While the world threatened to implode, TV viewers could sleep easy knowing that members of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement—better known as U.N.C.L.E.—were keeping a watchful eye on any global no-goodniks. And if the villainous collective THRUSH decided to hatch a diabolical scheme involving killer bees, evil cyborgs or a host of hypnotized schoolgirls, you could count on agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and his Russian partner, Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum), to save the day. Seen now, NBC’s ’60s pop-spy series suffers from the stodgy prime-time dramatics characteristic of the medium’s adolescence. But the interplay between the two leads still hits the mark, and you couldn’t ask for a better boob-tube version of the vintage James Bond aesthetic. Watching all four seasons back-to-back, unfortunately, also allows you to chart the show’s eventual downward trajectory from espionage-a-go-go thrills to Batman-style camp; by the time Vaughn’s international man of mystery dances the Watusi with a gorilla, you can feel the network reaching for the life-support plug.
The belated release of the original 105 episodes on DVD—in an attaché case, no less—is reason enough to rejoice. However, it’s the extensive extras in this box set (exclusively available online from timelife.com) that make it a dream come true for U.N.C.L.E. fans: lengthy new interviews with McCallum, Vaughn, and various writers, producers and directors; featurettes on the show’s music, femme fatales, gadgetry, marketing tie-ins and that souped-up Piranha sports car; a season-by-season breakdown of celebrity guest stars, ranging from Joan Crawford to Tura Satana; a Tom and Jerry cartoon parody; and the 1966 feature One Spy Too Many.