Dennis the Menace Season 2 DVD blog review: More Merry Menace

I’m normally not a fan of what I call a “comedy of misery,” which is precisely what Dennis the Menace is, yet I love the show. I guess it’s due to the offbeat chemistry between young Dennis Mitchell (Jay North) and grumpy neighbor Mr. Wilson (Joseph Kearns), who somehow, somewhere deep inside, loves the impetuous boy, even though Dennis constantly — and allegedly innocently — causes havoc and mayhem (locking Mr. Wilson in his closet, causing him to bid inadvertently on an auction item, making him drop his eggs). Good intentions have never worked out so badly as with Dennis on this 1959-63 series.

Now with its second complete season on DVD courtesy of Shout! Factory, Dennis the Menace almost could be called “Torturing Mr. Wilson,” since it settles into that formula even more strongly in Season 2. In fact, Kearns’ fussy yet funny retiree George Wilson often has more screen time than North’s irrepressible Dennis. It’s almost his show instead.

But it’s still frisky fun from a bygone era of wholesome family entertainment, and I love it, formula and all. Props to Hank Ketcham who created the original comic strip, and to this show’s fine cast, including Herbert Anderson and Gloria Henry as put-upon yet patient parents Henry and Alice Mitchell.

Season 2 has 38 episodes, after 32 for Season 1. Season 3 also will have 38, but no more Mr. Wilson after #32. Kearns died during production toward the end of Season 3, and was replaced by Gale Gordon as his brother, John Wilson. The show lasted one more season beyond that, with a total of 146 episodes, 102 with the great Kearns.

I heartily recommend this show as innocent entertainment in a family sitcom setting but without the moral or social lessons so often offered on Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons and others. Dennis was another thing — a flat-out comedy of misery — a “torturing” of “good old Mr. Wilson.” And in whatever weird or warped way — being all in good fun — I loved it.

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