Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re continuing our series on the best episodes from perhaps the most iconic show of the 1960s – Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967, CBS). All three seasons have been released on DVD and are available for free streaming to Amazon Prime members.
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale — a tale of a fateful trip that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship. The mate was a mighty sailin’ man; the skipper, brave and sure. Five passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour. A three-hour tour. The weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost. The Minnow would be lost. The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his wife, the Movie Star, the Professor and Mary Ann. Here on Gilligan’s Isle!
Gilligan’s Island stars BOB DENVER as Gilligan, ALAN HALE, JR. as Skipper, JIM BACKUS as Thurston Howell III, NATALIE SCHAFER as Mrs. Howell, TINA LOUISE as Ginger Grant, RUSSELL JOHNSON as Professor, and DAWN WELLS as Mary Ann.
Season Two, the first year in color, probably presents the series at its best. Even though the characters were solidly developed from day one, it took the show about 2/3 of the previous season to really establish its unique sense of humor and find a storytelling groove. In Season Two, everything is firing on all cylinders. Indeed, it’s exactly the right balance of wackiness and honesty, making for a show that’s not only well-made, but side-splittingly funny. This is the season to start with, curious new fans. There were many excellent episodes this season, but I have picked ten that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 38: “Beauty Is As Beauty Does” (Aired: 09/23/65)
The castaways hold a beauty contest to determine Miss Castaway, and Gilligan is appointed judge.
Written by Joanna Lee | Directed by Jack Arnold
One of the reasons that this episode is so amusing is that it strikes to the series’ most lasting phenomenon: Mary Ann versus Ginger. With each of the male castaways taking sides (predictably), it’s left to Gilligan to judge who should be crowned Miss Castaway. The pageant is a hoot and Natalie Schafer, in particular, is a riot. I won’t spoil the ending for you here — but the final result is a nice surprise and very funny.
02) Episode 40: “Smile, You’re On Mars Camera” (Aired: 10/07/65)
A Mars rover accidentally lands on the island and the castaways hope it will lead to rescue.
Written by Al Schwartz & Bruce Howard | Directed by Jack Arnold
This episode is deliciously silly! A Mars rover lands on the island by mistake and the NASA men see a hut and jump to the conclusion that there must be people on Mars. But the picture fades when the lends pops off. Meanwhile, Gilligan is collecting feathers for Mr. Howell (who’s making Mrs. Howell a present). These two stories converge beautifully when the Professor repairs the broken lens and the gang prepares to signal NASA. Ridiculous fun.
03) Episode 43: “Castaways Pictures Presents” (Aired: 11/04/65)
When film equipment washes ashore, the castaways decide to make a movie of their shipwreck.
Written by Herbert Finn & Alan Dinehart | Directed by Jack Arnold
This is probably one of the series’ funniest episode — utilizing a plot that’s not uncommon to sitcom storytelling: characters deciding to make a home movie that, predictably, is pretty bad. Of course, GI gives it that “we want rescued” twist, which makes the episode not only original, but narratively important. There are too many funny moments to list here, but I think the Ginger/Professor stuff may perhaps be the most memorable. This episode comes highly recommended — especially for newbies.
04) Episode 46: “Hi-Fi Gilligan” (Aired: 11/25/65)
As a typhoon approaches, Gilligan’s mouth becomes a radio after a tooth filling is loosened.
Written by Mary C. McCall, Jr. | Directed by Jack Arnold
I think this is one of those cult classic episodes that everyone remembers because it’s just so silly and (delightfully) laughable. Yes, Gilligan gets radio signals from his tooth fillings. (Gee, that log line seems pretty familiar… where have we seen that before? I know: a few weeks ago in the 1943 Cole Porter musical Something For The Boys.) I like this episode’s imagination and its heart. Denver, as usual, does a wonderful job with his comedy, and its wonderful to see the gang sticking together.
05) Episode 48: “Don’t Bug The Mosquitoes” (Aired: 12/09/65)
A rock group lands on the island looking for some peace and quiet. But the castaways seek rescue.
Written by Brad Radnitz | Directed by Steve Binder
This is another cult classic in which the series parodies the Beatles phenomenon with “The Mosquitoes”, played by The Wellingtons, the group that performed the first season arrangement of the GI theme song. There are many laughs spurred by the hip 1960s vibe that runs through this episode, but the highlight of this installment is undoubtedly the performance by the girls as “The Honeybees.” Louise and Wells are smokin’ and Schafer is a real hoot. Memorable episode.
06) Episode 53: “You’ve Been Disconnected” (Aired: 01/13/66)
A storm washes ashore an international underwater telephone cable. Can they call for help?
Written by Elroy Schwartz | Directed by Jack Arnold
This episode features another imaginative premise that lends itself to a generous helping of laughs — particularly in the castaways’ attempts to reach someone by phone. More than ever, this episode shows the strength of the ensemble. But what I’m most interested in with regards to this episode is the subplot — yes this installment has a subplot — of Ginger brainstorming events for her upcoming biopic. The mix of televised and un-televised incidents are great; I wish we could have seen Gilligan using the last signal flare for the Skipper’s birthday cake!
07) Episode 55: “Seer Gilligan” (Aired: 01/27/66)
Gilligan finds seeds with mind-reading powers, but they stir up some latent animosities.
Written by Elroy Schwartz | Directed by Leslie Goodwins
The series once again shows its almost supernatural side by presenting an episode in which Gilligan finds magic seeds that give eaters mind-reading capabilities. Naturally, these powers lead to all-out warfare — and the Howells in particular are hilarious in this installment. (But what else is new, right?) The series doesn’t show the castaways having major arguments often, but it’s funny and realistic when they do. This unreal premise gives us some very real moments — and quite amusingly too.
08) Episode 61: “Operation: Steam Heat” (Aired: 03/10/66)
Gilligan discovers a thermal vent, but the Professor knows this must indicate an active volcano.
Written by Terence Maples & Joan Maples | Directed by Stanley Z. Cherry
I remember watching this episode very frequently back in the days of VHS — “Operation: Steam Heat” was one of the few that I had. I think this episode is so memorable because of its really cool premise: trying to build a bomb to diffuse an active volcano. Though Gilligan thinking Ginger would sacrifice herself is a stretch, I like that she’s included in the hijinks. The best bit, however, is Gilligan drinking what they fear is nitroglycerin. Imaginative episode!
09) Episode 65: “The Friendly Physician” (Aired: 04/07/66)
A mad scientist captures the castaways for some mind transfer experiments.
Written by Elroy Schwartz | Directed by Jack Arnold
Okay, this is probably the series’ surrealist episode. And I think, at times, it’s both laughably campy and cringeworthy. That being said, this installment has gone down in sitcom history as an example of this series’ incredibly imaginative storytelling. I’m including this episode on my list because the castaways (and Igor) are BRILLIANT when they switch minds. Truly, so very funny. And any episode that gives us that many laughs — despite an obnoxious premise — deserves to stand among the best.
10) Episode 67: “Mr. And Mrs. ???” (Aired: 04/21/66)
The Howells separate when they learn that the minister who married them was a phony.
Written by Jack Gross, Jr. & Michael R. Stein | Directed by Gary Nelson
This is one of my favorite Howell episodes and probably the funniest of their fights. Though the second wedding is hilariously mangled, the real comedy comes from the dinner in which the separated Howells (excuse me; one Howell and one Wentworth) try to make each other jealous by dating Ginger and the Professor, respectively. Lovey’s immediate choice to use the Professor is a riot, while Backus and Schafer are easily the standouts in this episode.
Other notable episodes this seasons (and again, there were quite a few) include: “Gilligan’s Mother-In-Law,” in which a portly native girl chooses Gilligan for a husband, “Quick Before It Sinks,” in which a misunderstanding leads the Professor to believe that the island is sinking, “Nyet, Nyet — Not Yet,” in which two Russian cosmonauts land on the island, “Gilligan Gets Bugged,” in which everyone thinks Gilligan is dying, “Not Guilty,” in which the castaways try to reenact the events that preceded a murder, “The Postman Cometh,” in which Mary Ann finally gets an episode about her (and a hilarious dream sequence too), “Gilligan’s Living Doll,” in which a robot lands on the island, “Ship Ahoax,” in which Ginger pretends to be a fortune teller, “Allergy Time,” in which the castaways develop an allergy to Gilligan, and “Meet The Meteor,” in which Gilligan has a hilarious dream about the castaways celebrating their 50th anniversary on the island.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Two of Gilligan’s Island goes to…..
“Castaways Pictures Presents”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Three! And tune in tomorrow for another Wildcard Wednesday post!