Archive for the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ Category

DVD Blog Review Dennis the Menace Season 1: Good ooooold Dennis

March 11, 2011

Given the half-century that TV’s evolved since Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace comic strip spun off  into a sitcom, I wouldn’t expect the series’ DVD debut March 29 with 32 Season 1 episodes would cause much stir. After all, though the strip has endured, the series ran just four seasons, and it wasn’t the pop-cultural phenomenon of rivals like Leave It To Beaver and My Three Sons.

But in truth,  TV’s Dennis the Menace stood apart, largely part because its innocent highjinks gone horribly wrong gave it an oddly dark undercurrent, like The Bad Seed but told in a good way. I mean, look at the titled: Menace, right? And you always have to wonder: Are Dennis’ misadventures truly propelled by good-intentioned if misguided youthful enthusiasm? Or does he know, in his heart of hearts, that he’s torturing his poor parents and, most of all, good oooooold Mr. Wilson next door?

In short, was Dennis an Ike-era Bart Simpsons, up to no good though feigning angelic sweeetness and “boys will be boys” nonsense to get away with it all?

In its day, it’s doubtful many folks suspected such a dark side, and it’s not necessarily a go-to stance today, given how juvenile and even sweet the series can seem with its sunny portrait of complacent Middle American suburbia.

As with any such show, the kid role was crucial, and young Jay North did a fine job projecting Dennis’ awkward zeal with starry-eyed avidness — and not a twinkle of malice. But isn’t it strange that he never truly owned up to what a pest he could be? Or did he just not want to admit the damning truth out loud?

Others were ready to do so. Good oooooold Mr. Wilson (Joseph Kearns) may have tried playing nice and sometimes bounced Dennis on his knee, but mostly he was openly disdainful, if not hostile, toward his pestering, pint-sized neighbor. And even Dennis’ beleaguered yet patient parents, played by Herbert Anderson and Gloria Henry, often voiced misgivings about their active only child.

That said, some of the zaniness is quite funny, as when Mr. Wilson gets an unwanted swimming pool instead of a backyard garden, thanks to Dennis dutifully re-erecting a street sign — the wrong way. But the mischief does tend to bog down at times in inane sitcom inconsequence — just another day at the office for Dennis and his “oopsies.”

Still, the show has a warm tinge and can be lots of fun, and it’s cool to see a very young Ronny Howard pop up early in Season 1 as one of Dennis’ friends, and around mid-season, Stanley Livingston, too. Both were within months of starring in their own shows: The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons, respectively.

Such other kids get to wear normal clothes, but Dennis is always clad in overalls and a striped shirt, with an unruly lock of blond hair at the back of his head and a slingshot dangling from his hip pocket.

That Dennis — no telling what he’ll do next. And that’s what this show is all about.

A sad side note: Kearns died three years into the show’s run, getting a brief replacement by Gale Gordon until  cancellation. He was just 55. And this underscores a problem for the early era of TV.

Older actors often were cast in key roles, and they sometimes died in the middle of the series. Another was Bea Benaderet of Petticoat Junction, and another was William Frawley of My Three Sons. People didn’t live as long back then, and casting older actors (by ’60s standards) meant taking that risk. But we still can cherish their work for however long it lasted, and the superb Kearns was truly just as key to this show as North was as Dennis.

Good oooold Kearns and North. Now they’re back to entertain eternally on DVD. Or in North’s case, is he back to torment? (Readers: Click here for an online trailer for the show.)

DVD review: Petticoat Junction Season Two howls happily with Higgins

July 7, 2009

For a show that ran seven seasons, Petticoat Junction was understandably predictable yet reliably comforting. As shown on its new second season DVD, lazy yet scheming Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) would always stir up trouble, while rural innkeeper Kate (Bea Benaderet) would ride herd over him and her three grown daughters (Jeannine Riley, Pat Woodell and Linda Henning) not far down the Cannonball train line from the Anystate, USA town of Hooterville — whose denizens also appeared on Green Acres. It’s all good, clean, innocent fun in the well-worn mold of ’60s sitcoms hinging on small-town if not hicks-in-sticks values.

But one thing does change at the start of Petticoat’s season two, and that’s the cast. A new entry arrives, and he’s more furry than funny. He’s Higgins, a smart little mixed-breed dog who’d been adopted by superb animal trainer Frank Inn from a Burbank, CA shelter. Higgins then became a TV star as the resident pooch at Kate’s Shady Rest Hotel.

Oddly, Higgins’ impish character never seemed to gain a name on Petticoat Junction — he was just “our dog” — but he often had more than barking cameos. He even starred in a couple of early season two episodes with plots of his own (one involving a canine commercial). Yet even in small doses, his cuteness added much to an equation which already had begun aging in season two. You want an audience to love your show and keep coming back? Add a dog.

This season and the first also are desirable among fans because, as black and white years, they weren’t part of a later syndicated package. So seasons one and two have largely gone unseen since the series’ 1963-on run.

Higgins would later star in his own movie, 1974’s Benji, a sleeper family hit from Dallas writer-director Joe Camp, who shot it in North Texas. Though the film would spawn sequels, the original was Higgins’ final role. He died the next year at age 15. In fact, Junction co-star Buchanan also was in Benji, and it was his final film, too. Even more, Benji was the final film of Francis Bavier, aka Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show, another icon of ’60s rural innocence.

But enough talk of demise and the end of the trail. Hop aboard the Cannonball and chug along to the Junction, where Higgins, in his eternal youth, awaits us with ears, eyes and paws that are well worth our awwwws.

DVD review: Full first season of ‘Petticoat Junction’ comes to disc at last

December 14, 2008

In the ’60s, when small-town or better yet rural Americana ruled sitcoms from The Andy Griffith Show to Green Acres, Petticoat Junction was a “crossover” show which was tied to the latter as well as to  The Beverly Hillbillies. Characters from Junction often appeared on Green Acres, which was set in the same neck of the woods, and star Bea Benaderet had been a semi-regular on early Hillbillies, albeit in a different role. All three shows were created by Paul Henning, who also wrote and produced the late ’50s Bob Cummings Show, aka Love That Bob, one of the zaniest and even bawdiest sitcoms of its era.

Though Junction was a popular series which ran for seven seasons (1963-70), it faded a bit in syndication, unlike so many shows which gain new life. That’s largely because the series’ fine first two seasons in black and white weren’t included in the syndicated package.

Now fans finally get a chance to see them again via CBS/Paramount’s release of Petticoat Junction: The Official First Season, which has all 38 episodes of that year, unlike MPI’s previous Petticoat Junction Ultimate Collection, which had just 20 of them. The new full first season is available starting Tuesday.

It features the quaint denizens of the Shady Rest Hotel, just off the Hootervile Cannonball’s train line. Owner Kate (Benaderet) had three pretty– and pretty innocent — daughters (including Henning’s daughter Linda) and a roguish Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan). As visitors slipped in and out, gentle comic mayhem ensued.

First season guest stars included Adam West as a young doctor and Dennis Hopper as an annoying beatnik/poet wannabe with delusions of profundity. He, of course, turns out to be no more rebellious than a picnic, but in just a few more years Hopper would play the epitome of ’60s rebelliousness as a biker in Easy Rider — and now he’s doing TV ads talking about comfortable retirement. How times change — but at least he survived.

Petticoat Junction, too, survives thanks to this full first season, which includes many extras, among them intros by Linda Kaye Henning and TV sister Pat Woodell — who also do interviews — and original sponsor spots. Call it corny or call it quaint, but for troubled times, Petticoat Junction is a breath of fresh air.

From Donna Reed and Andy Griffith to Fred MacMurray and Jim Nabors, vintage TV stars offer soul-sustaining solace for tough times

December 8, 2008

It’s the holiday season — and a season of woe. The economy is staggering. Thousands are losing their jobs and their savings. Money is terribly tight with no end in sight. What are we to do?

Well, we all have our strategies, plans, beliefs and hopes, and mine is to stay stout, maintain my resolve, hang in there, circle the wagons, work as hard as I can — and ride this out. No white flag for me, because Annie was right: The sun will come out — if not tomorrow, then in what’s hopefully a not too distant future.

But beyond sheer survival and forever focusing on dollars and cents, what about our emotional and spiritual worth? What about our psyches, our souls, our hearts? Money is one thing. Inner peace is  another — and it can be quite independent of external turmoil.

So beyond nurturing my family as best I can, I do something for my inner self. Amid so much tough stuff, I remind myself that life is good, I try to be grateful for those good things, and I also reflect on fleetingly elusive innocence. I guess that’s why I watch as many vintage TV shows on DVD as I do current TV shows with an edge, from Boston Legal to The Simpsons. And those vintage shows on DVD often offer a reminder of a broader, kinder, more peaceful perspective on the world.

Take such ’50s and  ’60s sitcoms as The Andy Griffith Show, The Donna Reed Show (now new on DVD with its first season), My Three Sons, Father Knows Best (new on DVD with its second season) or even Gomer Pyle, USMC (new on DVD with its fifth and final season). Each is a clear product of its times, which is to say, each is often quaintly dated. Yet each, in its own way, concerns a universal and timeless good side to human nature which was better able to shine when mainstream society wasn’t so battered and bruised.

I mean, how many shows today are about someone who’s determinedly good-intentioned, no matter what? Sure, he’s a country bumpkin, but Andy Griffith Show character Gomer (Jim Nabors), in his own spinoff, has an earnest, aw-shucks, down to earth good will toward men (a nice turn of phrase at the holidays — but let’s add “and women”) which is all too rare on TV now, beyond charity shows such as Extreme Makeover and the occasional Biggest Loser (though that once-noble series has strayed from its meaningful beginnings to become emotionally show-boating and open to cliched reality-show rancor).

Or take The Donna Reed Show’s Donna Reed, a woman who epitomized sweetness and light in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, then became an American standard for loving, sensible, dutiful womanhood at a time when women had to make the most of their repressive limitations. Sure, her show’s sexism is often painful from today’s perspective, but it’s also heartening to see Donna return an expensive gift because she didn’t want to be like other craven women, or nudge her husband to choose a homely baby in an infant beauty contest because of how much it would mean to his mama.

Or take Robert Young in Father Knows Best, a solidly fun show which also can be  preachy but almost always in a worthwhile cause that needs a bit of sermonizing. Father Knows Best (which he often didn’t) serves to remind us that we’re all in this together, we have to get along and we might as well be kind and considerate as opposed to today’s entitlement-obsessed attitude junkies. Young’s Jim Anderson also well knew that, while family was paramount, it wasn’t everything, and instead of a myopic preoccupation with his own brood at everyone else’s expense (another common trait today), he also had a strong sense of duty and obligation to his community.

Or take Fred MacMurray’s patient widowed papa on My Three Sons, a harried engineer who was always willing to stop and listen to his boys and try to understand their troubles, then guide them in the right way (though MacMurray’s Steve Douglas sometimes erred, as when he encouraged smallest son Chip to battle a bully). In a sitcom that’s often surprisingly serious, MacMurray was a portrait of quiet compassion.

Now, how often do you see such shining examples of humanity on current TV programs? Ever? Never? Not often, that’s for sure.

That’s not to say we have lost these qualities, but that we’ve forgotten to champion them in our popular culture, perhaps for fear that they’ll seem corny and quaint. But human nature is timeless, and human goodness hasn’t gone away. It’s just been eclipsed by our world, by our culture’s general coarseness and by, if you will, the callouses on our hearts. As I ponder how to make all those ends meet in these troubled times, I don’t forget that goodness. I hold onto it, I cherish it, and I try to live up to it, with the hope that one day it won’t be retro, old-fashioned or quaint, but more widely embraced than ever as the route to true happiness.