The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Nine

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing our look at the best of The Danny Thomas Show! This season is not available for purchase, but it is in current TV packages. (Most online episode guides for this series are widely inaccurate; these posts reflect the actual air dates, sourced from contemporary newspaper and TV Guide listings.)

The Danny Thomas Show stars DANNY THOMAS as Danny Williams, MARJORIE LORD as Kathy Williams, RUSTY HAMER as Rusty Williams, and ANGELA CARTWRIGHT as Linda Williams. With AMANDA RANDOLPH, SID MELTON, and PAT CARROLL.

If Eight was a comedown in quality because the series attempted to rely on characterizations that had to be contorted and falsified in order to propel otherwise familiar idea-led plots by new head writers, then Nine deserves credit for not further eroding the series’ baseline. Oh, yes, most of the adjectives for Eight apply here too, and sure, while last year still claimed decent stories for the kids, this one no longer writes for them — mostly Rusty — well, and thus tries less often. But, just as with Terry/Pat in Seven, this year concocts a distraction that both warrants the decreased use of Rusty and diverts our attention so we don’t recognize that a problem necessitates a distraction. I’m referring now to Bunny, wife of Charley and played by great character actress Pat Carroll, who, when paired with Sid Melton, is a theoretically funny addition. Unfortunately, as usual, Bunny doesn’t end up having much of a personality — an opening show tries to define her as domineering, but the series never again makes bold enough plot choices to reinforce the notion. In character terms, she’s a dud. However, her inclusion does allow the show to finally engage the “two couple” structure, and even though this makes it more conventional, as most husband/wife shows have a secondary pair (Mertzes, Nortons, Helpers, etc.), “the Halpers” (see the Dick Van Dyke connection?) invite more story at a time when the series craves it. Additionally, Charley and Bunny enable the latter half of Nine to push a pregnancy arc, something CBS had wanted for years (first with Danny/Kathy). As expected, this gives the back half of Nine a sense of narrative purpose and its stories hold slightly more character-interest than those typical guest-star-driven outings, of which there are a handful… whether the head writer is Sid Caesar‘s Danny Simon, who lasts for about two-thirds of the year but facilitates the series’ growing association with Dick Van Dyke (which premiered this season and was created by Simon’s old associate, Carl Reiner), or his replacement, future The Facts Of Life creator Howard Leeds. So, Nine ends up more episodically rewarding than its predecessor, even if, underneath, the same qualities persist and the new couple only exists as a tactic for Danny to once again attempt a part-time retirement in Ten. But that’s for next week; in the meantime, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this year’s finest.

 

01) Episode 253: “Love Letters” (Aired: 10/16/61)

Linda distributes Danny’s love letters to Kathy around the building.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Although the series has already done a story where Linda acts as postman (see: last season’s “Kathy Delivers The Mail”), this inventively comic premise is original in its own right and comes within a script that keeps the characterizations honest, and grounded by the solid Danny/Kathy relationship, making this the best installment from the fall of 1961, which isn’t necessarily full of turkeys, but isn’t as strong as the two pregnant trimesters ahead.

02) Episode 263: “A Baby For Charley” (Aired: 01/01/62)

The Williamses try to prepare Charley for the news that he’s going to be a father.

Written by David Adler | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

After only two outings with Bunny (the first of which, referenced above, is dreadful), the season gets around to its ulterior motive: introducing a pregnancy arc that can make Charley a daddy and posit him as a possible replacement for Danny. These shows have an objective — made more obvious in hindsight — yet they’re mostly funny and sincere, with believable character moments and a sense of narrative purpose that’s not only appealing, but fresh (for the series). This is one of the best, thanks to a fun centerpiece where the Williamses’ attempt to show Charley a nice, loving family meal turns into a slapstick disaster. Sweet, but comical too.

03) Episode 264: “Useless Charley” (Aired: 01/08/62)

Charley feels useless now that his wife is expecting.

Written by Danny Simon & Mel Tolkin | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Some online episode guides erroneously have this entry and the prior reversed; obviously this is the correct order (verified by newspaper listings), as Charley is nervous about his now pending fatherhood, leading to the requisite scene where Danny tries to put him at ease with a plastic baby tutorial. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again (like on Joey Bishop), but this version is as good as any; Simon and Tolkin’s script is effortless — crisp ’60s comedy writing.

04) Episode 265: “Linda, The Tomboy” (Aired: 01/15/62)

Danny teaches Linda how to flirt with boys.

Written by Iz Elinson & Fred S. Fox | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

While Rusty only gets two offerings here, both of which pale in comparison to those from earlier years, Linda’s usage remains fine, and indeed, she actually gets this half-hour to herself, for even though it’s basically a hodgepodge of earlier ideas — Linda being a tomboy and needing a makeover, Danny trying to give a young girl romantic advice (like with Gina), etc. — it’s definitive and the climactic scene, where Linda tries her darndest to flirt, is a hoot.

05) Episode 267: “Casanova Tonoose” (Aired: 01/29/62)

Tonoose needs help with his dating life.

Written by David Adler | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

This is the best of Tonoose’s three appearances in Nine — all of which cover familiar territory and won’t earn any awards for originality. However, this entry, about his trying to date and needing help from Danny and Kathy, is the most fun, putting an emphasis on the comedic moments and not shying away from big laughs. Amzie Strickland is choice here, and she’s aided by a script from “Adler,” then also contributing to Dick Van Dyke. Ann Tyrrell also guests.

06) Episode 268: “Charley Does It Himself” (Aired: 02/05/62)

Charley and Danny try to put together the nursery.

Written by Ray Singer & Dick Chevillat | Directed by Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas

I’m a sucker for physical comedy — well, at least when it’s well-handled, as it is on Lucy and Dick Van Dyke — and since our coverage of Danny Thomas is especially concerned with this series’ relationship to those aforementioned classics, I am particularly excited when it offers a good slapstick sequence, like this one, which trots out all the old familiar gags when Charley and Danny attempt to makeover the baby’s nursery themselves. Sid Melton shines.

07) Episode 272: “Temper, Temper” (Aired: 03/05/62)

Danny tries to watch his temper just as Kathy schemes to make him explode.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

By this point in the season, the head writing duties (or “story consultant” duties, to be technical) have transferred from Simon to Leeds, and though there’s not really a big difference in quality, I’d say Leeds’ brief era is broader and less honest, with characters behaving like characters — Kathy going along with Bunny’s scheme here, for instance. But some of these outings earn their laughs by keeping motivations clear and letting the performers take over. That’s why this one, also a prime example of how the “two couple” structure is so ubiquitous on the sitcom, works.

08) Episode 274: “Bunny Cooks A Meal” (Aired: 03/19/62)

Bunny needs help cooking a dinner for Charley’s cousin.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Danny and Charley get pies in the face at the end of this rowdy episode that makes Bunny the butt of its joke, as her lack of skills in the kitchen force her into mania as she seeks help from Linda and Louise (the latter is seldom used in story, so it’s always a treat when she’s involved) to cook a meal for Charley’s cousin (Louis Nye). It’s silly, but memorable too, and goes a long way in filling out, via the dots, a characterization with which Carroll can play.

09) Episode 277: “Extrasensory Charley” (Aired: 04/09/62)

Bunny and the Williamses convince Charley that he has ESP.

Written by Leo Solomon & Ben Gershman | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

More “two couple” hijinks occur in this installment, courtesy of an amusing charades centerpiece where Bunny, in retaliation for a prank played on her, decides to get back at her husband by convincing the Williamses to help her make him think that he has ESP. This is a tweak on a story that we’ll find often in these last few years — the old gaslighting bit — and we’ve even seen it before, like in the classic “Danny And The Little Men,” but there’s enough that’s different here to make this tried, true, and slightly overused, formula feel new.

10) Episode 231: “Baby” (Aired: 05/07/62)

Charley is sedated just before Bunny goes into labor.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Baby” is the point to which the entire year has been building, if not from the moment Bunny debuted in November, then at least since it introduced her pregnancy in January. So, as part of the story arc that defines the season, this entry is inherently deserving of being singled out as its best, but I also like it both because it’s extremely funny — again, it’s a showcase for Sid Melton — and also because it’s a great indication of the series’ dovetailing interests with Dick Van Dyke, which, earlier in the ’61-’62 season, produced an iconic flashback about a nervous daddy-to-be waiting for his wife to go into labor. Well, this is another iteration of that story, taking Rob’s energy and transferring it to Charley, but adding another comic twist: he’s been tranquilized right before her water breaks and is therefore a no-good, loopy mess as it’s time for her to check into the hospital. It’s a lot of silly, unforgettable fun, revealing a link between these two shows while also displaying the best of what this particular season of Danny Thomas has to offer on its own.

 

Other notable entries that merit mention include: “Danny Weaves A Web,” which may have been highlighted above if there wasn’t a much funnier take on the story coming up in Season Eleven, “Keeping Up With The Joneses,” which is Bunny’s second episode and the first real “two couple” story, and “A Nose By Any Other Name,” an overly sincere outing where Danny is self-conscious about his nose — a remake of a show from Season Two! Of more Honorable Mention quality are: “Tonoose Vs. Daly,” a more physical but less substantive remake of the last time Conried and Demarest were paired, along with “Teacher For A Day,” which features Mabel Albertson but is unpleasantly didactic, “Casanova Junior,” the best of the two Rusty shows because his growth is obvious (even though he’s less truthful than before), “Danny And Bob Hope Get Away From It All,” another chance for Bob Hope to do part of his act, and “Kathy, The Pro,” a strong example of Danny Thomas taking a story done earlier in the year by Dick Van Dyke and reformatting it for its own purposes.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Nine of The Danny Thomas Show goes to…

“Baby”

 

 

Come back next week for more Danny Thomas and tomorrow, a new Wildcard Wednesday!

8 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Nine

  1. Oh, this brings back so many memories of when I saw TDTS as a kid in reruns. I loved Pat Carroll’s addition to the series. I thought Bunny added a lot to the show. (Did we really need it put explicitly that Bunny dominated Charley?) I remember the episode where she had to be a gourmet cook for Louis Nye’s character (what was her classic line? “I can’t even fry water…broil water? Bake water?” or something to that effect). And the closing line of “Baby”–“When Charley wakes up I’m going to tell him HE had the baby.” Question: Is “Extrasensory Charley” the episode where the gang is playing charades and they give Bunny “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” and then purposefully can’t get it right? That was hysterical! Anyway, I so enjoyed today’s post. P.S. Even as a kid I noted Rusty’s diminishing presence in the last few years of the series, as well that of the divine Amanda Randolph.

    • Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, the line in “Bunny Cooks A Meal” is “I can’t even fry water.” Yes, “Extrasensory Charley” is the episode you’re thinking about with the charades gag. And yes, I need it put explicitly that Bunny dominates Charley. Here’s why.

      Characters on a regular series need to be well-defined because they need to propel believable story. Those not easily defined make narrative-generation difficult and inherently have trouble earning the audience’s emotional investment, for we need consistency to sustain a suspension of disbelief. Furthermore, if characters drive stories, then stories drive characters — they show us what characters want, how they think, and how they act. From there we find exploitable flaws/quirks that inform a comedic perspective that should then inform the way they exist every week, independent of plot. So, any issue with the characterization of Bunny starts with, and is best evidenced by, how she’s used within story.

      Here’s the problem then: when we look at the plots in which she appears, there’s no consistency. We don’t see a clear, pinpointable person, let alone one whose “quirk” is that she’s the alpha in her marriage. Take, for instance, the three episodes you referenced. Are these not traditional husband/wife ideas that almost any sitcom from this era could employ, regardless of the wife’s personality? “Baby” is merely a tweak on the nervous dad template in the by-the-numbers pregnancy arc — she herself is immaterial — and “Extrasensory Charley” is a variation on a story type often used with Kathy (who’s not an alpha with Danny). Sure, to be fair, “Bunny Cooks A Meal” offers the comedic premise that Bunny is NOT a domestic goddess, which sort of hints at the idea of a role reversal and could have been a trait the show deployed thereafter as part of her regular persona. But it doesn’t — she’s never again a bad cook. Just as, after her debut, there’s never a story about her being dominant in her marriage. It’s merely a circumstantial choice.

      So, how is she used? Depends on the circumstance. In Seasons Nine and Eleven, she’s one half of the secondary pair enabling “two couple” stories and/or the unimaginative pregnancy arc. In Season Ten, she’s a proxy Kathy. In both cases, her depiction varies based on the weekly idea, with scarcely a definable perspective sustaining itself week-to-week beyond the sheer energy with which Carroll imbues the role. And Carroll does have an aggressive energy, while Melton has a passive one — it’s undeniable. But that’s kind of like the whole dominance thing: a subtext supplied mostly by the casting, and not so much used in the text on a regular basis. That is, we look at Carroll and Melton together and *that* is the funniest thing about them. On the show itself, there really isn’t much there there, not consistently. And, though I appreciate the performance, it’s overcompensating for what’s not on the page.

      (And for reference, check out well-built characters on other shows. Ethel Mertz, another female half of a secondary couple, is like everybody else on I LOVE LUCY: a functional cog existing solely in relation to Lucy and her primary goal. But she’s so consistent that actual traits come into focus, supplying a seemingly well-rounded depiction that we can identify, recognize in story, and in which we can then invest. It’s a far cry from Bunny.)

      • This comment ended up so long that it obscured my point. Simply put, the notion of Bunny dominating Charley is never again reinforced in story after her debut, and being that story is the vessel that explores character, the fact that Bunny is limited to functional roles (secondary wife, expectant mother, proxy Kathy) within familiar narrative templates, means she never gets a truly definable characterization. Our regard for Bunny is mostly because she’s a performer we appreciate filling a position in the ensemble we appreciate.

  2. Another great post! In this season an effort was made to give Pat Carroll some funny material. Not so much in Season 10, despite her greater prominence.

    • Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, with the Halpers forced to become beta versions of the Williamses during the latter’s absence, Bunny has to assume Kathy’s former position in most of Season Ten’s weekly stories: straight man.

      I think, however, Carroll playing straight man in Ten while being more comedic in Nine does not indicate a characterization that was then discarded, but rather a malleable persona that was *always* dependent on circumstance, and I’d caution against believing that her work here in Nine shows promise that thereafter went unrealized — they’re flip sides of the same coin.

      You see, in Nine, she’s one half of the secondary pair enabling “two couple” stories and a by-the-numbers pregnancy arc, and her use in weekly plot therefore fulfills those expectations. She’s less a character than a cog. In Ten, she’s the new leading lady, and, again, her use in weekly plot fulfills those expectations and she remains less a character than a cog. What’s changed? The circumstance dictating the part she’s playing. What’s stayed the same? Not her characterization, otherwise she’d still be funny.

      Sadly, she never has a true characterization because she’s never used consistently in story in a way that could create the focused image of a personality outside of her circumstantial position(s).

      This lack of singular definition is always an issue with her on this series, no matter if she does/doesn’t get funny lines, but it’s only when she and Charley are at the fore in Ten that it becomes obvious. So, I think if we’re going to say that, yes, at least she’s funnier in Nine, we also have to note that this is because Nine, with its “two couple” novelty and story-driven pregnancy arc, merely disguises the problem. That’s the overall takeaway I have this week: the introduction of a secondary couple, via Bunny, diverts attention away from the series’ growing inability to be funny and sincere with its characters in motivated story. Bunny is a welcome distraction, but she never doesn’t embody the problem.

      • Thanks Jackson. Very insightful. It does seem strange that Pat was hired with an eye to taking over the show without a strong vision of how she would be presented. She was an established “funny lady” so her straight man status in Season 10 did neither her nor the proposed spinoff any favors.

        • It’s the same as with the other Pat though, isn’t it? Thomas recognized a funny talent and sought to hand over his show to a qualified person, not giving enough attention to the fact that packaging him/her, via character, would be vital to sustainability in the situation comedy format. I think Carroll was a more successful addition than Harrington, but that’s because the incorporation of a secondary couple was a smart move for the series on traditional terms too, regardless of how defined her character ended up being.

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