The Ten Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Season Three

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing coverage on the best of The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971, CBS), which currently has its first five seasons available on DVD.

The Beverly Hillbillies stars BUDDY EBSEN, MAX BAER JR., DONNA DOUGLAS, and IRENE RYAN. With RAYMOND BAILEY and NANCY KULP.

Fans tend to divide The Beverly Hillbillies’ nine-season run into trimesters when discussing its prolonged decline. Yet this framework makes even less sense here than it does between Seasons Six and Seven (stay tuned…), for despite the trend of every year after the peak following a downward trajectory — based on A) the show’s ongoing consumption of original stories related to its premise and B) the heightening of the characterizations to maintain their fish-out-of-water status quo — the inherent association of the first three (black-and-white) seasons in contrast to the next three doesn’t account for the large drop-off between Two and Three, which is the same size as, if not greater than, the one between Three and Four. And while some of this is natural — anything that follows a peak where “novelty meets knowingness” is going to make us more conscious of a comedown, even if slight — this isn’t merely a case of dwindling novelty, or running out of fresh ideas. Yes, that happens — there’s a sameness starting to creep into the stories this year — but it’s not unique to Three: every new season operates with decreased originality and pushes harder to squeeze out plot. So, though noticeable, it’s not the engine of this more significant decline. Actually, the engine is as expected: character. Remember, we’ve diagnosed Hillbillies’ primary conundrum as having to keep the Clampetts ill-suited to life in Beverly Hills — a difficult feat because it means the show forever has to fight evolution, going more and more against common sense with each passing year, and thus damaging the very high-concept premise that it’s trying to protect. The worst of this occurs, of course, in the final season, when Granny thinks Elly May’s beau is literally a Frog Man — an idea that insults her character, for what began as a comedic notion during the show’s early years (Granny being steeped in the hills’ superstitious folklore) is enlarged so much that it’s no longer a buyable part of her persona, just an excuse to stretch out an absurd farce for too many episodes. Fortunately, we’re still far away from that foolishness, and Three’s problem is not the Clampetts’ enlarging so much as their stagnation. That is, the Clampetts are just as “out-of-water” in Beverly Hills now as they were in Season One, and it’s not because the world has gotten more inhospitable, it’s because there’s been no real progression to their understanding of it.

The year’s impulse to expand its action to nearby Hollywood is therefore wise, because it’s an extension of the big city and puts the family in a new “culture” that can legitimately keep them out of place. Yet these entries aren’t a total success; despite some thesis connectivity, their stories are too distracted by narrative hooks and gimmicks to focus on how the Clampetts support this concept, as the goofy, schticky set pieces take precedence, enabling an amplification of their depictions that isn’t beneficial or earned. The result? The Hollywood arc makes it easier for Hillbillies to simplify its story template to “broad characters in broad situations,” for in the name of honoring the premise, the show sanctions damage to the characters (and, again, this ends up damaging the premise too). We also get a preview of what’s to come with Drysdale, whose writing in the color years renders him as much a caricature as the “hillbillies,” when his love of money extends beyond his desire to pacify this one family and becomes antagonistically extreme, undermining his ability to provide a grounding contrast. It’s not a concern yet, but eventually it will be, and it’ll contribute to the show’s compounding lack of common sense, also revealed within the ongoing strain for story, as we wind up with too many ideas that are either unoriginal or unsuited to these otherwise well-designed characters. An example of the latter is the “beatnik” arc, which fails because putting the Clampetts opposite another fish out of water limits the thesis-affirming conflict by splitting the difference and enabling terrible heightening; and that’s only one sample of how the series’ regular use of character is troubling — there’ll be more ahead… In the meantime, this year is easily the best after the first two, for all the problems outlined above are in their relative infancy, and the character work is still decent. For instance, the Hollywood arc opens up funny ideas for both Jethro and Elly May, whose increased usage — this year is the start of his “Double Naught spy” pursuit — goes a long way in helping sustain the series as it enters its middle era. And for every bad character idea, there’s at least one good one. So, even if this may be more of a comedown from Two than Four will be from Three, I can still easily pick ten episodes that I think exemplify the year’s finest.

 

01) Episode 76: “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” (Aired: 10/14/64)

Hedda Hopper tries to convince Jed not to tear down his backlot.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” is the strongest of the year’s initial tetralogy involving the Clampetts’ recent acquisition of a movie studio. It utilizes a real-life celebrity in Hedda Hopper — something this series doesn’t do often, which is surprising given its setting — and goes on location to employ true Hollywood history as the famous columnist’s mission to convince Jed not to tear down his storied backlot has her bringing them to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which the Clampetts believe is a courtyard that movie stars have desecrated. Now, that’s an easy, goofy joke based on the venue, but because the family isn’t aware of this cultural landmark, we buy the silliness… Much like we do with the movie studio arc at large; it’s adjacent to the overall premise, for Hollywood is, like Beverly Hills, a place where the Clampetts are “fish out of water.” And while I generally think these opening shows suffer for mitigating this central idea in favor of ostentatious comic centerpieces — of which this one (including the stunt casting) is perhaps the gaudiest example — the boldness of the humor and its commitment to, frankly, its BIGNESS, emphasizes the truth of what the series is doing at this point in time, and if you’re going to have any segment represent this, it has to be this one. (It also helps that, even within these flashy trappings, the Clampetts’ ignorance doesn’t require as many logistical leaps.) Additionally, with the climactic silent film sequence, featuring all the regulars, this outing takes its humor to a higher plane, creating an iconic bit of comedy that transcends the hit-and-miss opening arc and even this good-to-middling season, showcasing just how artfully funny Hillbillies can be. So, for being the best indication of the year’s most important storyline, and boasting a brilliant above-baseline main event, this is the year’s most memorable half hour and the only worthy choice for MVE. (Incidentally, TV Guide once singled out this show to represent the series on its list of TV’s top 100 episodes.)

02) Episode 77: “Doctor Jed Clampett” (Aired: 10/21/64)

The Clampetts think Jed is licensed to practice medicine after getting an honorary doctorate.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

A classic misunderstanding is at the center of this amiable installment, as Jed receives an honorary doctorate degree, which has the family convinced that he’s now an official doctor and is able to see patients — a fact that makes Granny, heretofore the Clampetts’ resident medical expert, jealous. Adding to the plot is the year’s movie studio arc, for when a stage mother pushes her tap-dancing tot on Jed, the family believes she’s seeking his medical help — to cure the girl of a foot ailment. And that’s just the beginning of the auditioners…

03) Episode 83: “The Boarder” (Aired: 12/09/64)

Mr. Drysdale hopes a butler will civilize the Clampetts, but they think he’s their new boarder.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

Arthur Treacher makes his first of two consecutive appearances in this mini-arc that revisits an idea briefly used in the first season — Drysdale sending the Clampetts a butler. But this one commits to bigger laughs, as the family confuses him for a boarder, while his efforts to bring them culture are about as successful as you’d expect. Treacher gives a great performance and both of his outings are fun (the other is honorably mentioned below), but the second stretches out the humor from the first part and tacks on a mock trial scene that doesn’t fully deliver.

04) Episode 85: “Start The New Year Right” (Aired: 12/30/64)

The Clampetts visit an overstressed Mrs. Drysdale in the hospital.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

Mrs. Drysdale has checked into the hospital for stress (because of her dealings with the “hillbillies”) and this provides the setting for a very funny, physical comedy-laden episode in which the Clampetts’ decision to bring her comfort via a visitation leads to hijinks, as she keeps accidentally sliding off her elevated bed and out the window. The repetition is what activates the guffaws, but with the narrative predicated on the premise-connected relationship between Mrs. Drysdale and the Clampetts, it’s a comedically smart and ideal story for this era.

05) Episode 86: “Clampett General Hospital” (Aired: 01/06/65)

The Clampetts have taken a nervous Mrs. Drysdale back to their house to recover.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

The idea above continues as the Clampetts have absconded with Mrs. Drysdale in the belief that she’ll get better care from Granny in their house. It’s another riot, and choice for fans of Harriet MacGibbon as the premise’s seminal opposition, for this entry affords her some of her funniest material in the entire run when she gets drunk on Granny’s medicine and prances around the mansion calling herself “Tinkerbell.” Once again, the gags yield the big laughs, but the sturdy foundation of the characters and their established relationships are why it’s supreme.

06) Episode 89: “Dash Riprock, You Cad” (Aired: 01/27/65)

Elly May is downtrodden since Dash Riprock chose Miss Jane over her.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

Perhaps the best development from the movie studio storyline is the new narrative focus it provides both Jethro and Elly May. This particular offering is great for Elly, as the story from the previous outing continues here: after introducing us to Larry Pennell’s Dash Riprock — a hilarious caricature of the vain Hollywood star — and setting up the idea that he’s mistaken Miss Jane for the boss’ daughter, Elly May, this next excursion gets to play more with the regulars and their reactions. I’m less inclined to laud stories that mock Nancy Kulp, as opposed to Miss Jane specifically, as that feels a bit cheap (and not tonally right — this isn’t Bob Cummings), but the turnaround for her character, and Elly’s, is what fuels the comedy and makes this a notably enjoyable and substantive piece. (Also, Jack Bannon is Bolt Upright.)

07) Episode 91: “Granny’s Romance” (Aired: 02/17/65)

Mr. Drysdale forces his wealthy associate to go on a date with Granny.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

Mr. Drysdale’s central objective is the guiding force of this comedic entry, as his work to appease the Clampetts has him persuading an elderly Loathrio on the bank’s board of directors to go on a date with Granny, who’s at least twice the age of his normal type. That’s right; he has a penchant for young, fast gold-diggers and he passes off his latest honey as his Aunt Phyllis for a double date with Jed about which the young woman (Sylvia Lewis) is initially unenthused… until she realizes just how rich he is too — an idea that leads into the next half hour…

08) Episode 92: “Jed’s Temptation” (Aired: 02/24/65)

The Clampetts worry that Jed has been taken in by a gambling gold-digger.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

Jed’s date from the above installment has worried the family, and particularly Granny, especially when Mr. Drysdale confirms their suspicions that she’s only interested in Jed for his money. And when she takes him to the track for some gambling, Granny goes down there to intervene… that is, until the old woman gets distracted herself by the lure of the races. With guest turns from Iris Adrian and the legendary Don Rickles, this affable episode becomes unforgettable, standing out in a season that has more forgettable shows than ever before.

09) Episode 94: “Clampett’s Millions” (Aired: 03/10/65)

Mr. Drysdale’s rival tries to woo Granny to get the Clampett account.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

I’m highlighting this underrated outing because it’s in the middle of two louder stanzas that use individually workable comic ideas, while this one benefits from both. From the previous, it takes recently introduced John Cushing (Roy Roberts), the rival banker and Mr. Drysdale’s nemesis, and builds a story around his attempt to steal the Clampett account by courting Granny. (Cushing appears in three shows this year and this one uses him the best, better integrating him with the family.) This one also continues Jethro’s recently established “double naught spy” bit, and even though the prior displays this in its title and therefore gets more credit for it, “Clampett’s Millions” features the idea just as comedically. Additionally, this entry sparks Granny’s desire to take her money out of Drysdale’s bank, which extends into the next offering and is literally his character’s worst fear — directly connected to the premise.

10) Episode 105: “Jed, The Bachelor” (Aired: 06/02/65)

Granny heads back home and winds up in Vegas, while Jethro tries to be a playboy.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Joseph Depew

After a stretch of middling shows (including two dreadful episodes where the Clampetts deal with beatniks), this installment revisits Granny’s festering ambition to leave Beverly Hills, which is always a threat from her character but really bubbles up in the latter half of this year (it’s not an original idea, though it’s best explored here) — and its premise-affirming foundation helps make the laughs from her time in Las Vegas all the richer. Meanwhile, Jethro tries to be an international playboy down at the bank and this, naturally, gets him into trouble.

 

Other episodes that merit mention include: “The Boarder Stays,” the second half of the Arthur Treacher two-parter, “Elly In The Movies,” the story-driven introduction of Dash Riprock, “Double Naught Jethro” and “Drysdale’s Dog Days,” which bracket “Clampett’s Millions” with their amusing ideas, “Flatt, Clampett, And Scruggs,” the year’s Flatt & Scruggs show and a strong entry for Irene Ryan, “The Brewsters Return,” which uses the same comedic core as another outing this season but is more dimensionally funny, and “The Art Center,” which has an easy, likable premise. Of more Honorable Mention quality, meanwhile, are “Jed, The Heartbreaker,” which has fine stuff for both Granny and Mrs. Drysdale but asks for an emotional leap in its story that’s not totally worthwhile — that Jed would believe Mrs. Drysdale, who’s previously shown evident disdain for him, is now suddenly in love with him, “The Widow Poke Arrives,” which guest stars Ellen Corby and has her and Jed pretending to be surfers, and two shows that are popular but not on par with their hype, “Clampett A-Go-Go,” which is the first (and only tolerable) of the three beatnik shows (see the essay above for why I believe they don’t work), and “The Clampetts Versus Automation,” which I think is notable because it’s one of the first where Drysdale’s objective reaches beyond the Clampetts and paints him as a caricatured antagonist.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of The Beverly Hillbillies goes to…

“Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood”

 

 

Come back next week for Season Four! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!

4 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Season Three

  1. The silent movie bit in “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” is one of my favorite moments of the whole series. Not typically a fan of the Hollywood studio arc for many of the same reasons you are, but that episode is packed with hilarious moments!

    • Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I wish Lansing appeared in that episode; she’s an underrated comic actress!

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