Archive for the ‘My Three Sons’ 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.)

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‘My Three Sons’ Season Two Volume 1 is a sitcom with heart

March 2, 2010

Not all vintage TV series get a second shot on DVD. But My Three Sons is back with Volume 1 (the first half) of its second season, featuring 18 episodes from 1961-62. The three-disc set from CBS/Paramount has no extras apart form original sponsor spots (actually, the end-credits are always plugs for cars beneath the credits), but having 18 new-to-DVD episodes is quite enough, especially for this quirky and inventive family sitcom which stretched the boundaries for its genre.

That was especially true in the first season, already on DVD in two volumes, when stories could range and veer from cute comedy to quiet pathos to strangely creative tacks, such as setting the family’s haste to get going in the morning against a televised countdown for an unmanned rocket launch (a fitting juxtaposition, since Fred MacMurray’s Steve Douglas is an aerospace engineer).

For the second season, things calm down a bit in narrative terms, though the all-male Douglas household remains a roiling vortex of chaotic activity. The opening show is a gentle jab at parents’ discomfiture when having to relate the facts of life to a kid who isn’t quite ready, in this case youngest son Chip (Stanley Livingston).

But regardless of storylines, it’s good to see the spirited but warm family back in all their black-and-white glory. Now CBS/Paramount has delivered 54 total episodes, with 326 to go if it manages to complete the series’ 12-year run. You may not want to stick around that long even if it does, as characters come and go. But up to this point, it’s well worth it.

Bridges shines then — ‘My Three Sons’ — and now — ‘Desperate Housewives’

January 19, 2009

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And with Beau Bridges, that’s a good thing.

The veteran actor appeared twice in my home Sunday night: first in an  episode of My Three Sons which my wife and I happened to be watching via the Season One Volume Two DVD set from CBS/Paramount, due out Tuesday. (OK — so I’ve got connections.) And right afterward, there Beau was again — almost 50 years older — playing perhaps the strongest guest role ever on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, a once tediously negative show that’s hit its stride this season with richer characterizations and stronger stories.

Bridges’ one-shot was as Eli Scruggs, beloved handyman of Wisteria Lane. Via flashbacks, we saw how Eli greatly impacted the lives of the series’ principal women, often in warm and meaningful ways.

For too long, “warm” and “meaningful” weren’t terms you could use in the same breath with Desperate Housewives, but the show is now a far better balance of the darkly desperate and the spiritually hopeful.

As an actor, Bridges, too, has been affecting people since he first ventured into telly, around the time dad Lloyd Bridges starred on his Sea Hunt series. When Beau began emerging as an actor circa 1960, he was a natural to play clean-cut youths on shows such as My Three Sons, where he appeared three times, or Mr. Novak. It was only later that he segued to adult roles for the big screen (The Landlord being a strong early example).

I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Beau several times in Houston, where he worked on shoots for a TV movie (Without Warning: The James Brady Story) and a theatrical film (Sidekicks). He was always a down-the-earth gentleman who seemed to enjoy the process. Brother Jeff Bridges, coincidentally, also was in Houston on a movie shoot, for Arlington Road, when their father passed away.

If you missed it, Housewives’ superb 100th episode, in which Beau guest starred, won’t be on DVD until next year. But in the meantime, beyond his many more recent movie and TV roles, you catch his work on the aforementioned My Three Sons, where he’s forever young — about 19 — while playing a young fellow, in sharp contrast to so many productions since then which have high school kids played by actors in their mid-20s. (Take 1978’s Grease.) Bottom line: Wherever you find Beau, you’ll find a fine actor who’s still enriching our lives as he eases into retirement age — and thank goodness he isn’t retiring.

Back to My Three Sons: Is there any more distinctive vintage sitcom? And I’m not talking about its then-new element of having a single parent (Fred MacMurray) raising offspring, a setup that’s since then become cliche. I’m talking about the show’s widely varied stabs at storytelling in terms of style, tone and narrative elements. While comedic and amusingly chaotic on the surface, My Three Sons also often involves mystery, romance, strongly dramatic plots and then-topical themes. The show’s creators didn’t settle for a set narrative form. They experimented.

With most sitcoms, you know exactly what you’re going to get: Jed and his country bumpkin family will experience — and spur — more culture shock on The Beverly Hillbillies. McHale and his misfit crew will indulge in more shennanigans on McHale’s Navy. Randy New York young adults will lie about something — over and over — thus sparking comic complications on Friends.

But in My Three Sons, you never know what’s going to happen, which makes the show more surprising and even challenging than TV series’ usual easy-to-swallow version of comfort food. And in a medium known for so much galling repetition, that, in itself, is a blessing.

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.

DVD review: ‘McHale’s Navy: Season Four’ bids us arrivederci

December 2, 2008

Was Italy the kiss of death for McHale’s Navy? We’ll never know for sure, but we do know that when the WW II sitcom shifted from the South Pacific to an Italian coastal village, its new digs lasted for just one season, and then its seamen bid buh-bye to series TV.

That’s not to say McHale’s Navy: Season Four, new on DVD from Shout! Factory, is a washout. For the five-disc, 30-episode set, almost all of the original comedy cast stays intact, having shifted from fighting the Japanese to fighting Germans in Italy, where some new regulars join in. But though this shift allowed for more elaborate exteriors — with back roads, towns and a wider range of scenery — it also led to some excruciatingly bad Italian accents and Italian stereotyping.

Granted, such transgressions were common on TV in the ’60s, before globalism and dawning multi-cultural awareness made non-Americans seem less corny, colorful and quaint and more like — well, everyday people. And you must take that into account when viewing a series such as this, which surely had no mean-spirited bones in its four-season, 138-episode body.

Also look for Don Knotts among the season’s guest stars. The actor who kept The Andy Griffith Show in stitches was able to go briefly from that series during its run in order to guest star elsewhere or make a theatrical film. Andy would make some reference to Barney being “on patrol,” and an entire episode would slip by without a sign of the skinny, ever-agitated deputy.

Come to think of it, TV was extremely accommodating in the ’60s. Both My Three Sons and Family Affair were creatively produced (writing scripts far in advance and shooting far out of sequence) in order to allow stars Fred MacMurray and Brian Keith, respectively, to pursue their careers elsewhere at the same time they were top-billed TV stars.

I suppose McHale himself, Ernest Borgnine, could have done the same thing, having come to TV with an Oscar pedigree from 1955’s Marty. But he chose to stick closely to his series for its run, and I don’t believe he was ever absent from an episode.

As for the entire crew of PT 73, we’ll miss ’em, now that this series reaches its end on DVD. But  three theatrical films with this cast are hovering out there somewhere, and 138 episodes isn’t a bad run for savoring such silliness and shenanigans.

Our thanks go to Shout! Factory for following through with the complete TV run, which so often isn’t the case with vintage TV releases. And our thanks go to Borgnine, Tim Conway, the late Joe Flynn and others for making McHale’s Navy — whether waging wacky war in the Pacific or the European theater — a frothy, lively, fun show that’s stood the test of time.

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?

‘My Three Sons’ on DVD is a true treasure

September 30, 2008

While fans of vintage TV wait forlornly for additional seasons of Leave It to Beaver, Hazel and other shows to turn up, take heart — we now have My Three Sons.

The long-running family sitcom debuts today with Volume One of its first season, which means there are only 18 episodes so far. But after two weeks without electricity in my house following Hurricane Ike, those shows are lighting up my home with their warmth, wit and style.

Fred MacMurray wasn’t just a respected film actor (The Apartment) and a Disney icon (for The Shaggy Dog) when My Three Sons hit CBS in the fall of 1960. He then became a fixture in America’s living rooms, by playing patient papa Steve Douglas, a widower with three rambunctious boys and a feisty father-in-law (William Frawley, late of I Love Lucy).

Their gentle adventures are often less about knee-slapping humor than wry chuckles, along with the decency and compassion that the Douglas boys were taught. And those qualities mean a lot in these too often coarse times in the entertainment world.

BTW, Don Grady, who played middle son Robby, was in a band called  The Yellow Balloon, which has a  CD on the Sundazed label. It’s light and frothy, but you could do far worse for sunshiny mid-’60s California pop.

At any rate, My Three Sons is a true treasure, and let’s hope Paramount gets around to releasing all 300-plus episodes (with rotating members of the cast, of course). Until then, enjoy. It’s a steady source of life and light for the TV hearth.