The earliest TV shows were oddly assembled transitions between old genres that were (theater, vaudeville, etc.) and the TV that would become. Abbott and Costello, which debuted in 1952, was one of the most distinctive and acerbically funny of these video lungfish. The loosely connected skits conjured a seedy, hilariously cutthroat world in which there are two kinds of people: the one getting over and the ones getting gotten over on. Straight man Bud Abbott and whiny hustler Lou Costello combined their slapstick and pratfalls with a gleefully misanthropic sensibility; no one could be trusted, even, or especially the kids, as embodied by Stinky, the bratty urchin played brilliantly by The Three Stooges’ Joe Besser. Larry David would make a living out of this attitude decades later, but as Abbott and Costello would say, they were on first.
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