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Posted October 1, 2010
Before investing a bundle in a mega-set, many buyers might want to check out a smaller selection of `Avengers' episodes. This is a good place to start, black-and-white shows from 1966 with some of the strongest outings of the Diana Rigg years. As always, the impeccable Patrick Macnee makes playing agent John Steed look like a breeze. He's the most polite, best-tailored spy/counterspy in the whole British Empire. Here, he's paired with the lithe, boyish Diana Rigg as mod, fearless Emma Peel, a woman both of her time and ahead of it. These six episodes mix comedy and adventure. The production quality is much better than the earlier taped shows featuring physical, buxom Honor Blackman. The scripts are less campy than in later color Rigg shows and those with curvaceous but young Linda Thorson. Particularly notable is `The House that Jack Built.' At a time when most television featured helpless damsels, Emma Peel holds up under pressure and reasons her way out of danger. The stylish op-art sets are nice window on the show's design strengths. Fashion always was a focus of `The Avenegrs,' and this season has some of Rigg's most notorious costumes. That's especially true in `A Touch of Brimstone,' Emma goes from mod to Regency to over-the-top dominatrix gear. The modern plotters, led by Peter Wyngarde, borrow from British history to create a creepy conspiracy. Patrick Macnee coolly outwits a physical threat, then does a bit swashbuckling. But the show's famous image is Emma as the Queen of Sin: long boots, black silk panties, whalebone corset modified to heavily underwire Diana Rigg, spiked dog collar, jeweled eyelids and, oh yes, snake. It's a great look, but not for a casual evening. `A Sense of History' features another of the show's strengths: an ability to find megalomania is the most unexpected cases. In this one, Rigg becomes an adrogynous but very leggy Robin Hood. `Honey for the Prince' is truly a bonus episode, a delightful comedic outing. Besides the affectionate by-play between Steed and Emma, British eccentricity is the charm of `The Avengers,' and this episode has it in spades. George Pastell is a sybaritic villain; Roland Curran a fey assasin; Ken Parry a bee-like beekeeper; Zia Mohyeddin an engaging if spoiled oil prince, and Ron Moody a surpassing entrepreneur. Moreover, Emma has prolonged sequences under not much cover in a harem. A tiny bustier does nothing for pancake-flat Diana Rigg, and her diaphanous, hip-hugging pants need a tug up. But the skimpy get-up highlights Rigg's well-toned abs in a dance, and her energy and flair in a fight. `The Dangermakers' takes in phrenology and psychology _ its modern equivalent _ in a suspenseful look at post-war thrill-seekers. `What the Butler Saw' also has a military theme, as Emma plays Mata Hari while Steed becomes a true gentleman's gentleman. `How to Succeed... at Murder' puts Rigg and other slender young women in bodystockings for much of the show. The script is tiresomely misogynistic, but there is some good acting, particularly Christopher Benjamin. Clever lines and plot twists aside, `The Avengers' potrays an ideal: two cool, capable adults who make saving the world fun.
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