Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s topic has been a long time in the making. I’ve always believed that comedy is a subjective phenomenon, and my opinion for what constitutes the best or funniest of a series may not hold true for every viewer — heck, sometimes for most viewers. Additionally, with this subjectivity comes a transitory nature; what strikes us hysterical in our teens may not have the same effect when we revisit the piece decades later. (That’s one of the reasons I can guarantee that this blog will conclude with revisited coverage of I Love Lucy, the first show we featured on Sitcom Tuesdays. It’ll be interesting to see if my opinions have changed.) In fact, sometimes I change my mind every other day. Knowing this as fact, there are a few Sitcom Tuesday decisions that — as of today, December 9, 2015 — I would call differently. I need to share some of these so-called regrets (and you may find out more of why this was necessary next week . . .) But before I do, I’d like to note that none of the original posts are being edited; the “updates” will only be found here, and they are simply meant to illustrate the evolution of my tastes. I do not believe that a choice I made or an opinion I held before was miscalled or invalid; it’s just changed with further thought. It may change again.
Truthfully, I thought there’d be more I’d want to alter upon review, but with most of the past decisions that I later questioned, I understand the rationalization made and am okay with sticking by that opinion. So there aren’t a lot of small episode swaps. Rather, many of the things I regret involve either seasons for which I reduced the episode count — even though (with hindsight) there definitely could have been a full ten chosen — and the selections for MVE. Believe it or not, the MVE is often the hardest choice to make, for most of the time, there’s not a singular standout. This can be tricky, especially since there’s no definite criteria for choosing an MVE; sometimes I choose the funniest, sometimes I choose the best written, sometimes I choose the one that I personally most enjoy, and sometimes I choose the one that I think best represents the season and/or the series. (And then sometimes I just go with my gut — whatever it may be telling me.) Amidst all of this noise, there have been a few times where I’ve felt the year’s truly strongest showing has been ignored. Time to rectify that.
Anyway, here are some of the major decisions that I would make differently today, going in the blog’s chronological order.
OUR MISS BROOKS
I combined coverage of the second and third seasons due (mostly) to scheduling. I found both years a disappointment in comparison to Season One, but Season Two definitely deserved its own post of 10 episodes. I only chose seven initially, so here are three more:
Episode 39: “Clay City Chaperone” (Aired: 10/02/53)
Miss Brooks wants to chaperone the team to Clay City so she can be with Mr. Boynton.
With Miss Brooks putting up a valiant effort against the always nice-nasty Miss Enright, played deliciously by Mary Jane Croft (in a role very different than the ditzy sidekick for which she is best known), this is a classically designed episode of the series. With an ensuing chain of mix-ups and a single unfolding premise, this second season premiere is an easy choice for first time viewers, containing all the hallmarks of Our Miss Brooks and why its characters are such fun.
Episode 45: “Phone Book Follies” (Aired: 11/13/53)
Miss Brooks thinks Conklin has stolen her phone book.
This series often employed its own brand of farce, a type of comedy that’s difficult to make work (and even when it does, the writing often doesn’t get the credit it deserves because effortlessness is key), and this episode is a textbook example. While Our Miss Brooks believes that Mr. Conklin has stolen her telephone book (remember those, kids?), Mr. Conklin believes Miss Brooks has stolen his. This isn’t a fantastic offering, but it’s amiable and finely crafted.
Episode 58: “Wild Goose Chase” (Aired: 03/12/54)
Walter unknowingly sends Miss Brooks on a wild goose chase.
Among the many stories that the TV version adapted from radio (where the show was, ultimately, a funnier presence), this episode, like the two above, is sort of a typical Our Miss Brooks concept, and it works without having to actually try too hard. The premise has Walter pranking Conklin with an early April Fool’s gag by making the principal think he’s won a TV. But Conklin makes Miss Brooks go get it for him, resulting in a drawn out “wild goose chase.”
Six episodes were chosen from Season Three, and while it’s a really bad season of comedy, it’s no worse than Season Four (for which I made seven selections). So I think eight episodes is fair. Here are the two I would add:
Episode 74: “Angela’s Wedding” (Aired: 11/05/54)
Angela mistakes the school’s new coach for her mail-order groom.
I’ve always preferred Jane Morgan’s Margaret Davis to the character’s sister, Jessalyn Fox’s Angela Devon, and so I sometimes overlook episodes that feature a lot of Angela. In this one, both women appear, but Eve Arden does most of the heavy lifting (as it should be) and the script has less to do with either of them than it does with Our Miss Brooks, who not only has to foster a romance between two people who don’t know what the other looks like, but also takes part in a small love triangle!
Episode 79: “Four Leaf Clover” (Aired: 12/17/54)
Miss Brooks has an unparalleled day of bad luck.
I like the story of this episode more than I appreciate the execution. The scripting is reminiscent of early Rhoda, which takes an interesting idea and then kind of meanders the trajectory in a way that feels more realistic than a lot of typical sitcom plotting. Of course, Our Miss Brooks is usually a broad show, and this one doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Again, this isn’t a wonderful outing, but for Season Three, it looks a little better than it otherwise would.
THE LUCY SHOW
Because I was disappointed in Season Four, I convinced myself that the year didn’t deserve a full list. I’ve changed my mind, and it’s primarily because I gave each season of Here’s Lucy a full ten, and I don’t want to imply that Here’s Lucy is better than The Lucy Show — even in its worst years. So here are two I would add:
Episode 89: “Lucy, The Stunt Man” (Aired: 10/18/65 | Filmed: 06/24/65)
Lucy masquerades as stuntman Iron Man Carmichael to earn some extra money.
Written Bob O’Brien, Iz Elinson, and Fred S. Fox
Blondell (who was just our spotlighted star on Pre-Code Film Fridays) makes her second of two consecutive appearances as Lucy’s new friend Joan, who was briefly tested as a possible sidekick replacement (for the now married Viv). The story of Lucy and Joan’s mutual distaste for one another is legendary, but they nevertheless share ample chemistry. This particular episode is also the first — and best — incarnation of the Iron Man Carmichael trilogy of shows.
Episode 108: “Lucy And Clint Walker” (Aired: 03/07/66 | Filmed: 02/03/66)
Lucy wants to knit a sweater for her masculine boyfriend.
Written by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson
Clint Walker (of Cheyenne) makes the second of two appearances as Lucy’s boyfriend Frank. (This kind of pairing plays up Lucy’s femininity, making her scatterbrained-ness more charming than obnoxious.) This is a comparatively quiet episode, all about Lucy’s attempts to knit her beau a sweater for his birthday. Gordon’s Mooney is particularly funny, while the stuff with the dog is cute without being cloying. The highlight, however, is the measurement scene.
Similarly, I only chose eight episodes for Season Five, the show’s worst season. But here are the two I would add:
Episode 111: “Lucy And George Burns” (Aired: 09/12/66 | Filmed: 06/23/66)
Lucy becomes George Burns’ partner in his nightclub act.
Written by Bob O’Brien
Being a fan of both George Burns and Gracie Allen (and I’d like to note that I absolutely intend to cover their series here one day; I’m only missing one of the filmed shows, but am still holding out hope for more of the first two live years), it’s interesting to see George paired with Lucy. I don’t necessarily like that her character is written like Gracie’s, as they’re both very different (a slapstick-heavy schemer vs. a wordplay-oriented logic twister), but there are laughs here.
Episode 120: “Lucy And John Wayne” (Aired: 11/21/66 | Filmed: 09/01/66)
Lucy wreaks havoc on John Wayne’s new movie set.
Written by Bob O’Brien
Truthfully, this popular episode was knowingly left off my initial list because I find the premise indicative of what’s wrong with the Lucy character during these California years. She’s a stupid, obnoxious, and more importantly, unrealistic busybody with very few redeeming qualities. However, if you can get past this major flaw of characterization, you’ll find some good block comedy and another enjoyable appearance from Ball’s good friend and good sport, John Wayne.
I did a lot of evaluation on my Bewitched choices, especially for the sixth season, as there were some honorable mentions that I thought could have been better than the episodes I actually chose. But I stick by everything. Rather, there is a substitution for Season Five. Instead of “Samantha’s Power Failure,” which I chose because of Serena and Unlce Arthur’s fun interaction, but otherwise detested due to its plagiarism, the better offering to include is . . .
Episode 164: “The Battle Of Burning Oak” (Aired: 03/13/69 | Completed: 08/15/68)
Endora turns Darrin into a snob when a client asks them to join their country club.
Written by Leo Townsend & Pauline Townsend | Directed by R. Robert Rosenbaum
Although this offering is primarily a standout because it includes Darrin (not a guarantee at this point in the series’ run, as York had already collapsed on set — never to return) and features a premise in which Samantha is allowed to use her witchcraft to make fools of snobby mortals (a theme introduced way back with Shiela in the pilot), this episode is actually funny. Nevertheless, it’s here because of that wonderful final scene where Sam bests the country club set.
My MVE selection for Season Three was “It’s A Bird, It’s a Plane (It’s Gilligan),” which I think is the season’s most interesting (and ’60s) rescue story. But, I regret not going with my personal favorite, and one of the show’s most memorable offerings, “The Producer.” That’s the real MVE.
“Lucy Loses Her Cool,” despite being derivative of several past Lucy outings, is an underrated gem. That’s why I initially chose it as MVE. Also, I wanted to eschew the predictability of selecting one of Lucy’s absolute classic offerings, “Lucy Meets The Burtons.” But I really do believe the latter is a standout moment of situation comedy, and much, much funnier than I gave it credit for in my initial Season Three post. It more than deserves being the year’s MVE.
“Lucy Meets The Burtons”
THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW
“Sobriety Test” was chosen as Season Two‘s MVE based on the strength of Van Dyke’s performance and the script’s allowance for him to do his expert shtick. But the season premiere, “The Former Mr. Preston,” is the better written installment, less focused on Van Dyke and more on the narrative and the ensemble cast. It’s also one of the show’s funniest offerings — a great example of what the show could do on its best days.
“The Former Mr. Preston”
THE BOB NEWHART SHOW
Readers may remember how notoriously disappointed I was in the fifth season of The Bob Newhart Show. And I was mad that the fan favorite, “Death Be My Destiny,” wasn’t as strong as past MVEs. So I chose another offering, “The Ironwood Experience,” even though it maybe doesn’t deserve to be cited as Season Five‘s finest. “Death Be My Destiny” is the stronger of the two, and I would now choose it as the year’s best.
“Death Be My Destiny”
Maude was the hardest show to write because I got the brand new DVD set about a month before the posts went live, so there are some decisions that I still question. One of the biggest is from Season Four, where I neglected to include a wonderful episode — even in the honorable mentions — called “Walter’s Ethics.” (If drafting a list today, I think it would replace “The Christmas Party.”)
Episode 81: “Walter’s Ethics” (Aired: 12/01/75)
Maude is shocked when Walter uses Carol as bait for a potential client.
Written by Arthur Marx & Bob Fisher
Of all the episodes added/swapped on today’s “regrets” post, this is the one I’m most disappointed to have initially overlooked. This is actually one of the season’s best, for it manages to combine a premise with potential relevance together with character revealing moments and sharp well earned laughs. In fact, this is an incredibly solid offering, representing exactly what Maude does best (when it’s at its best), and I love how simple the set-up is — it’s just Maude, Walter, Carol, and Mrs. Naugatuck with Robert Mandan as one of Walter’s clients — making for a tight one-act play. Really well done entry.
Unlike the previously referenced fifth season of The Bob Newhart Show, I did end up selecting the fan favorite as MVE for my coverage on Season Six of Maude. I chose “Maude’s Guilt Trip,” a fantastic showcase for Bea Arthur that includes many great bits. But there’s an episode that I think is just as funny and a better representation of the show’s ability to balance humor with topicality in its later seasons. I’m thinking of “The Gay Bar,” which I now choose as the year’s MVE.
“The Gay Bar”
I chose Episode 57 as Soap‘s MVE for Season Three because each scene is so comedically realized — there’s not a dud in there. But the season premiere, Episode 48, probably has even bigger laughs; it’s a classic, and probably the year’s best.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!