemblance to Mission Impossible. A start to finish MI parody at some point in this series would have been fantastic, however, we were not going to get one. At least in season five we were offered a Martin Landau cameo.

Parody Number Two: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

Now we get to the plot of this episode: Max must prevent Kaos’ top agent, known as

The Tijuana Tin - not to be confused with the Tijuana Brass. The Kaos agent in the pink hat is Eddie Hice, Don Adams' stunt double.

The Tijuana Tin – not to be confused with the Tijuana Brass. The Kaos agent in the pink hat is Eddie Hice, Don Adams’ stunt double.

The Leader (played by Aron Kincaid), from transmitting Dr. Albert Hellman’s Theory of Hellmanivity out of the U.S. If the theory gets in the hands of Kaos’ headquarters in Europe, the human race will be faced with extinction through Hellmanitis. And the Chief doesn’t have to tell us what that is.

Much time is spent with Max and the Chief exchanging top secret information in a jet at 30,000 feet. The clunky Cone of Silence may have been less time consuming. At least TWA got some product placement.

After meeting with an informer (played by Jamie Farr) in a record shop and infiltrating pop brass band The Tijuana Tin, Max learns that the band’s leader, Herb Talbot, is The Leader. This came as bad news for Max as he owned all of the Tijuana Tin’s albums.
Would you believe this band is a parody of Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass? Well, it’s certainly not a parody of Glen Campbell. The TJB hit its peak in the late 60s at the same time Get Smart was on the air. Bill Dana, who we have to thank for The Voice and the Would You Believe routine, was one of Alpert’s early backers and wrote comic routines that were part of the band’s performances.

Parody Number Three: Charlie Chaplin

Once upon a time Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass did a Whipped Cream video with a

The old Chaplin routine in the spy show trick.

The old Chaplin routine in the spy show trick.

bunch of Charlie Chaplins. Alpert also worked out of the old Chaplin Studios.
That fun trivia, however, still doesn’t justify whatever was going on in this part of the episode.

Max and 99 attempt to evade The Leader and his sidekick (who was played by Adams’ stunt double Eddie Hice) by engaging in some sort of take-off on a Little Tramp/Keystone Cops routine — complete with the piano music. Unfortunately this bit doesn’t even rise to the level of camp. It’s possible this scene may have made sense as a direct parody of the TJB’s TV special, but 50 years down the line it’s kind of over-the-top. The only thing that helps it along is that Adams and Feldon are so darn cute.

The proposal

Max confesses his love to 99.

Max confesses his love to 99.

We know how this part works. Max and 99 are holed up in the back of the TV studio with no way out. Max says he’d marry 99 if they could get out. 99 hatches an escape plan.

Cue the wedding bells.

Now insert the sound of a needle ripping across a record.

I need to get something out of the way first before I talk about this scene and why I love it. There have been viewers who have pointed out that Max didn’t actually propose — 99 just interpreted the following exchange that way:

Max: 99, there’s something I have to tell you.
99: What is it, Max?
Max: Well, we’ve known each other for a long time and well, we’ve been through a lot of things together.
99: Go on, Max.
Max: Well, It’s just that I… well I have to tell you how I really feel about you. I wanted to tell you for a long, long time but I just… well I’ve never been able to find the right words. You see 99, it’s not easy to say… well, it’s not easy to say…
99: To say I love you, Max?
Max: Yes.
99: Well why don’t you let me say it for you: I love you, Max.
Max: No, no, 99, that’s not want I want to say, I wanted to say I love you 99.
99: I’m saying I love you too, Max.
Max: You do?
99: I always have.
….
Max: You know, 99, if we could get out of this trap I’d marry you.
99: You would?
Max: Of course I would.

Technically Max can’t be quoted as asking “Will you marry me?” Semantics. But even 99 had a few seconds of doubt and asked if he meant what he said. Max’s response was to produce the nearest ring he could find —  by tearing apart a microphone. Actions speak louder than words.

Aside from the nit picky detail mentioned above, some fans found the scene to be contrived and out of place. It’s as if someone said, “Quick, edit in that proposal.” Others did not feel it belonged in Get Smart. The thought was that Smart was too obtuse to be attracted to 99. Series creator Buck Henry didn’t like the idea either.

“I would have fought it like a tiger. What conceivable sex life could Max and 99 really have?” said Henry in a 2001 documentary, Inside TV Land: Get Smart. Henry left the series in season three.

Get Smart, though, was just as much a parody of romance as it was a parody of

Max has been hauling this photo around since episode four, "Our Man in Toyland."

Max has been hauling this photo around since episode four, “Our Man in Toyland.”

espionage. 86 and 99 would have their flirtations and go as far as to attempt to kiss — only to have those moments interrupted. This was followed by rounds of jealousy. Much of that came from 99, as displayed in Washington 4, Indians 3 and Too Many Chiefs.
But Max also had his turn at playing the green eyed monster — notably in Kisses for Kaos. He’s also not too thrilled she’s assigned to babysit playboy Antonio Carlos Carioca in “The Only Way to Die.” In “Double Agent” they were supposed to go on a date —  until the Chief assigned Max to become a derelict. In some episodes the two even held hands.

These patterns repeat themselves —  and then we get to the third season episode, “99 Loses Control.” 99 leaves Control and Max behind to marry a casino owner that would turn out to be a Kaos agent. Max follows after her — with a framed picture of the both of them in his suitcase. The photo in question, from the season one episode “Our Man in Toyland,” shows Max kissing 99 on the check.

It would appear that Mr. Smart kept his feelings close to the vest.

“He loved her, but he treated her like a guy – his partner,” said Don Adams in Inside TV Land: Get Smart.

The proposal scene alone is really a sweet one and I find it to be the best in the series. It’s all schmaltz, goo and warm fuzzies. It’s probably the single scene in the series that allowed Don Adams to give more depth to Maxwell Smart.

Throughout the series – even after 86 and 99 tied the knot – Adams kept the character walking down a narrow path of laughable buffoonery. Smart fell into the trope or archetype known as the “fool.” That characterization doesn’t vary until this scene. In a matter of a few lines the veil is dropped and we’re presented with a human – and a fairly sensitive one at that.

The Impossible Mission

Mr. Big: A comedy of continuity gaffes and laughs

Do you see what I see: Something is wrong with this image. Read the blog to find out what it is.

Do you see what I see: Something is wrong with this image. Read the blog to find out what it is.

Being that it’s the 53rd birthday for Get Smart, as the pilot episode “Mr. Big” aired Sept. 18, 1965, it’s time for a look at that episode. This is a bit different from what I’ve previously written on the pilot. Instead of an overview, it’s a glimpse of a few things we probably overlooked.

TV in the past didn’t offer the “extras” viewers are used to seeing today. Outtakes and behind the scenes footage wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips. Shows also weren’t produced with the notion that there would be repeat viewing and over-analysis. An airing of a TV episode was a one-shot deal – unless the show was blessed with syndication.

Of the bloopers included in the Get Smart Time Life DVD set (which have wormed their way to YouTube), most of them were from the later seasons. Don Adams had squirreled them away and his son in law, actor Jim Beaver, would later provide them for the DVDs.

As for the pilot episode, the only outtake floating around is footage of Don Adams being told by his agent, Mace Neufeld, that he was a father. His wife Dorothy had given birth to their daughter Stacey during the filming of the episode. The scene being filmed was from A Secret Agent’s Dilemma, or a Clear Case of Mind Over Mata Hari. The program aired Sept. 6, 1965 and was used as a preview of NBC’s fall lineup.

 

Detective work, a discerning eye and repeat viewing, however, has revealed what was changed as well as biffed in the Get Smart pilot. Now, this isn’t a criticism – it’s like finding Easter eggs. Here are a few (but not all) of the inconsistencies, goofs and changes in Mr. Big:

99’s hair

Agent 99's hair enters into this episode two times before it should.

Agent 99’s hair enters into this episode two times before it should.

This was one continuity error I noticed, probably from the first time I saw this episode. Would you believe the second time? It is glaring, but I always ignored it. One of the most iconic scenes in the pilot (and the series) is when Max and 99 are together in the novelty shop. The Inthermo is activated, Fang saves Max’s life and a Kaos agent gets zapped. 99’s reaction is to take off her chauffeur’s hat and shake out her hair. Max reacts to that by going for a kiss. Fang interrupts.

Obviously the idea was that 99’s hair was supposed to stay tucked up in the hat and Max was supposed to be too distracted to notice she was a female. The scene is both hilarious and absurd and is played with complete earnestness. It’s a fantastic parody of all those smoldering moments of classic film where the guy eyes the girl.

Unfortunately, there’s a booboo. We see 99’s bob sticking out of her hat twice before this scene. The first time, and the most noticeable, is when Max and 99 go out to the parking lot to talk to Zelinka. You can see 99’s hair as the camera shoots from above. The second time her hair appears is after they pull up to the novelty shop and get out of the limo. Most viewers probably didn’t notice this because they were watching Max struggle to get the door to the limo closed. It’s worth a mention 99 was written into the script as a blonde – even though brunette Barbara Feldon had always been eyed for the role of 99.

Wrong scenery

New York City looks a bit like southern California in this scene. This only lasts seconds. Blink and you'll miss it.

New York City looks a bit like southern California in this scene. This only lasts seconds. Blink and you’ll miss it.

This episode is first set in Washington, D.C. and then in New York City. We get some nice stock footage of the U.S. Capitol Building and later the Statue of Liberty. However, we also get the wrong vegetation for the East Coast. As Max and 99 are driving to the city, en route to the novelty shop, palm trees and mountains can be seen in the background.

The old boom mic appearance

More discerning viewers can catch a cameo appearance made by a boom mic. It shows up in the windshield of the limo when Max and 99 are listening to the Kaos radio broadcast. Again, this is not something that would have stuck out because our attention would have gone to 86 and 99.

Misplaced bullet holes

A case of now you them, now you don't. The bullet holes in the door on the left disappear AFTER Max shoots at the Kaos agent.

A case of now you see them, now you don’t. The bullet holes in the door on the left disappear AFTER Max shoots at the Kaos agent.

Like the boom mic, this is something you have to look for. During the melee on the garbage scow, Max gets his hands on a rifle and tries to take out Mr. Big and the Kaos frogmen. He fires away but ends up shooting into the wall and a door before the gun jams up. In the scene before the gunfire, we see a Kaos agent that needs obvious patching to his wet suit and a door full of bullet holes. In the next scene, after everyone dodges bullets and the smoke clears, the door is no longer damaged.

Cut Smart

The bottom of the Get Smart lunch box shows a scene that was intended for Mr. Big, but didn't make the cut. Max fights Kaos with cigarettes rather than the Inflato coat.

The bottom of the Get Smart lunch box shows a scene that was intended for Mr. Big, but didn’t make the cut. Max fights Kaos with cigarettes rather than the Inflato coat.

One scene that got cut/reworked was actually documented – but not in the way you would think. We have collectibles to thank for evidence of this.

On the bottom of the Get Smart lunchbox is a scene that looks like it came from the pilot. In it, we see a chauffeur-suited 99 tied up with Max and Professor Dante. There’s even a glimpse of Fang’s nose. Max is fending off two Kaos frogmen with a blast of smoke from a cigarette. Also, there is a Get Smart trading card that shows Max, 99 and Dante laughing hysterically in the same scene.

These two images came from a scene that was rewritten. In it, Max, 99 and Dante were

This Get Smart trading card shows a scene from Mr. Big that we didn't get to see. Here we see Max and 99 dealing with the effects of laughing gas. It may be worth noting that the person on the left is supposed to be Professor Dante, although he doesn't exactly look like actor Vito Scotti in this shot.

This Get Smart trading card shows a scene from Mr. Big that we didn’t get to see. Here we see Max and 99 dealing with the effects of laughing gas. It may be worth noting that the person on the left is supposed to be Professor Dante, although he doesn’t exactly look like actor Vito Scotti in this shot.

tied up below deck together. Max and Dante start talking but a Kaos agent interrupts and begins intimidating them. Max requests a final cigarette – one of his cigarettes. As the Kaos agent lights the cigarette, a stream of smoke explodes in his face. He starts to laugh and 99 points out that it’s laughing gas. Eventually the rest of the group is overcome with laughing gas. Max manages to summon Fang who rescues them by chewing apart the ropes. This was re-shot with Max’s weapon of choice being the Inflato coat. Only Max, 99 and Fang (who was tied rather than roaming freely) were below deck together – Dante was somewhere else. Ironically, at the beginning of the episode, Max doesn’t want to use the Inflato coat.

This sounded like a funny scene and I wonder why it got changed. The most logical reason is that it probably took too long and they needed to tighten things up.

Now, a theory for those of us that like to overthink things is that it might have conflicted with the characterization of Smart – he wasn’t supposed to be wise to the joke. The surreal idiocy the viewer sees in Mr. Big is Maxwell Smart’s unwavering reality. Mel Brooks pointed this out in Joey Green’s book, The Get Smart Handbook. “I would say the best thing about Maxwell Smart is that he was always wrong and always intense. He never played the joke. He never shared with the audience that he was aware that what he was doing was funny,” said Brooks.