By Ralph Novak
November 14, 1988 12:00 PM

They’re probably best appreciated through their movies, but this hour of bits from Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s live television shows of 1951 to 1954 is nonetheless full of breezy fun. Their polished set-piece routines were marvels of timing, as the tape’s long-form version of the amazingly durable “Who’s on First?” shows: “You got an outfield?” “Sure.” “What’s the left fielder’s name?” “Why.” “Just thought I’d ask.” “Just thought I’d tell you.” (There’s a similar routine in which Abbott tries to teach Costello to milk a cow: “Grab the bucket and put it under the cow’s udder.” “The cow’s udder what?”) On live TV, with limited rehearsal time and frequent gaffes, the pair’s verbal and physical dexterity got a real workout, and Costello, particularly, got an opportunity to flaunt his skills and his made-for-close-ups face. Nobody ever expressed frustration or mischief or befuddlement more succinctly than Lou did, and he was deceptively acrobatic at slapstick—he was in many ways the comedic performer John Belushi might have become. While this tape includes some brief guest shots by such actors as George Raft and Charles Laughton having a great time playing straight men, most of it is devoted to Abbott and Costello berating, whacking, tricking, exploiting, confusing and generally abusing each other—and delighting the rest of us. (Warner, $19.98)