Archive for the ‘Father Knows Best’ Category

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

June 15, 2010

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.

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.

Review: ‘Donna Reed Show’ DVD is reassuring TV ‘comfort food’

October 29, 2008

So, how do I reconcile being a fan of current shows as subversive or edgy as South Park, The Simpsons and Boston Legal as well as sweet family sitcoms from olden times such as Leave It to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show, whose first season is new on DVD? Simple: I’m eclectic, I’m a  Boomer and just as my favorite flicks include The Exorcist and The Sound of Music, there’s room enough for both.

Sure, I love today’s shows which get into the viewer’s face on social and political issues. But in today’s uncertain world, I also find solace in reassurances of the past.

Donna Reed was, and still is, as reassuring as a bowl of pudding — or, for us Texans, hot chili. (Comfort food can be anything, as long as it comforts.) The squeaky clean Stone clan was the ideal 1958-66 American family, and certainly reflected my own of the time. I was a bit younger than  Paul Petersen’s Jeff, but like him, I was a little brother to an older sister, my dad was a white collar family man and sole bread winner, and my mom, like Donna, was a cheerful housewife and, in her case, a Junior Leaguer. They, and we, were calm, comforting — and dull, perhaps, in many people’s minds. But again, reassuring. And certainly these Ike-era families hung together in love. Anything wrong with that?

For The Donna Reed Show’s 50th anniversary, its DVD debut from Arts Alliance America collects all 37 first-season episodes on four discs, the last of which adds a photo gallery, original TV spot, press release and production notes. It’s a handsomely packaged set which, unlike the likes of Father Knows Best, appears to have preserved the original black-and-white episodes in their entirety, meaning they each run about 26 minutes.

Much like Fred MacMurray before My Three Sons or Brian Keith before Family Affair, Reed was a successful film star who was essentially lured into the budding medium of TV. Heck, she’d won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity (playing a prostitute!) and also had starred in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life. But she also found a home on the small screen, lasting for eight seasons as the perfect mom and housewife in a gentle sitcom which rarely pushed limits and stayed warmly and safely in middle-class America’s comfort zone.

Carl Betz, as her husband, was a pediatrician with an at-home office, while that older sister/daughter was played by Shelley Fabares, who went on to big-screen stardom in three Elvis Presley flicks as well as renewed TV prominence in TV movie Brian’s Song and the series Coach. Fabares and Petersen got to be marginal pop stars via their Donna Reed fame, with Fabares scoring a hit with Johnny Angel. Her ex-husband, BTW, is Lou Adler, who produced, among others, the Mamas and the Papas and Carole King, notably her landmark Tapestry album.

The Stones’ family fun on Donna Reed was as easily digestible as a cracker — and often as thin — but still had that comforting, curl-up-on-a-sofa quality that’s largely missing in popular entertainment today. Call them bland and overly wholesome if you must, but watching the Stones grapple with everyday crises like canceled camping trips and community theater rivalries still does my heart good. I didn’t grow up in a fractured family as in Gidget, My Three Sons or Family Affair. I grew up in a stick-together family like the Stones. If that makes me bland, too, in some people’s minds, then that’s a blandness I’ll take.

Now when does the next new South Park episode air? See? You can’t say I don’t strive for balance.

And, oh yes: While some vintage shows are victims of watchus interruptus (take Hazel, which has had one season released, and that’s it), not Donna Reed. Arts Alliance America already promises to issue the second season of The Donna Reed Show “in time for Mother’s Day 2009.” Hey, I’m feeling even more warm and more fuzzy already. Cookies and milk, anyone?