DVD blog review: ‘Leave It To Beaver’: Season Three — as good as it gets

Many may wonder why a TV series that began 53 years ago would command much interest today. But Leave It To Beaver was special. Among a horde of family-oriented sitcoms of the ’50s and ’60s, it stood out as one with a nod to contemporary edge, thanks to kids who manipulated parents, spoke slang and made non-dire havoc, all while still keeping one foot in the comfy confines of middle class America’s home and hearth.

Beaver, in fact, became so popular and iconic that today, when someone needs a pop-cultural reference to families in more innocent times, they don’t mention The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show. They mention the Cleavers: parents Ward and June (Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley) and sons Wally and Beaver (Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers).

When Universal issued the first two seasons of Beaver’s six-year run in 2005 and 2006, fans were ecstatic. But then the run ended. No more Beaver  on DVD for four years.

Now, Shout! Factory has taken up the torch by issuing not only the complete 39-episode third season, due on DVD today, but also, as of June 29, the entire six-season run, in a separate set. That way fans will have a choice–especially those who have the first two seasons on DVD already.

Shout! already has shown a dedication to finishing the job it started (it’s half-way through issuing Mister Ed’s six seasons, too), so you can fully expect to see single-season sets for Beaver’s fourth through sixth seasons. In fact, Season Four’s DVD already is on the schedule, for release Sept. 14. A big shout-out to Shout! Thanks!

That goes for picture and sound quality, too. Beaver’s third season discs sport fully restored and remastered episodes, taken from new high-definition transfers of original film elements. For a season a half-century old, it looks and sounds as good as it gets.

Season Three is a landmark of sorts, in that it takes the Cleavers into the ’60s — and also into a new house. Their first home wasn’t bad, but their new one is handsome and expansive, reflecting the trappings of new post-war affluence, from Ward’s book-lined study to an appliance-filled kitchen to a large (for then) TV prominently seen in the den.

The only false note is that, in this vast two-story house, the two kids still must share a single bedroom. But that worked better logistically for the show, since it helped keep Wally and younger brother Beaver together.

The new house, BTW, wound up being used also in Marcus Welby, M.D., and it remains a fixture on the Universal back lot. Of course, we’re talking exteriors, not interiors, which were built on studio sound stages.

The supporting cast remains much the same for Season Three, with Larry Mondello (Robert Stevens) again talking Beaver into doing stupid things, and Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) again fawning politely for Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver before insolently rebelling for all things adult when alone with their kids. Beaver keeps making mistakes, Ward keeps getting mad but patiently teaching right from wrong, June keeps showing compassion, and Wally keeps being a supportive older brother who’s smarter than Beaver but still clueless with girls.

Guest stars include Beverly Washburn, a girl you may recognize from Disney’s classic Old Yeller of 1957. Madge Blake again plays Larry’s mother, though the actress is old enough to be his grandmother; she’d go on to play clueless Aunt Harriet in Batman starting in 1966.

It’s odd how so many shows of this era cast older people in parts better played by younger ones. Today, it’s the reverse. Blake was 59 when she first appeared as Larry’s mother, while the kid playing Larry was 10. She’d have been 49 when she gave birth to him–right.

But in other ways Beaver is timeless — a warm family sitcom without being cloying. It was dawning modernity ahead of its time, but still anchored in a world where kids were essentially innocent, and they played outside instead of burying their faces in video games. Sweetly amusing and highly nostalgic,  is as good as vintage family sitcoms get.

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