The Ten Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Season Five

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.

The fifth season progresses the trends of the past few years, as the series continues to deny the Clampetts their Beverly Hills integration, pushing them to become increasingly less believable as a function of their maintained, if not intensified, lack of social awareness. This has always been a way to protect the status quo, but as we’ve explored, limited forward movement weakens the story mechanics, forcing scripts to either reuse old ideas that worked better when new or to step away from the central premise entirely with big, broad plots that are situationally comedic and thus enable the otherwise well-defined leads’ unnatural inflations. Every season following the peak furthers this concern, and if the heightening in Three and Four was less pronounced (relative to the years ahead), then Five is explicit and bold about these fundamental changes — it’s clear that the main characters’ projected depictions are being exaggerated without there also being any added depth, understanding, experience, etc. Heightening is both the result of and the reason for more plots that are sillier and illogical (see list for examples), however, with a few new writers joining the regular roster (like Buddy Atkinson), there’s also more dexterity, or creativity, in the year’s crafting of story, and while this expansion feeds the show’s illogicalities, it also keeps us more engaged. Additionally, Five is the least serialized of the entire run, for with the exception of two two-parters in the fall, every story here is episodic — confined to an individual half hour. This is a positive pattern, for good ideas aren’t stretched too thin and bad ideas don’t linger. In fact, one of the problems in the last three years will be their interest in extending narrative through lines for multiple weeks to create arcs that generally disappoint; there’s really no plot (even in Five) that is comedically rich enough to satisfy the audience and favor either the characters or the premise beyond one lone offering. Five expressly benefits from keeping its one-joke stories self-contained, and this also makes it easier to separate the bombs from the gems — widening the gap between the two, but allowing said gems to seem extra shiny given the sustained lower baseline. So, this is a year with a continued qualitative descent but several indelible classics, and I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify its finest.

 

01) Episode 139: “The Party Line” (Aired: 09/14/66)

Granny returns from a trip back home insisting upon a party line for their telephone.

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

Following a trip home to visit Pearl, Granny returns to Beverly Hills in the fifth season premiere determined to have a party line installed on their telephone — a request that Drysdale endeavors to fulfill, making this one of the most premise-affirming shows of the year and something of an outlier, not just because of this ideal narrative (which uses his guiding objective), but also because of the more down-to-earth, logical and believable depictions of the characters. Plus, with some continuity supplied via mentions of Pearl and a jaunt back to the hills, this is a shockingly smart and sincere show by this broader season’s standards.

02) Episode 144: “The Gorilla” (Aired: 10/19/66)

The Clampetts want a gorilla to help with chores, so Mr. Drysdale hires a man in a gorilla suit.

Written by Paul Henning & Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Joseph Depew

Among the funniest of the season — and the first half of one of Five’s only two-parters — this ostentatious story deploys broad one-joke comedy that’s juvenile (not my preference) and only loosely connected to the central premise, but it nevertheless earns big laughs that justify the decision to give it two teleplays. Here, in this first entry, the Clampetts’ plan to get a gorilla to help them with household chores (a Jethro idea, naturally) springs Drysdale into action, per his regular motivation, and he hires a man in a gorilla suit to scare the family and end this notion. But, of course, there ain’t no gorilla that’s a match for the Clampetts (especially Granny) and so they put “Herby” to work, which leads to silliness… yet undeniable hilarity.

03) Episode 146: “Jed In Politics” (Aired: 11/02/66)

Jed decides to run against a smog commissioner who shuts down Granny’s soap-making.

Written by Mark Tuttle & Ronny Pearlman | Directed by Joseph Depew

We’ll see the series revisit its fascination with Los Angeles’ smog problems during its final season (for an episode better remembered than this one), but “Jed In Politics” is an above-average offering for Five, thanks to some era-appropriate gags involving Granny and the smog commissioner (Car 54‘s Paul Reed) and a premise that not only is predicated on the Clampetts running afoul of Beverly Hills customs and therefore forces a nice old-fashioned city vs. country clash, but also uses Jed heavily in its plotting — a rarity for this period, which relies more on the broader characters and claims a weaker fidelity to the show’s thesis.

04) Episode 148: “Jed Joins The Board” (Aired: 11/16/66)

When Jed wants to get a job, Mr. Drysdale has him join the board of the OK Oil Company.

Written by Mark Tuttle & Ronny Pearlman | Directed by Guy Scarpita

Despite it being a stretch that Jed would take a job as a garbage collector — he’s bent to fit an amusing idea, as opposed to actually motivating it — we’ve seen before how this proud hard-working man is bothered by a life of leisure, and with Mr. Drysdale having to rein in his client’s ambitions, there’s premise-fulfillment. But the story takes a few twists and turns, as the banker tries to get his millionaire depositor out of trash-grabbing by preoccupying him with a seat on the board of the OK Oil Company (with Mr. Brewster), and then, after some initial boardroom shenanigans, the plot’s sights move to the company’s plane for a bigger-than-life centerpiece that definitely feels part of this broader era. All of that is pomp and circumstance though; the real value lies in how the entry uses Jed as the catalyst for Drysdale’s objective — again, it’s now a rare structure. This excursion is silly like Season Five, but premised like Season Two.

05) Episode 149: “Granny Lives It Up” (Aired: 11/23/66)

Mr. Drysdale asks his father-in-law to woo Granny back from his rival, Mr. Cushing.

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

Mr. Drysdale’s banking rival, John Cushing (Roy Roberts), who first appeared in Season Three, returns here with another plot to steal the Clampett account by courting Granny. It was funny before and it’s still funny now, especially because it’s founded upon the central threat of Drysdale losing their gigantic account. But there’s more comic ammunition in play — and guest star wattage — as Charlie Ruggles comes back as Mrs. Drysdale’s gambling addicted father, called upon to woo Granny away from the predatory Cushing. And with Granny caught between two men vying for her affection, there’s also a lot of fun for Irene Ryan.

06) Episode 150: “The Gloria Swanson Story” (Aired: 11/30/66)

The Clampetts believe Gloria Swanson is broke and try to rehabilitate her career.

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

Gloria Swanson appears in this well-remembered offering as herself — a piece of stunt casting that’s uncommon for the series. That is, you’ll notice that despite being set just five or six miles from Hollywood (and its leading man even owning a movie studio), the series seldom yields to the medium’s typical show biz obsession by including a lot of well-known guest stars. So, Swanson’s presence is a bit of a novelty, and while fans of The Lucy Show may recognize this idea from a 1968 entry with Joan Crawford, let it be known that Hillbillies does it first, and with a terrific silent movie centerpiece that, yes, isn’t quite as amusing or original as it was when used back in the series’ classic “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” but showcases Swanson well and helps fuel the episode’s memorability — this is a show that deservedly stands out.

07) Episode 156: “Granny Retires” (Aired: 01/11/67)

Mr. Drysdale sends Dr. Clyburn over to the Clampetts’ to study medicine from Granny.

Written by Mark Tuttle & Ronny Pearlman | Directed by Joseph Depew

Fred Clark’s Dr. Clyburn — the Beverly Hills physician who debuted in the second season’s opening two shows and then returned once more last year — makes his first of two hysterical appearances in Five with this enjoyable offering that finds Granny deciding to give up medicine to retire home to the hills. Drysdale, in satisfaction of his sustaining goal, seeks to stop her and bribes Clyburn to go to the Clampett house under the guise of learning from Granny, which, as you might imagine, inspires some worthwhile character laughs. The “dunce cap” scene is a particular highlight, but this is a top show all the way around — with premise-related motivations, great moments for some of the regulars, and lots of hahas.

08) Episode 158: “The Indians Are Coming” (Aired: 02/01/67)

Granny believes that the Clampetts are at war with a tribe of American Indians.

Written by Paul Henning & Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Joseph Depew

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “The Indians Are Coming” is one of the most famous entries of the entire series, largely for the cameo from John Wayne, who appears as himself after Granny seeks his help in battling a tribe of American Indians that she believes are attacking (after a misunderstanding about a border dispute on their land back in the hills). It’s an iconic final button — actually quite funny and well-written — but this installment is a highlight for more than just its last thirty seconds. Specifically, it’s got an ostentatious premise that displays the fifth year’s sensibilities accurately, but with support from the characters. For instance, the story makes good use of Mr. Drysdale and his overarching hope to mollify the Clampetts so that they don’t go back home, as he whips up a fake “Indian” attack using actors from the studio, thereby satisfying irascible Granny’s desire to fight… Now, it’s been said that this outing is not “politically correct” by today’s standards, and that’s the truth; the show has outdated cultural stereotypes that will no doubt be offensive to some who will find the narrative hard to enjoy as a result. Here are some things to appreciate though: not only are the actual Native American roles depicted without clichés (in fact, the show actively makes a distinction between truth and foolishness), the stereotypes come exclusively from characters whose personas justify them — Drysdale dons red face and tries to pander because he’s afraid of losing money, while Granny’s fear of “Indians” is due to her upbringing. In this regard, everything that happens is motivated by the characters — so, aside from being merely a time capsule from another era with different sensibilities, the intelligent use of the show’s regulars is why this is an obvious MVE. John Wayne’s walk-on is just a bonus.

09) Episode 164: “Super Hawg” (Aired: 03/15/67)

The Clampetts mistake a hippo for a giant hog and intend to buy it from Mr. Drysdale.

Written by Paul Henning & Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Joseph Depew

Although Elly May’s animals have been a regular part of Hillbillies‘ equation from Season One onwards, ever since the success of Season Two’s “The Giant Jackrabbit,” the series has attempted to recreate that recipe for success with comic stories built around the Clampetts mistaking a seemingly exotic animal for one they know. We saw it last year in “The Big Chicken,” where Granny thought an ostrich was, well, a big chicken, and it happens again here with a hippo that is taken for a hog… only this time, other family members are involved in the misunderstanding and the humor comes from their aim to get the animal for themselves. It’s not a terribly smart show, but the comic idea increases its value, and it’s very Season Five.

10) Episode 165 “The Doctors” (Aired: 03/22/67)

Dr. Clyburn hopes to discourage Granny’s doctoring by inviting her to join him at work.

Written by Mark Tuttle & Deborah Haber | Directed by Joseph Depew

Dr. Clyburn returns (for the last time) in this classic installment that, like “Granny Retires,” is one of the season’s finest. In the previous, Mr. Drysdale persuaded the doc to pretend he wanted to “study” medicine from Granny to convince her to stay in Beverly Hills. Here, the premise reverses, as Drysdale has Clyburn invite Granny down to his practice to study from him... believing that a look at modern medicine up close will discourage her supernatural, folksy ways. But, Granny thinks the doctor is having trouble maintaining his business, so she does a TV commercial on his behalf, advertising her tonic and delivering for us one of the funniest scenes of the fifth season. This is one of my favorites — an MVE contender.

 

Other episodes that merit mention include: “Come Back, Little Herby,” the second half of the gorilla two-parter, along with “The Mayor Of Bug Tussle,” in which the Clampetts are visited by the hacky, platitude-spouting mayor of Bug Tussle, “Jethro Takes Love Lessons,” the year’s funniest Jethro show, “The Badger Game,” which has an unideal premise but some decent laughs, and “The Dahlia Feud,” where the Granny/Mrs. Drysdale rivalry is well-featured. Of more Honorable Mention (that is, lesser) quality, are “The Soup Contest,” which begins smartly but goes a little broader than this otherwise logical entry can handle during its climax (which throws some rare comic meat to Nancy Kulp, who received her sole Emmy nomination for her work this season), “Clampett Cha Cha Cha,” likable mostly for its guest work by Frank Faylen and Iris Adrian, “Foggy Mountain Soap,” for its comic centerpiece of Granny and Jed trying to do a commercial, and “The Flying Saucer,” which has an insurmountably character-damaging story but also isn’t without an outsized humor quotient.

 

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

“The Indians Are Coming”

 

 

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

8 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Season Five

  1. The John Wayne cameo made me nearly fall of my seat when I first saw that episode over 50 years ago. Definitely a classic!

    “Jed In Politics” is a sentimental favorite too. That’s the first one I remember seeing first run on CBS. Had me laughing hysterically then and still does.

    And the classic Swanson episode is fun. and I admit I love the gorilla two parter too. So silly. But so is The Beverly Hillbillies!

    S5 is probably my favorite of the color years. I agree that S4 is not as absurd and probably has the better stories b/c of it. But S5 has so many good classic episodes. I love the 2 with Dr. Clybourne. They’re even better than his b/w episodes!

    I don’t typically like a lot of 60’s shows but this one reminds me so much of my childhood and brings me so much joy. Thanks for covering it here!

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m glad these posts are bringing back happy memories. And, yes, the show is still declining in quality, but the nature of Season Five makes it appear that there are more classic installments here than in the two years surrounding, so it’s (understandably) a popular favorite.

      Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on Season Six!

  2. Jackson, do you happen to know the episode(s) for which Nancy Kulp was Emmy-nominated this season (and shame on you for not mentioning her Emmy nod or her practically AT ALL during these last five weeks!). She was such an asset to this series. I guess it’s easy to overlook such a non-flamboyant character. I just love her.

    • Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I have and will continue to express appreciation for Kulp’s work whenever appropriate, particularly in these comments when she’s brought up, but considering that her character seldom drives story or gets the chance to shoulder an episode’s comedic burden, the chance to do so does not arise often. Frankly, Miss Jane functions primarily as a satellite of Mr. Drysdale, and that’s largely how she’ll be discussed, until there are palpable changes in her usage that are worth highlighting. Stay tuned…

      As for the Emmys, this has come up before also, and often in response to you specifically. Simply put, the TV Academy’s adjudications are mostly irrelevant to this blog. I’ll quote myself: “I like citing wins here as a matter of historical record, sometimes as trivia (usually) and sometimes because they influence the course a series creatively takes (rarely). But I can’t pretend they guide, or even sway, my determination of quality work.” Please don’t expect this to be a focus of mine; it never will be.

      However, to be consistent, I have amended the above post to acknowledge Kulp’s sole nomination. I do not know the episode(s) submitted on her behalf — this information was typically not made public in that era — but I can tell you that she’s well-featured in the season’s first two offerings, along with a mid-year entry called “The Woodchucks.” Those would be among my guesses.

  3. I agree with Nat that season 5 is my favorite of the color episodes. “The Indians Are Coming” is just another comic masterpiece for Irene Ryan. What a shame that she did not win an Emmy.

    Thanks for a great review Jackson.

  4. “The Doctors” contains one of my favorite Drysdale exchanges ever, as Milburn tries to pacify Dr. Clyburn:

    “Let’s talk about it over lunch. My treat!”
    Clyburn softens: “Well…”
    “No need to go out! I picked it up on the way!” (brown bag) “American Cheese on white!”
    “THAT’s my lunch???”
    “Half of it is!”
    “OUT!!!”
    “You can have the pickle…”

    Agree with the MVE but there are more winners here than in any season outside the first two IMO. And I’ll agree with the poster above, any time Dr. Clyburn shows we have a winner. Fred Clark passed away just a year later, sadly.

    • Hi, Hal! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, stories with Dr. Clyburn always utilize a comedic and well-defined aspect of the Granny persona along with Drysdale’s motivating objective, so they inherently work. The two episodes with him from Season Five would have my vote for being his funniest (per the era’s boldness), and they’re great examples of the year’s overarching aesthetic, which poses macro (heightening) concerns inside micro (episodic) rewards.

      This is another way of saying what’s also expressed above: the show is still declining in quality, but I agree, the nature of the season makes it appear that there are more classic installments here than in the two years surrounding.

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