Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re starting coverage on the best of The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963, CBS), which is currently available in full on DVD.
Dobie Gillis stars DWAYNE HICKMAN, FRANK FAYLEN, FLORIDA FRIEBUS, BOB DENVER, and TUESDAY WELD. With WILLIAM SCHALLERT, SHEILA JAMES, STEVE FRANKEN, DORIS PACKER, and WARREN BEATTY.
First thing’s first. This show went by several different titles — in its first year it was The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis, in its next two it was simply Dobie Gillis, and in its last it became Max Shulman’s Dobie Gillis. I’ll be using the shortest (Dobie Gillis) for everything but the headlines — note, however, that most contemporary discourse about the show still uses its extended original title. I think this has to do with a subconscious desire to reinforce a link with the series’ origin material and emphasize the elements of identity that work best. But before I get ahead of myself, I have to preface our look at Dobie Gillis with a disclaimer: this is not a seminal work as far as our study of the “sitcom” goes. I could have skipped it without fear, for despite Max Shulman’s boldly unique writing style (as individual as Nat Hiken’s), there’s nothing creatively influential enough about the show to make it stand as a unignorable work. Sure, it’s idea-based in the Phil Silvers vein, and you may read in footnotes that its teen dynamic went on to inspire shows like Scooby Doo, but every entity involving leads of that age is built similarly, and if we’re tracing these origins, then we have to predate TV and go to Archie Comics and the Andy Hardy films before them. I’m not doing that here because none of the teen sitcoms in the early ’60s as a result of Dobie Gillis — Margie, Fair Exchange, Patty Duke, Karen, Gidget, etc. — are strong enough to deserve the dive, and what’s more, they’re aesthetically unlike Dobie Gillis, which is so steeped in Shulman’s ethos that it remains one of a kind. To that point, if you’re going to pick one teen sitcom from the period to study, this is the only good choice, because it’s the boldest — with the highest highs and the lowest lows as proof. To wit, there’s only one season of Dobie Gillis‘ four-year run that’s great. The remaining three exist somewhere between decent and indecent… and if that’s not a ringing endorsement for coverage, I have two big reasons for looking at the series. The first is that I have decided to use it as a case study for two significant trends that emerge more obviously in ’60s comedy — demo-targeting and the ongoing mitigation of realism. The second is that this so-called great year, the series’ first, is the best sitcom season of the 1959-’60 TV schedule, and before we officially move to the ’60s, I want to look at this transitional period by acknowledging its finest.
We’ll get to why Season One is the series’ best soon. But first, I have to point out that the competition in 1959-’60 wasn’t stiff. As a matter of fact, the situation comedy, as a genre, was in its first real slump in the TV era, or more specifically, since 1952, when the recent triumph of I Love Lucy had all the networks scrambling to replicate its success, leading to several years of heavy comedic programming that peaked during the 1954-’55 season with nearly 30 original sitcoms on the fall schedule. Following that boom and bust, news of the genre’s demise began in the industry, but for a little while, it was greatly exaggerated. It wasn’t until 1957, when I Love Lucy left primetime, that audience trends really turned elsewhere — to westerns mostly, motivating a reduction in the number of original laffers. This lasted until about 1961, when all three networks consciously put effort into developing their comedic rosters, and the genre, by stumbling upon a few key successes (Andy Griffith, My Three Sons, and eventually Dick Van Dyke) regained the cachet eroded in the years prior — the worst of which was 1958-’59, where, by my count, only 14 sitcoms were scheduled to air in October. The following season, 1959-’60, when Dobie Gillis debuted, was slightly better, with 16 new fall comedies — a tie with 1956-’57 — but another low not seen post-1952 outside of the aforementioned and the abnormal 1974-’75 (when the networks each programmed for a promised extra hour of weekly time that was denied after their schedules were set, but that’s another story). The problem then turned out to be the same as it was during the early ’80s pre-Cosby slump: it wasn’t that viewers were turned off of situation comedies, it’s that they were turned off of inferior situation comedies. The networks and studios had realized this by 1959 and there was much talk about the need for “smart” sitcoms to recapture the audience’s attention (which, as we just examined, sparked a trend of knowing domestic comedies in 1960). So, it’s not hard to see that Dobie Gillis, from 20th Century Fox, was cut from this cloth. After all, it was a charming and clever property with name value that was identifiable among a big portion of the adult audience.
Here’s where demo-targeting comes in. Now, we’ve discussed this subject before, largely in reference to the Rural Purge of 1970 and ’71, when CBS ascribed programming decisions — specifically the cancellation of aging shows — to its advertisers suddenly prioritizing certain groups of viewers over others. But that was only half the story; somehow it still came to pass that, with only a few exceptions, shows most popular in total viewers stayed and those less popular went, regardless of demo reach. We’ve also seen these false standards applied throughout the latter half of the ’60s, when the networks programmed comedies with young, urban characters in an apparent desire to get those groups, only for said comedies (He & She chief among them), to get cancelled if they didn’t meet the requisite total viewer threshold, which, for the leading CBS, seemed to be a 30 share and/or a Top 40 spot. Thus, whenever networks paid lip service to the idea of demo-targeting that decade, it was seldom the main reason to keep or drop a series… But, for our purposes today, I must point out that demographics were, by the mid ’60s, a factor in development, especially in the most basic sense: shows earlier in the night had to be family friendly, those later were more exclusively for adults, and every network needed a mix of both. This accounts for why CBS, in particular, would program shows that were reviled by both critics and executives; as long as they got decent ratings, comedies with a sizable “kiddie” appeal — Mister Ed, Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters, etc. — would be placed earlier in an evening’s lineup and last until their stats left the target zone. We can even see this notion starting to be employed in the late 1950s with sitcoms like Leave It To Beaver and Dennis The Menace, but it was a much less practiced principle. In fact, the first reference in Television Magazine to the now-coveted 18-49 demographic occurs in 1964, and the word “demographic” itself isn’t even used like this in Variety until 1960. Dobie Gillis was certainly ahead of this soon-to-be-popular trend in TV programming when, upon its debut in 1959, its creator gave a handful of interviews describing the show’s structure and the two specific audience groups that they were hoping to reach: teenagers and parents in their 30s.
With teenage leads on Dobie Gillis, that first group is an obvious choice. And although, again, there had been teens on sitcoms before, shows like Ozzie & Harriet or Father Knows Best put them in traditional domestic setups and were still “for the whole family,” while earlier efforts, like The Aldrich Family and Meet Corliss Archer, were merely known titles from radio meant to hit a broad audience as the medium was expanding. (And, frankly, they were bland and already outdated by the early ’50s.) Speaking of a broad audience, CBS’ interest in reaching 30-year-olds with Dobie Gillis is remarkable because that’s, as we’ve come to understand, arguably the most desired group for advertisers — right in the heart of the 18-49 demographic (even though that terminology had yet to exist in 1959). Going for them explicitly was really a premature bid for the mainstream, and while that’s what all shows want, it matters more when you remember that, in 1959, the sitcom genre was NOT a popular taste, with only four comedies in the Top 30 (the lowest since the season Lucy premiered), which means that Dobie Gillis was expressly designed to help reignite the situation comedy’s wide favor. And here’s why it was a smart notion: Max Shulman. The creator and show runner of Dobie Gillis was something of a household name for a generation of college students from the mid to late 1940s, when he wrote a series of comedic stories about campus life, many of them featuring a character called Dobie Gillis, whose adventures where compiled in 1951 for The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis (adapted as The Affairs Of Dobie Gillis for a B-picture from 1953). He had become one of the preeminent collegiate voices, with characters who both popped off the page because they were extra silly, but also because they were extra relatable. By 1959, most of those same college-aged readers from the prior decade were now parents in their 30s — many about to raise teenagers of their own. CBS was plainly hoping that their familiarity with Shulman, and their faith in his intelligence (he would be head writer of this new show based on his own books), would attract them to Dobie Gillis and revitalize the popular perception of the sitcom. This could be “the one.”
Was it successful? Obviously, not single-handedly — the sitcom drought wasn’t over until the schedules were teeming with popular comedies, but the show did hit enough of the two demos to satisfy CBS’ total viewer standards. (I have not been able to officially find data that confirms a Top 40 finish, but everything points to this fact, and, at the very least, Dobie Gillis was valuable as the best comedy CBS scheduled in that Tuesday 8:30 slot since Phil Silvers in 1955-’56.) It then managed to stay in the Top 30 for both its second and third seasons, vanquishing NBC’s competitive Wyatt Earp, at long last — a sign that the winds of preference were changing. However, what’s more important about the demo-targeting is that it reflects the kind of programming we’d see more often in the mid-’60s once the 18-49 group started to be formally tallied and the networks did make an effort to reach younger, urban viewers (even if the executives didn’t change the metrics by which they gauged success). I mean, heck, the 17-year-old girl that CBS sought to reach in 1959 with Dobie Gillis is probably the same 25-year-old newlywed that He & She wanted in 1967. Additionally, this demographic outreach is important because it informs structure and quality… (Not to mention, finances: the show’s initial sponsors were Philip Morris and Pillsbury — something for the adults, something for the youth — and this duality is inherent to everything here in Season One.) While Dobie was de-aged from a college boy in Shulman’s stories to a high school teen with a handful of contemporaries, his parents were also added as an important part of the TV series, ensuring that the adult audience also had characters with which to identify. From this design, Shulman had two specific interests he vocally sought to pursue. On one side, he wanted to retain the authenticity of his earlier stories by reaching students in a more honest, relatable way than ever before on TV. On the other, he wanted to mine comedy and drama from the generation gap and his idea that parents and teens don’t communicate as they should — something obvious now that the latter group was starting to emerge as the most significant demographic due to the baby boom.
To that end, the show is built with an obvious dramatic tension between Dobie and his father Herbert, played by Frank Faylen, whose catchphrase in Season One is “I gotta kill that boy, I just gotta.” Their lack of closeness is a fundamental part of the early shows, with Florida Friebus stuck in the middle as wife/mother/mediator. It’s a setup to which viewers on both sides of the aisle could relate. Unfortunately, in Season Two, father and son become buddies, as Herbert is made to be cuddlier and his resentment of Dobie is mitigated. This may have satisfied some viewers, but Shulman, the guiding creative presence on all four seasons (most heavily involved in writing during the first two), can no longer explore his thesis about the communication gulf between parents and teens, and this robs the show of some intended intelligence, especially for adult viewers. Also, this abandonment of the show’s original bite extends to the other part of the series — and it’s primarily why, as noted above, only the first year is truly great — for the depiction of Dobie, and his eponymous many loves, connects the show to its source material, and at the same time, instills in it the same sense of relatability, all predicated on the dirty little secret that teens are obsessed with amour, or more to the point, sex. In other words, Dobie’s romantic pursuits, more focused than any other fictional teen’s, are precisely the reason that he, and his show, could speak to teens in a way that, for once, wasn’t condescending, and actually appealingly straightforward. (The Nelsons and Andy Hardy pursued girls, okay, but it wasn’t their whole existence to get a “gorgeous, soft, round, creamy girl” and all that implies.) Naturally, the casting helped a lot — Dwayne Hickman was just coming off five seasons playing the nephew of the horniest character on 1950s TV, Bob Collins of The Bob Cummings Show, the most adult and sex-obsessed comedy in the pre-jiggle-TV-era — and this history, known to much of the audience, fueled the character’s lusty aura, which was harmless but not so virginal… At any rate, there was something legitimate to the series’ claim on identifiability: parents and kids who don’t like each other, and teens fascinated with sex. Sounds like real life? Well, kinda… in a heightened, mannered, relatable-through-silliness Shulman-ese.
That is, the most special thing about the series is the author’s voice. I compared him above to Nat Hiken, who helmed Phil Silvers, to which Dobie Gillis is sometimes deservedly associated, not just because of its military arc at the end of Season Two, but also because they’re both idea-based comedies with four-year runs that let fans count style, the way things are written, as just as important, if not more, than what’s written. (They have different trajectories though; Hiken left his series after two years, precipitating a huge drop in quality. Shulman was always involved somehow, and the biggest drops, as we’ll see, occur between One and Two and then again around 1962.) I read a good bit of Shulman in advance of this post, but it’s still hard to describe his work, even if you know it… For starters, his strength is dialogue, and the most exciting thing about his material is, despite being, again, idea-based, there are vibrant characters who reveal themselves through speech. Think about Maynard G. Krebs (a pre-Gilligan Bob Denver), the first “beatnik” regular on a successful series, whose “like, woah, man” language is totally different from Thalia Menninger’s (Tuesday Weld), the vapid but “creamy” sustaining object of Dobie’s desire, who’s more interested in dollars than romance, or Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (Steve Franken), the silver-spooned blue blood who lacks Dobie’s charm but has his mummy’s (Doris Packer) money (and who replaces Dobie’s earlier rival, a pretty boy hunk famously played by Warren Beatty in just five first season shows). These are all individual points-of-view, displayed through exaggerated dialogue delineating them, while at the same time, indicating a shared source: a voice that knows how to write teens in a thematically true manner — by not condescending to them, and providing an agency rare in fiction. They’re actual people when Shulman depicts them, with firmly established personas that point toward another truth: they yearn to be adults. And by writing teens who are so clearly trying to grow up, but aren’t, Shulman gets to the most genuine notion yet, as everyone’s trying hard to be mature, and thus ending up a little naive in the process. This was his college experience in the ’40s, now updated for high schoolers of 1959, where beatniks roamed the halls.
So, while Shulman’s characters have distinct ways of speaking, they all share the same heightened naïveté/sophistication that feels of a piece and adds a palpable thoughtfulness — another sense of emotional intelligence aided by characters like William Schallert as wise teacher Mr. Pomfritt, and Sheila James as Zelda, the dark-haired nerd girl chasing after Dobie with just as much zeal as he chases after Thalia. However, this thoughtfulness, invoked from the beginning by Dobie’s monologues to the audience in front of the iconic “The Thinker” statue, is not necessarily as evident in story as some fans give it credit for being post-Season One, when the need to emphasize the show’s smarts increases because, well, it’s no longer as smart. Rather, you could count on two hands the overly pensive “search for meaning” shows that reflect the insecurity of teen angst. They’re overshadowed by what comes to be the series’ modus operandi during the last year and a half: idea-driven out-of-the-box stories that are shockingly broad and disconnected from logic, much like a lot of sitcoms in the mid-1960s. This was one of the trends I mentioned as being a reason to make Dobie Gillis a case study for ’60s sitcoms — the shift towards larger-than-life, silly, and occasionally absurd stories that reject truth in favor of their comedic premise. This is far from what the series was built to offer in Season One, where most scripts are about truthful relationships between characters, and are adapted in some form from Shulman’s books. Rejecting this in favor of high-concept hijinks therefore seems a rejection of Shulman — yet this was perfectly in his wheelhouse, and his fingerprints are on the trend. Similarly, many fans link the show’s broadening to its over-reliance on Maynard, who was always a standout character (except for the handful of 1959 episodes where Denver was temporarily drafted and replaced by Michael J. Pollard). But this pivot doesn’t occur until early 1962, when Hickman, coming off a bad illness, reduces his involvement and cedes the focus of many stories to Maynard out of necessity. This, mind you, is during the end of Three, a year that had otherwise tried to return to form by putting its characters back in school, this time college, with many of the same regulars from the superior high school days.
It’s clear by this time that neither Shulman’s style, nor even the resumed setting, is enough to compensate for a loss of the thematic interests that the show was originally designed, and celebrated, for offering: relatable teens and an honest look at how they interact with their parents. Accordingly, it’s not the turn to high-concept illogical stories that is the source of the series’ problem. Oh, yes, that’s the moment where the show goes from par to subpar — again, not because it’s anti-Shulman, but because it’s anti his promise to the audience — because that’s what happens when the problem is no longer containable. Rather, trouble begins immediately when the show first goes to “par,” or mediocrity, between One and Two (and prior to the characters graduating). For this is when the show loses the dramatic weight of its fraught father/son relationship by making dad warm and fuzzy, thereby becoming more conventional and less realistic, and does the exact same thing with Dobie at school, robbing him of the exciting sexual pursuit that was his guiding focus throughout the first season, and the very subject matter that made him believable as a teen of 1959. Part of this is because Tuesday Weld left the series two-thirds of the way through Season One and Dobie never got another carrot to chase as regularly, for the leading lady then became Zelda, whose pursuit of Dobie was more innocent (it was about long-term commitment, not sex). Yet the beauty of the series’ original design is that Dobie not only has that one ultimate girl to represent the apex of his ardor; there’s also a conveyer belt of weekly cuties that catch his eye — per the “Many Loves” that’s dropped after Season One. And so, even losing Thalia shouldn’t be enough to wrest the character from his initial motivation, and indeed there still are weekly love interests… only the heat is much reduced, intentionally, as the title changes. This dials back the freshness, and pivots the series’ value onto the regular cast, which is fine… until the logic-less high-concept silliness takes over, independent of character and not emotionally connectable for a series that once was.
Season One is the only year that gives us a Dobie Gillis that’s truthful and multi-dimensional (singular pursuit notwithstanding), with an ensemble of characters that helps the show examine, on a weekly basis, the two specific parts of its premise: the sexual charge of modern teens and their oppositional dynamic with their parents. It’s honest, in Shulman’s quirkily heightened style, and a joy to watch. It’s also the only year where there’s recurring support from both Thalia and Zelda, the two poles of femininity that I certainly wish had been able to remain in regular use more often in order to round out the show’s exploration of its premise as it expanded its claims on character comedy. (As it is, they’re only in one episode together — Zelda’s first, before she’s really fully formed.) I’m also tempted to think Season One works best because it makes the most of Shulman’s original stories, but given his design of the series and his maintained involvement, I’m surprised that it wasn’t as naturally able to produce original plots for a longer period of time. That is, Shulman’s laudable structure and style are so strong we expect it to prove more fruitful. Fortunately, some of the best parts of Dobie Gillis are inventions and/or extrapolations that occurred for the series alone, like the developments of Maynard, Zelda, and Chatsworth — all funny characters who help sustain emotional investment. (And remember, the last year’s storytelling is not Maynard’s fault; it’s the fault of a show that actively destroyed its grip on thematic relevance, and had to turn to foolishness in order to remain being as comedic as it desired…) As for what I want when picking the series’ best episodes, I look for great displays of character and stories that do exactly what Shulman promised — either exploiting the generation gap or delighting with the representation of frisky, yearning-to-be-adult teens. I have nothing more to say now except it’s a shame that Shulman, resident director/producer Rod Amateau, and the rest of the company — for reasons perhaps partially out of their control; see next week — couldn’t maintain the show’s uniqueness beyond this first season: the only year with more than ten classics. Nevertheless, this is a well-remembered sitcom that sees the formative ’50s becomes the more templated, and trend-driven ’60s, and here are the offerings I have picked to exemplify this first season’s finest — the best of 1959-’60.
01) Episode 2: “The Best Dressed Man” (Aired: 10/06/59)
Dobie uses clothes to compete with Milton for Thalia’s affections.
Written by Max Shulman | Directed by Rod Amateau
The series’ sophomore outing is the first of five segments that put Dobie in competition with Warren Beatty as Milton Armitage, the rich and popular hunk who serves as the most potent rival for the affections of the fair Thalia. Now, while future appearances by Beatty may stand out for their more idea-driven, comedic premise constructs, this entry is selected because it keeps the dynamic relatively simple and character-rooted, with the two men attempting to one-up each other using their wardrobes. It’s also written in perfect Shulman-ese, and serves as a fine example of his style transferring to the small screen. Oh, and Mel Blanc is the tailor!
02) Episode 3: “Love Is A Science” (Aired: 10/13/59)
Dobie enrolls in a science class for Thalia and seeks help from his smitten lab partner.
Written by Max Shulman | Directed by Rod Amateau
Sheila James’ Zelda Gilroy makes her debut in this offering, the only half-hour from the entire series that claims both of the primary girls in Dobie’s life — the one he pursues, and the one pursuing him. I wish the series had been able to take advantage of them both, together, more often, because there’s a fullness to this teleplay, as Dobie’s quest to win Thalia by taking a science class (taught by Charles Lane) forces him to make an arrangement with the brainy Zelda, who casually reveals that she’s in love with Dobie, and believes he will come to love her, because of “propinquity.” Such great character writing for teens — knowing, but naive!
03) Episode 4: “The Right Triangle” (Aired: 10/20/59)
Dobie tries to impress a girl by telling her he’s involved with an older woman.
Written by Ben Starr | Directed by Rod Amateau
Dwayne Hickman’s older brother Darryl makes his first of just three appearances here as Dobie’s college brother Davey, a more mature figure whom the former hopes to emulate, even when it gets him in trouble, like in this farcical entry where Dobie’s attempt to woo a girl involves him inventing a fake triangle with an older woman, whom everyone assumes to be their new teacher, played by future recurring player (in the college years) Jean Byron. It’s a simplistic yarn, but I like how it involves Dobie’s father — in fact, a variation of this story will be used again in Season Three, yet without Dobie’s grounding motivation.
04) Episode 13: “Couchville, USA” (Aired: 12/29/59)
Herbert wants Dobie to admit that he hates him.
Written by Irving Brecher | Directed by Rod Amateau
One of several offerings produced during the period in which Bob Denver had been drafted (along with his character) before ultimately being rejected and returning to the series, this installment’s lack of Maynard may prove the naysayers right about him being a distraction, because without him, the show is able to focus on both its thematic particulars, as Dobie once again aims to woo Thalia by earning money working at his dad’s store, and the legitimate tension between father/son is reinforced when Herbert, having consulted a shrink, believes that his problems with Dobie are a result of his kid subconsciously hating him. This attempt to address the gulf between the two characters is appreciated and exactly what Shulman intended.
05) Episode 17: “The Hunger Strike” (Aired: 01/26/60)
Dobie fakes a hunger strike to get Thalia away from a new beau.
Written by Ben Starr & Ray Allen | Directed by Rod Amateau
All the primary elements of the series’ identity coalesce in this entry, where Dobie goes on a hunger strike as a ploy to get Thalia away from her new rich beau, Steve Franken’s Chatsworth Osborne Jr., who debuts here as a more foppish, and thus larger-than-life version of Beatty’s Milton. Now, customary with all sitcom hunger strikes, the character in question always sneaks food, but while we know that, Dobie’s worried parents don’t, and I cite this episode as revealing an ongoing shift in Herbert’s characterization that’ll become more fully realized at the top of Season Two: he’s becoming more sympathetic, protective, and loving. (Notable guests in this outing include Marlo Thomas and Ryan O’Neal, both very young!)
06) Episode 22: “Love Is A Fallacy” (Aired: 03/01/60)
Thalia teaches Dobie how to think, just as another girl shows interest in him.
Written by Max Shulman | Directed by Rod Amateau
Among the handful of offerings here in Season One that takes its plot directly from a Shulman story, “Love Is A Fallacy” is perhaps the most famous of all, and it’s so memorable that when the series started reusing scripts in the latter half of its run, this is one of those replicated. But that later version has nothing on this original, which not only benefits from both the incorporation of Thalia, who’s brilliant as the lingering object of Dobie’s desire attempting to keep him in her corner, but also a truly unique performance from Ronnie Haran as a new girl and wannabe sophisticate, who speaks with the false eloquence that really typifies Shulman’s writing and the kind of character work that makes his efforts so special. A classic.
07) Episode 23: “The Chicken From Outer Space” (Aired: 03/08/60)
Dobie, Maynard, and Zelda study the effects of hormones in chickens.
Written by Max Shulman | Directed by Rod Amateau
Truthfully, I sort of resent having to include this popular outing, because even though I understand why fans find it amusing (and I can also support that it’s one of the few in One that showcases Zelda), it’s way too broad for the series’ baseline as established in this first year, for the very notion (it’s totally idea-driven) of a chicken being over-injected with hormones and turning into a giant is simply too absurd for a series that right now seeks directional relatability via believable teens and sincere parent/kid relationships. However, I include it here to show how early years use this kind of broadness incidentally, only for it to become routinized by series’ end — and note, it’s written by Shulman, so when we discuss the series’ ongoing break from reality, know that it’s not disconnected from its creator, who ordained it.
08) Episode 29: “The Big Sandwich” (Aired: 04/26/60)
Dobie, Maynard, and Thalia’s plan to make money off a picnic is ruined by rain.
Written by Ray Allen & Ben Gershman | Directed by Rod Amateau
Thalia’s last appearance as a recurring player (prior to two guest star turns in the final two years), this offering involves another money-making scheme in which she ropes Dobie — and Maynard, too, as the trio’s plot to make 400 sandwiches for a school picnic posits them as a comedic ensemble in the same way that Season Two will more frequently feature the boys and Zelda. It’s mostly a premise-based show with situational laughs, but I appreciate it for the use of Herbert, who’s out-of-town and going crazy as he attempts to understand what’s happening at his store without his guidance. It’s funny and thematically right.
09) Episode 30: “Soup And Fish” (Aired: 05/03/60)
Dobie and Maynard alternate using Chatsworth’s tuxedo at a fancy party.
Written by Phil Davis & Joel Kane | Directed by Rod Amateau
Another well-liked character-based farce, this installment legitimizes Franken’s Chatsworth as one of the series’ funniest characters, for although he’s perhaps broader and more caricatured than even Maynard, he gives Dobie a whole cultured, elitist world off of which to play, and with distinct dialogue that takes advantage of Shulman’s strengths. He also comes packaged to Doris Packer as his hilarious mother (with her “nasty boys!” catchphrase) and while I don’t necessarily think Dobie Gillis makes great mileage by exploring class differences — it only works when connected to his romantic ambitions — it at least makes the series feel like it’s saying something. And with hahas as big as the ones here, that’s more than enough!
10) Episode 39: “Rock-A-Bye Dobie” [a.k.a. “Almost A Father”] (Aired: 07/05/60)
Dobie’s parents think that their babysitting son has started a family.
Written by Ray Allen | Directed by Rod Amateau
My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Rock-A-Bye Dobie” was initially titled “Almost A Father” and scheduled to air back in March, before concerns over its content riled the affiliates and forced its last-minute shelving. It’s not hard to see why, for the story has Dobie starting a babysitting business (once again, to impress his latest girl, Denise Alexander), leading his parents to falsely believe that he’s gotten married and now has a kid. Interestingly, a version of this story was done two years earlier on Burns & Allen with Ronnie, but given Dobie’s age, it was a problem that needed to be addressed before eventual broadcast, necessitating some reshoots that reinforced the parents’ belief that Dobie had married his girlfriend, making their concern more about Dobie starting a family than him simply siring a child. (This sanitizing is a warning for what’s ahead…) Nevertheless, it’s a perfect story, with Dobie’s romantic pursuits and the sexual subtext well-applied, and a communication breakdown with his parents creating the conflict. Also, it’s hilarious, with guest appearances from Don Knotts and Kathleen Freeman as the girl’s folks, whom the Gillises think they need to get to know. So, it’s got big laughs and thematic purpose — an easy choice to represent this first (and best) season.
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: three more gimmicky Milton entries, “The Sweet Singer Of Central High,” where a cold gives Dobie a good singing voice, “The Smoke-Filled Room,” in which the two compete for class president, and “The Fist Fighter,” which I like because it deals with Dobie’s masculinity, along with an amiable romantic-pursuit show that turns into a misunderstanding, “The Unregistered Nurse,” and a unique Dobie/Zelda outing that features her parents using some attempted reverse psychology, “Here Comes The Groom.” All five are fun and valuable. Of more Honorable Mention quality, meanwhile, are the perfectly premised “It Takes Two,” along with “Room At The Bottom,” by Shulman, “Dobie Spreads A Rumor,” with Zelda, and two amusing Hebert shows, “Deck The Halls” and “Where There’s A Will.”
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season One of The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis goes to…
Come back next week for Season Two! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!