Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re finishing 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.
The third and final season of Gilligan’s Island maintains the direction in which the series was shifting during the excellent second season — surrealism. The stories are sillier and more imaginative than ever, and while rescue is still the prominent goal of most installments, there’s more scope in the variety of plot lines. Though there are more “blah” episodes here than in Season Two, many all-time classics come from this collection of episodes. So, this is still a very solid season of Gilligan’s Island, that, although maybe not as uniformly strong as the prior year, is not indicative of a show in declining quality. The cast is still superb, and one wonders what would have happened to the series had they not been canceled before production was to begin on the fourth season. (Was Tina going to leave? The rumor is her character would have been replaced, but I think they’d have done a Bewitched and just replaced Tina with another Ginger.) Anyway, I have picked ten episodes 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 Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 71: “Pass The Vegetables, Please” (Aired: 09/26/66)
The castaways unknowingly eat radioactive vegetables after a crate of seeds washes ashore, giving them exceptional capabilities.
Written by Elroy Schwartz | Directed by Leslie Goodwins
Above, when I referred to some of the Season Three episodes surreal, this is the episode to which I was most referring. A series classic — one of the craziest premises of all time — this episode produces some incredible laughs as the effects of the radioactive vegetables give Gilligan super strength, Mary Ann exceptional eyesight, and Mrs. Howell unlimited energy. The whole thing makes little sense, but who cares? This is a 1966 episode of Gilligan’s Island; realism isn’t a priority. Especially when there are laughs like these!
02) Episode 72: “The Producer” (Aired: 10/03/66)
The castaways try to convince an obnoxious producer to return to civilization by staging a musical adaptation of Hamlet.
Written by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso | Directed by Ida Lupino
This is another one of the series’ most memorable episodes, and while it is a touch more in keeping with reality than the above, it still presents a wonderfully kooky grasp of imaginative storytelling. Phil Silvers lands on the island as a really annoying producer (a.k.a. his usual persona), and after he insults Ginger’s acting, the gang decides to put on a musical. But with limited resources, they’re foced to stage Hamlet. Yes, a musical Hamlet. See it to believe it. (Mary Ann is Laertes!)
03) Episode 76: “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” (Aired: 10/31/66)
Gilligan wakes up one day to find that his hair has turned white. Later, he’s even more shocked when he wakes up and finds it gone.
Written by Brad Radnitz | Directed by Tony Leader
I find this to be one of the funniest episodes of the season. Gilligan wakes up and finds his hair has turned white. Despite everyone’s insistence otherwise, he fears that he’s growing old prematurely and starts acting like a senior citizen. The castaways try to dye his hair while he sleeps, but the next morning he wakes up bald. This is where the real laughs begin. And when the Skipper goes bald too — downright hilarity ensues. Also, the George and Martha Washington wigs: comic gold.
04) Episode 79: “The Invasion” (Aired: 11/21/66)
The castaways’ curiosity peaks when a locked briefcase washes ashore, and Gilligan puts himself in potential jeopardy.
Written by Sam Locke & Joel Rapp | Directed by Leslie Goodwins
A lot of the episodes that are centered around dreams are hit and miss for me, but this one I like because it’s focused — it’s a parody of spy films. The plot involves a locked attache case that everyone’s dying to peak inside. (Making for a very funny bit with the devious Howells.) Gilligan accidentally locks the case to his wrist via handcuffs and fears the authorities will be after him — cuing a very funny dream sequence. (Even Professor gets some jokes!) Again, such imaginative television.
05) Episode 89: “Gilligan’s Personal Magnetism” (Aired: 02/06/67)
Gilligan and his bowling ball are magnetically attached after he is struck by lightning. But the Professor’s cure has an unintended side effect: invisibility.
Written by Bruce Howard | Directed by Hal Cooper
After a string of episodes that were good (but not great), this installment returns us to the world of surreal, but in a very well done, funny, and classically Gilligan’s Island way. As if the lightning that binds a bowling ball to Gilligan’s finger wasn’t absurd enough, the Professor’s remedy makes Gilligan go invisible. The laughs come here — especially when Gilligan still tries to torment the Skipper after unknowingly re-materializing.
06) Episode 92: “The Second Ginger Grant” (Aired: 03/06/67)
Mary Ann hits her head and thinks she’s Ginger, so now Ginger must pretend to be Mary Ann until Professor can cure her.
Written by Ron Friedman | Directed by Steve Binder
The second of two episodes in the entire series that revolve around everyone’s favorite Kansas farm girl (after Dorothy Gale, of course), this episode is another one of the funniest of the season. Mary Ann hits her head and thinks she’s Ginger. So Ginger pretends to be Mary Ann — bring on the bad cooking. But when Professor tries to hypnotize Mary Ann back into reality, Gilligan accidentally falls under and thinks he’s Mary Ann. Denver, Louise, and Wells are wonderful in this outre and high-laughs episode.
07) Episode 93: “The Secret Of Gilligan’s Island” (Aired: 03/13/67)
The castaways find a stone map that they think may help them find a way off the island.
Story by Bruce Howard & Arne Sultan | Teleplay by Bruce Howard | Directed by Gary Nelson
Honestly speaking, I would prefer to include this episode with the honorable mentions, but since I needed one more to make that perfect ten, I decided this was the one to be upgraded. The story has little logic and there are only a fair amount laughs — until the wonderful caveman dream sequence. One of my favorite bits of the season, Gilligan’s pre-historic dream elevates this otherwise middle-of-the-road episode to hilarious heights. Watch this one only for the dream.
08) Episode 95: “It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane (It’s Gilligan)” (Aired: 03/27/67)
A jetpack lands on the island and the castaways prepare to use it to help signal the searching navy ships.
Written by Sam Locke & Joel Rapp | Directed by Gary Nelson
This was actually the last episode of the series to be produced, and I think it’s one of my favorites. It’s funny, everyone has things to do, and the focus is properly returned to the idea of getting rescued. The premise is very ’60s with its superhero-like jetpack (that doesn’t look very safe), and the entire story builds until it gets to the inevitable: Gilligan putting on the jetpack and flying in the air himself. The way he foils the rescue is funny and satisfying. Well-structured installment.
09) Episode 97: “Bang! Bang! Bang!” (Aired: 04/10/67)
The castaways unknowingly put to use modeling clay that turns into plastic explosives upon hardening.
Written by Leonard Goldstein | Directed by Charles Norton
Here’s another episode in which the ensemble works incredibly well together. We’re definitely in silly territory — but this time there’s a legitimate sense of danger as the Professor unwittingly uses the government’s top secret explosive clay (that, naturally, has washed ashore onto the island), to fill one of Gilligan’s cavities. There’s a monkey involved in this one — but don’t worry — this time it’s not a man in a suit. Surprisingly funny episode.
10) Episode 98: “Gilligan, The Goddess” (Aired: 04/17/67)
The castaways prepare for potential rescuse when natives from a nearby island come searching for a White Goddess. Guess who gets the job.
Written by Jack Paritz & Bob Rodgers | Directed by Gary Nelson
The final aired episode of the series is classic Gilligan’s Island — silly, silly, silly, but incredibly funny. The story is an engrossing one and the steps that lead to the inevitable — Gilligan as the White Goddess — are amusing. Additionally, King Killiwani is one of the most uproariously hysterical guests that the series ever had, and he really makes the tired “Gilliana” bit work magically. Maybe not the series finale that everyone wishes it to be, but it’s funny enough to make you laugh quite often. Excellent episode!
Other notable episodes this season that didn’t make the above list include: “Voodoo,” in which a native uses voodoo dolls to torment the castaways, “Man With A Net,” in which the castaways contend with a quirky butterfly hunter, “The Kidnapper,” in which Don Rickles plays a man who kidnaps the castaways one-by-one for ransom, “Gilligan Goes Gung Ho,” in which Gilligan channels his inner Barney Fife and ruins a rescue, “Court-Martial,” in which the Skipper feels guilty about his responsibility in the shipwreck, “The Hunter,” in which the show spoofs The Most Dangerous Game in a scary episode that is narratively sound but devoid of humor, “Lovey’s Secret Admirer,” in which Schafer shines in an episode all about Mrs. Howell (and a cocoanut lie detector), and “Splashdown,” which continues the series’ fascination with space travel.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of Gilligan’s Island goes to…..
“It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane (It’s Gilligan)”
Come back next Tuesday as we begin looking at the best of a whole new series. And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Would u still review seasons that arent on dvd
This is the last year of GILLIGAN. Do you mean, will I be covering other series that have not been released on DVD?
Yes. I covered my favorite OUR MISS BROOKS episodes back in August/September, and there is yet to be an official CBS DVD release for that series. (Perhaps in the very near future as the first season has been digitally remastered…)
Also, next week begins my coverage on the best of GREEN ACRES, and though all six seasons are available for download on Amazon, iTunes, and Hulu, the last three years have not been officially released on DVD. But I will be covering all six!
And in early May, I will have a post on the best from HE & SHE, the best single season sitcom that I have ever seen. It is not on DVD, but it deserves to be.
What about Gilligan vs Gilligan, with the Russian spy double?
Not a fan of the ‘double’ episodes, though I grant that “Gilligan Vs. Gilligan” may be the best of the trio.
Jackson, since you covered Gilligan’s Island, do you have any plans to review Sherwood Schwartz’ other most famous sitcom, The Brady Bunch? It’s never been known as a critical darling, but it definitely has a place in 70s culture.
Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I have no plans to cover THE BRADY BUNCH. I appreciate its simple blended family concept and the wholesome comedic aims of the one-of-a-kind Mr. Schwartz, but I do not personally enjoy the series enough to write about it and pick my favorites. (In short, too many kids and too few laughs.) But it will always be a part of TV Americana, and I hope that doesn’t change!
I bought a copy of the script for “The Secret of Gilligan’s Island” at a used bookstore in Los Angeles a number of years ago and was able to get it autographed by Sherwood Schwartz. He told me that episode came about because he had done another series titled “It’s About Time,” which was about two astronauts who go back in time and get stuck in caveman days. He said “It’s About Time” got cancelled so they wrote “The Secret of Gilligan’s Island” to take advantage of sets and props and costumes that were left over from “It’s About Time.” He said that was one of those episodes that was written backwards. The rest of the episode was written as a excuse to do the caveman dream sequence.
He said the full-sized space capsule that is seen in a couple of “Gilligan” episodes (one of them was the Russian cosmonauts show) was built for “It’s About Time,” too. He said they blew it up in the lagoon at the end of the second episode they used it in because “It’s About Time” had been cancelled and they didn’t need it anymore.
Hi, David! Thanks for reading and commenting!
And thanks for sharing with us your conversation with the late Mr. Schwartz. Yes, “The Secret Of Gilligan’s Island” dream sequence clearly utilizes the sets from IT’S ABOUT TIME, one of those single season ’60s gems that has retained a following. If you’re interested, every episode is available for purchase on sites like iOffer. In fact, I may cover the series in a future Wildcard Wednesday post. Stay tuned…
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I had heard Tina Louise was the only cast member not to sign on for the fourth season but I don’t know if its true. But judging by the reunion films (of which Louise was absent from all three) I just don’t think the show would have been the same. What are your feelings (if any) on the reunions they did? I thought them sub-par compare to the show. Most telling of all is they weren’t even done by the show’s original network (CBS).
Hi, Matt! Thanks for reading and commenting.
It’s never been confirmed to me one way or another what Louise’s plans were at the time. Were she to have left the series, I don’t think the character would have been replaced (per the internet scuttlebutt), as that would have required more narrative heavy-lifting; Schwartz would have likely just replaced the performer. However, I personally think Louise was intending to return based on the evidence at hand. She was settled at the time with Les Crane and hadn’t yet built up the desire to distance herself from the role, which only came about once the actress realized how difficult it would be to find other work. Furthermore, word of her upcoming departure/replacement would have likely been public by the spring of ’67, as major casting decisions were usually made far in advance of the upcoming season (as in the case of BEWITCHED’s York/Sargent). I’d welcome any concrete information one way or another.
Regarding the reunion movies, the last two are moronic and don’t resemble the series at all. I’ve not seen them in full more than twice each. I think RESCUE FROM GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1978) skates by on nostalgia and the meaty premise of the castaways returning to civilization and feeling displaced. But it suffers from the hokey Russian subplot and the absence of Tina Louise, the only performer to EVER make the character of Ginger work — turning what is an air-headed vampy diva on the page into a character whose self-obsession was countered with an engaging wit and a firm control of her sexuality. I really think Louise is an undersung presence on the series, and her absence hurts the films tremendously.
I’m actually receiving my copy of the first animated series, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF GILLIGAN, tomorrow, so I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the show — and particularly Louise’s role on it!
Hi, Matt — just following up with more information I’ve found about Louise, indicating that the internet rumors about her intending not to return are untrue.
I’ve attached an excerpt of an article from April 28, 1967 in which Louise is claimed to have “complained” about her series being canceled abruptly. I’ve found absolutely NO press from this time about her intending to depart (although I’d love to find out if anyone knows otherwise), which I think would have started to leak in late February/early March, when scripts were being written in the belief that the series was renewed. (March 7th is when the ax officially fell, although articles written before that date continued to appear throughout the month, based on Backus’ erroneous confirmation of its renewal — some even SPECIFICALLY stating that Louise was going to be “in good shape” financially; also attached.)
So I think, if her contract was really ending in ’67 (as I think they all were), she didn’t yet have the intense desire to distance herself from the role (that came once syndication proved abundant and kept her from getting other jobs) and was still happily settled with Les Crane in L.A., so she more than likely would have re-signed and gotten the raise that she and all her co-stars were due.
Nevertheless, in the event that she would have indeed departed, I think there’s no evidence to suggest Schwartz would have gone through the narrative machinations of replacing the character. It would make more sense to replace the performer — as was common in that era. Also, “Gilligan, The Goddess” was one of the first few episodes produced for the third season, so it’s very unlikely that any ideas for the following year would be included in that particular script, as the GILLIGAN’S ISLAND fan club website claims. (That’s the site that also laughably claims Ginger would have been replaced by two secretaries.) I believe it’s just an internet hoax, perpetuating outright falsehoods and dubious rumors that are unverifiable.