DVD review: The Donna Reed Show: Season Three

A half-century after its birth, The Donna Reed Show still entertains — and still warms hearts. This family sitcom, now with its third season from Virgil Films, epitomized all-American wholesomeness from the late ’50s into the ’60s, where it now ventures with the 1960-61 third season, captured on a four-disc set featuring 38 episodes.

Disc 4 has extras, too, most notably a 27-minute session with series star Paul Petersen (Jeff) and Reed’s actual daughter who was around the same age at the time, Mary Owen, both speaking recently in an appearance at a New York bookstore. They reveal that Reed and her husband at the time, producer Tony Owen, were smart business people, and retained more control over the show than creators often have today.

Reed, we’re told, never lost her temper during production, and was almost as much of a mother to Petersen as his real mom. “I was a handful,” he admits of his TV family years. “I spent more time with them than with my own family.”

There’s also a touching tribute to Carl Betz, the doctor dad who was a classically trained actor, and to whom Petersen (now 64) sings My Dad in the recent footage, intercut with comparable shots showing a teary-eyed Betz being serenaded in the series.

But mostly this is a tribute to Reed, the woman who was typecast in wholesome roles (apart from her From Here to Eternity breakthrough) but who made the most of it, especially on this series. “What she left on film is a treasure,” Petersen says. “It celebrates moms — great moms.”

The show itself grows up a bit in its third season, with a new and more clipped intro (note the phone isn’t black anymore) and the hairstyles getting tweaked (including Petersen’s buzz cut–or is that a flat top?). Mary (Shelley Fabares) is 16 and about to drive, and the generic pop-rock masquerading as the real thing is as bad as ever. (Did TV and film producers really think the audience would buy that kids would listen to this junk?)

But they made up for it in sitcom quality–and in quantity. Seasons from this era ran almost twice as long as those today. Donna Reed’s third season had 38 episodes, bringing its three-year total to 113. It would take today’s sitcoms five years to deliver that. By the series’ end in 1966 after the eighth season, it had amassed 275 episodes.

That’s a lot of good-hearted humor and non-cloying warmth in a home environment where both parents remain, where the family often eats together and where no one texts or tweets during a meal. Hey, that’s enough reason to watch, right there.

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One Response to “DVD review: The Donna Reed Show: Season Three”

  1. Mark Cataline Says:

    I enjoyed this review! It was very helpful and clearly written!!

    I myself find “The Donna Reed Show” very fun to view, and it gives one a secure nice feeling as if your being hugged. This show as stated in the review, does indeed warm the heart!!!!

    A Very Classic TV Series that will endure through the hands of time!!

    Thank you for the Great Review!!!!!!!!

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