The Thirteen Best LEAVE IT TO BEAVER Episodes of Seasons Three & Four

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing coverage on the best of Leave It To Beaver (1957-1958, CBS; 1958-1963, ABC), which is currently available in full on DVD!

Leave It To Beaver stars BARBARA BILLINGSLEY as June Cleaver, HUGH BEAUMONT as Ward Cleaver, TONY DOW as Wally Cleaver, and JERRY MATHERS as The Beaver.

Every season is different. Take the first two; collectively they boast the most authentic depictions of the boys, but One is written for adults, giving more emotional arcs to Ward, while Two is for the children, settling into a routine where naive Beaver learns a weekly lesson from his firm yet loving dad (underscored by gentle music). Then there’s more change. Three dials down Two’s overwrought moralizing and puts more stock in Beaver’s hijinks, usually with Larry. There are still lessons, but the show is growing up — it’s less sentimental, and now sillier — and this is the best-remembered version of Beaver: it’s about a young boy’s adventures, but with less syrup. Fans often compare Three to Four, but be careful; even though the latter begins where the prior ends — with a kid doing kid things — there’s more growth this year than any other, and the end of Four is more like Five than Three, with the Cleaver boys acting neither like kids nor teens, but figures somewhere in the middle, still capable of learning, but lessons more precious than boys their age would really be learning. If it’s subtle compared to what’s ahead, that’s because Four is the transition, taking Beaver from a silly kid (surrounded by other silly kids, like Larry, who disappears quickly) to an awkward, sweaty guy who’s unsure of himself. And though we associate the pubescent Beaver with later years — where this is more glaring — it’s Four when this starts, and thus, those developing narrative problems first appear here. That is, Beaver is no longer a kid, but the show can’t write him as a teen (it doesn’t know how to believably), so stories either regressively keep him extra juvenile or they turn elsewhere — devoting more time to Wally, who’s also sanitized but has flawed chums like Eddie and Lumpy around to push story. What’s more, because Four is unsure of how to handle this emerging Beaver, it tries to mask its familiar, juvenile fare by making stories bolder, with bigger and broader laughs. Sometimes they work (see below); sometimes they don’t… Nevertheless, Four is not as troubling as those ahead — several of the big-hijinks shows at the end of the year, while strained, are memorable — and with Three as something of a Golden Age, this list is the one that presents Beaver as most fans prefer it. So, I have picked thirteen episodes that I think exemplify these two seasons’ finest.

 

Season Three (1959-1960, ABC)

01) Episode 86: “Beaver’s Tree” (Aired: 11/21/59)

Beaver wants to retrieve a tree from the yard of their old house.

Teleplay by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Story by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by Norman Tokar

This installment, though sentimental, roots its heart in Beaver’s character and some appreciated continuity regarding the family’s recent move. It also benefits from a physical, laugh-seeking centerpiece involving the boys trying to steal a tree: an unusual subject matter that makes for an original story showcasing Beaver‘s relative uniqueness in the domestic genre.

02) Episode 87: “Teacher Comes To Dinner” (Aired: 11/28/59)

Beaver is nervous when his teacher comes over for dinner.

Teleplay by Katherine Eunson & Dale Eunson | Story by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by Norman Tokar

A popular offering, this is the best of the shows revolving around Beaver’s fascination with his teacher, as Miss Landers (Sue Randall) comes to the house. The plot is light on conflict, but finds its charm in small moments and through a kid-focused, relatable premise.

03) Episode 90: “Beaver, The Magician” (Aired: 12/19/59)

A gullible kid is convinced that Beaver’s been turned into a rock.

Written by George Tibbles, Joe Connelly, & Bob Mosher | Directed by David Butler

In a reverse of what happened in the first season, when Beaver was naively convinced that he took down Eddie Haskell with some voodoo magic, this entry shows that the title chancier has grown up and is now doing the tricking, convincing a younger neighborhood boy that he (Beaver) has been turned into a rock by Larry. It’s silly, but specific and funny.

04) Episode 91: “June’s Birthday” (Aired: 12/26/59)

Beaver buys his mother an ugly blouse for her birthday and expects her to wear it.

Teleplay by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Story by Katherine Eunson & Dale Eunson | Directed by Norman Tokar

June rarely gets to be the source of a story, so this outing is something of a novelty; it’s also a rarity for this era, because it’s the parent who’s in the wrong (as we saw with Ward back in Season One), as her fear of being embarrassed by wearing Beaver’s gaudy blouse ends up hurting him when he catches her in a lie. It’s an atypical plot, but with higher emotional stakes.

05) Episode 93: “Larry Hides Out” (Aired: 01/09/60)

Larry runs away from home and hides out at Beaver’s.

Written by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by David Butler

Another popular installment, this offering is probably one of the most straightforward, memorable examples of a Beaver/Larry scheme as the latter runs away from home and Beaver helps hide him. We also get to see plenty of the delightful Madge Blake as Mrs. Mondello.

06) Episode 106: “Ward’s Baseball” (Aired: 04/09/60)

Beaver and Larry ruin Ward’s priceless autographed baseball.

Written by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by Earl Bellamy

If I were choosing an MVE for this year alone, it would be this one: the poster child for the series’ narrative interests during Three, with Beaver and his best pal, Larry (the funniest of Beaver’s friends), doing something they’re not supposed to do and getting in trouble. There’s a lesson, but it’s not as schmaltzy as it would be had it come in Two. Instead, the script’s focus is on the details of the story, with another precise subject — a baseball autographed by many legendary players — and an attempted cover-up that’s funny, age-appropriate, and specific.

07) Episode 111: “The Spot Removers” (Aired: 05/14/60)

Beaver accidentally ruins Wally’s suit… twice.

Written by Bob Ross, Joe Connelly, & Bob Mosher | Directed by Norman Tokar

Beaver is once again a naive nuisance in this offering — although, in a sign of what’s to come, he’s got a different co-conspirator than Larry. But with another detail-oriented plot where Wally’s suit is victim to his younger brother’s hijinks, there’s room for some surprising humanity from Eddie Haskell, a flawed character who’s nicely dimensionalized here.

 

Season Four (1960-1961, ABC)

08) Episode 116: “Beaver Won’t Eat” (Aired: 10/01/60)

Beaver refuses to eat his Brussels sprouts.

Written by Bob Ross | Directed by Norman Abbott

Okay, I can’t pretend that this is a classic, but it is amusing and well-written, and I wanted to highlight it here as a sample of the more youth-based kid-focused stories that occur early in Season Four, before more contrastable entries where the Beaver simply can’t play so young.

09) Episode 136: “Beaver’s Old Buddy” (Aired: 02/04/61)

Beaver gets a visit from an old friend… but finds that things have changed.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane and Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by Norman Abbott

Again, I can’t say this episode is a classic — frankly, it’s neither as funny nor as nuanced as I’d like — but I appreciate it for thematically offering something that few stories in this era do: acknowledgement of Beaver’s inevitable growth and the changes that are occurring.

10) Episode 143: “Eddie Spends The Night” (Aired: 03/25/61)

Eddie and Wally fight during a sleepover.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane and Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by Norman Abbott

It’s around this time in the run that, as noted above, the show begins relying more on Wally and his friends to spark story (to distract from Beaver) and in that vein, this is one of the strongest outings this year (and EVER) for Eddie, who, again, gets some added depth.

11) Episode 147: “The School Picture” (Aired: 04/22/61)

Beaver makes a face in the class picture.

Teleplay by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Story by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by Norman Abbott

Beyond an amiable premise that pushes for laughs in a way that I wish this series was able to do more regularly (but is doing more often now at the end of Season Four to distract from some of its mounting narrative issues), this entry has a relatable storyline that maybe feels like something a teenage-ish Beaver would do, as opposed to a younger kid.

12) Episode 149: “In The Soup” (Aired: 05/06/61)

Beaver falls into a giant soup bowl up on a billboard.

Teleplay by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Story by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by Norman Abbott

My choice for this list’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “In The Soup” is one of the most famous half-hours of the entire series, and it’s easy to see why: it’s another memorable premise that hinges around details that help distinguish it both from normal Beaver offerings and also from the period’s other warmedies. These details help supply bigger laughs and, though its iconic status is guaranteed by plot and not by character, the plot nevertheless feels motivated by what we know of Beaver and his history. Furthermore, this is a perfect illustration of the more audacious storytelling of late Season Four, which is broader than any other point in the show’s lifespan. Yes, it’s a little too loud to be an ambassador for the rest of the series, but it showcases this era accurately and with more courage than any other installment.

13) Episode 156: “Substitute Father” (Aired: 06/24/61)

Wally takes over as man of the house when Ward is away.

Written by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by David Butler

The season’s finale, this excursion has been selected so that I can contrast it with the year’s premiere, because while that story was built for a kid, this one is built for someone who’s somewhat older, and with Wally assuming more maturity himself, this is exactly the kind of show that better resembles — like I said above — Season Five as opposed to Three…

 

Other notable episodes that merit mention include: the closest to the list from Season Three, “Beaver’s Dance,” in which Beaver and Larry act out by going horseback riding instead of dancing, and “Mother’s Day Composition,” the June-focused version of last year’s paternal and more earnest “Most Interesting Character.” Other decent shows include “The Hypnotist,” a “Voodoo Magic” redux, “Beaver Finds A Wallet,” which is sweet, and “Beaver, The Model,” which boasts a fun premise. From Season Four, the closest to the list are “Beaver’s Report Card,” which looks forward to Season Five with a story about Eddie and Lumpy pranking the Beaver, and “Beaver Goes Into Business,” which claims another likable premise (I just wish Larry was included instead of Gilbert). Of more Honorable Mention quality are “Uncle Billy,” with Edgar Buchanan, “Ward’s Millions,” the Ward-focused and less tangible take on “June’s Birthday,” “The Big Fish Count,” where Eddie once again makes a mess of things, and the comedically premised “Beaver’s Doll Buggy.”

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Seasons Three & Four of Leave It To Beaver goes to…

“In The Soup”

 

 

Come back next week for Seasons Five and Six! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!

2 thoughts on “The Thirteen Best LEAVE IT TO BEAVER Episodes of Seasons Three & Four

  1. “Mother’s Day Composition” is a favorite of a friend of mine when I showed him the episode. He loved how Beaver had June dancing in “beer joints”. Larry pointed out that he & his classmates knew that June hadn’t done those things, but they loved the story he made up.

    I thought “Beaver’s House Guest” made a very interesting story, showing how Beaver thinks his friend gets a lot more stuff from having all those relatives & step-relatives, but he learns otherwise.

    IMO, “The School Picture” showed Gilbert at his most evil. In the later seasons of the show (which I actually prefer to the earlier seasons for the most part), I wanted Beaver to slug Gilbert, Richard, and Whitey at different times, or at least to stop listening to them. Eddie & Lumpy themselves were no help to either of the Cleaver boys most of the time.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m not a fan of “Beaver’s House Guest.” I find it joylessly didactic, within the “Very Special Episode” category that also houses, among others, duds like “Beaver And Andy.”

      Also, I think “evil” is a bit of a stretch with regard to Gilbert, who never really has much of a consistent personality and is only used in story the same way other friends like Larry and Richard are — as Beaver’s co-conspirator or, at most, the igniter of harmless mischief.

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