Archive for the ‘Gomer Pyle’ Category

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.

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‘Gomer’ DVD shows you can go home again

May 20, 2008

Now that Desperate Housewives has hit us with the shocker that it’s shifting five years into the future (more on that later), I run across another example of a long-running series that does the Time Warp. It’s the Fourth Season of Gomer Pyle, USMC, new on DVD from CBS, with Jim Nabors as the Mayberry, N.C. hayseed who spends his entire tour of duty during the heat of the Vietnam War learning marching drills and tidying his barracks at a sleepy Marines base in Californy.

That’s where, to start this season, Pvt. Pyle’s Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) — who’s not really his aunt, but that of Ron Howard’s Opie — absurdly pops up all the way from Mayberry to pay Gomer a visit and remind him that cleanin’ is women’s work. She pitches in to help him mop up the quarters he shares with a bunch of other guys who have a pass to go to town that day, thus getting him into hot water with ever-bellowing Sgt. Carter (Frank Sutton).

So it’s a flashback to good ol’ Mayberry days with a flash-forward (for Aunt Bee) to Gomer’s slow evolution into a man and a Marine. Gomer Pyle would last two more seasons, counting this one, but Aunt Bee’s guest spot in 1967 came when The Andy Griffith Show, from which they all sprang, was starting its eighth and final year.

Now back to Housewives, whose ending was misinterpreted by many — including myself. I figured the flash-forward to five years was just that — a temporary “flash,” not a reconfiguring of the show. It wasn’t until I read a story in USA Today, which must have been privy to a press conference and/or press release to the effect, that I learned that, no, the whole show is shifting five years into the future.

Hey, you can’t blame me for thinking otherwise. I’ve been watching Lost on the same network for years, and it’s been doing flash-forwards, then returning to the story proper. So it was no given that Housewives wouldn’t do differently — at least until I read that article in USA Today, which, by the way, never mentioned the idea that this could have been a temporary flash-forward, a la Lost, as if it was self-evident all along that a major, unprecedented restructing of Housewives was being done with Sunday’s season finale ending.

Whatev. Bottom line, when Housewives jumps ahead for good, at least it will make the lead actresses closer to their characters’ actual ages. Like Sex and the City, this show was cast too old at the start (with exceptions such as Eva Longoria in Housewives and Kristin Davis on City). Now the characters are catching up with the actresses in age. And on the disc spinning in my player, Aunt Bee remains an eternal “motherly type,” as she’s called on Gomer, despite the fact that she’s really more “grandmotherly.” To be on TV is to be eternal.