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.
Conventional wisdom often cites this as the last acceptable season of The Beverly Hillbillies, and there are some good arguments in support — starting with the unacceptable quality of the final two years, which not only have few, if any, marginally worthwhile offerings, but also make due with a little less attention from Paul Henning, whose name remains on every script, even though he delegated more of the responsibilities to Dick Wesson, the former Petticoat Junction head writer who coauthored a few early Hillbillies. (He returns here in Season Seven as a casual contributor to pick up the slack for Buddy Atkinson and let Henning focus on Petticoat.) This upcoming decline is persuasive; the drop-off between Seven and Eight is huge and it makes sense to draw the line there, for the final years are obviously dreadful and this is indeed the last time I’m even able to entertain the idea of making a list of ten “best” episodes… But, as we recently discussed, Six is the cutoff point of there being actual gems, which means, yes, I can make a full list for Seven, but none of these outings truly deserve much praise — they’re inherently subpar. And, in fact, while every season sees a further erosion in the series’ baseline, because Seven can’t muster up the strength to deliver something resembling a classic, I am of the opinion that this year is more analogous to the two ahead than the two before. This association also has to do with the reason why gems are hard to find: the season’s over-reliance, like Eight and Nine, on drawn-out multi-week stories to compensate for what has become the series’ guiding concern — keeping the Clampetts out-of-place in Beverly Hills, which has denied them awareness of their surroundings and, worse, has forced an aggrandizement of their characterizations that’s made it even harder for the series to cater to its venerated high concept in weekly story, since they’re heightening so much without motivated narrative change. As we’ve seen, the series can now only display its premise when it reuses tired old ideas… otherwise it has to ignore it. And this is especially unsatisfying, particularly when coupled with characterizations that are growing as ridiculous as the storytelling, giving credence to the belief that The Beverly Hillbillies is a stupid show about stupid people. (This wasn’t the case initially.)
However, one of the ways fans tolerate Seven is by finding something positive to celebrate. I’ve read about how this is the best year for Mr. Drysdale and, by proxy, Miss Jane, who get more play in story and are afforded more chances to be funny. But while it is true that these two have their usages increased, it’s not exactly great. I shared a preview of my thoughts on Drysdale’s trajectory weeks ago, before it was an issue, but now it’s time to be more explicit… the extent to which his character has been overtaken by an extreme trait — miserliness, born from his initial thesis-sparked objective of wanting to mollify the Clampetts to keep their account — is just as ridiculous and undermining to the central premise as the their descent into foolishness, for although he may remain more believable, this depiction doesn’t yield story that serves the main drama, because even when there is a real traceable link to his basic goal, scenes with him are no longer a respite from silliness, but instead endemic of the problem — and there’s no contrast. I also won’t let his use be a distraction from the season’s amplified inability to deliver narratively for the Clampetts — a concern, again, also exhibited in lazy arcs: another jaunt to England (my thoughts remain the same as last week: it’s a gaudy notion that aims to put the fish back out of water; it’s more premise-based this year because Drysdale and Jane are allowed to join, but it’s still too grand and insubstantial to enjoy), a handful of mediocre holiday crossovers with Petticoat Junction that are only notable for connecting all of the series in Henning‘s stable (in his attempt to gin up weekly distractions on Petticoat in the wake of Bea Benaderet’s death), and the extended “fifth floor” arc, which is a retread of many former ideas all sort of rooted in some premise-led concerns, but stretched for too long, because, as always, dragging out stories forces good ideas to weaken and bad ideas to linger. This produces fewer great offerings, and because finding them is our purpose, Seven, like Eight and Nine, naturally disappoints… even if it is the last for which I am even able to choose ten episodes that I think exemplify its strongest.
01) Episode 204: “Granny Goes To Hooterville” (Aired: 10/30/68)
Granny has doctoring to do before she can go to Hooterville to help with the Elliotts’ baby.
Written by Buddy Atkinson & Dick Wesson | Directed by Joseph Depew
The Petticoat Junction crossovers begin here, although the bulk of the action is set in Beverly Hills before Granny can leave. This one’s got a lot of broad humor that would have been prohibitive on earlier, better lists, but the same could be said of every outing in Seven. It’s mostly worth highlighting for the comedic notion of Mr. Drysdale sucking up to Miss Jane after a misunderstanding develops where he (and Granny) think she is going to marry Jed.
02) Episode 206: “The Great Cook-Off” (Aired: 11/13/68)
Granny is in mourning over being replaced by an Italian cook.
Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Joseph Depew
Upon her return from Hooterville (where she was helping “doctor” the Elliotts’ baby), Granny finds that she’s been replaced by an Italian cook whose exotic food has put the whole Clampett house in a tizzy. We know what pride Granny takes in her homemaking — this was what she and Pearl used to fight about way back in Season One — so this is an idea that’s entrenched in her character and is able to supply the script with more than just situational laughs.
03) Episode 207: “Bonnie, Flatt, And Scruggs” (Aired: 11/20/68)
Mr. Drysdale uses Flatt & Scruggs’ Bonnie & Clyde costumes for a commercial.
Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Joseph Depew
Please don’t assume that because this, the last episode with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (and Joi Lansing), is the only one of their shows highlighted here that it’s the best of their seasonal appearances. No, it’s just that Seven’s depleted baseline requires a reduction of standards when picking top entries, so a so-so showing like this has to make the cut. It’s not ideal by any means, but it’s highly memorable, with timely Bonnie & Clyde gags and the return of Super Banker.
04) Episode 209: “The Courtship Of Homer Noodleman” (Aired: 12/04/68)
Mr. Drysdale convinces Dash Riprock to pretend to be a country boy.
Written by Buddy Atkinson & Lou Huston | Directed by Joseph Depew
Larry Pennell’s Dash Riprock makes his final two appearances here in Season Seven and this is the better of them — mostly because the premise is supported by Mr. Drysdale’s objective, as the banker is worried that the Clampetts may move to Hooterville if Elly becomes seriously involved with Green Acres‘ Eb. So, he commissions Dash Riprock to come back around, this time pretending that the vain actor is really a good old country boy at heart. I also highlight this excursion to showcase the clowning opportunities afforded to Nancy Kulp — she’s played a man before, but this is bolder and charges her with even more of the comic burden.
05) Episode 212: “Christmas In Hooterville” (Aired: 12/25/68)
Mr. Drysdale worries as the Clampetts celebrate Christmas in Hooterville.
Written by Paul Henning & Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Ralph Levy
The entire Clampett clan made the trek to Hooterville for a Thanksgiving outing mentioned below, but while that one also included the folks from Green Acres and is therefore more iconic, this Christmas follow-up is superior, for the aforementioned show had scant story beyond the novelty of the visit; this one maximizes Mr. Drysdale’s fear that the Clampetts will put their money in Sam Drucker’s bank, providing comic tension and dramatic weight. (Here I’ll also note Percy Helton’s fine work as Homer Cratchit, a bank employee exclusive to this year.)
06) Episode 213: “Drysdale And Friend” (Aired: 01/01/69)
Mr. Drysdale has been arrested with moonshine and a drunken bear.
Written by Paul Henning & Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Guy Scarpita
Season Seven’s Hooterville crossover stretch morphs into a small arc focusing on Mr. Drysdale, who gets arrested in the country when he’s found asleep at the wheel with Granny’s white lightnin’ and Elly’s bear, who’s also drunk. Needless to say, this is pretty silly, but pushing Drysdale to his limits while he tries to hold on desperately to the Clampett fortune is always a recipe for success. Mr. Drucker and Fred Ziffel appear, as does character actor J. Pat O’Malley.
07) Episode 214: “Problem Bear” (Aired: 01/08/69)
Granny tries to cure a sick Mr. Drysdale but Elly’s bear has taken a liking to her medicine.
Written by Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Joseph Depew
This installment hits for a lot of the same reasons as the previous does, although it’s back in Beverly Hills, and aside from utilizing the above’s already established jokes (like the drunken bear, who steals Granny’s medicine), it also benefits from good ol’ Mrs. Drysdale, whose appearances are dwindling considerably. (She’s an asset to every story, given how much she antagonizes both the Clampetts and her husband.) Also, Norma Varden guests.
08) Episode 219: “The Hired Gun” (Aired: 02/19/69)
Mr. Drysdale calls in Homer Bedloe to help get the Clampetts off the fifth floor.
Written by Paul Henning & Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Joseph Depew
I’ve only chosen one offering for this list from the six-week “fifth floor” arc, which is a mashup of several former ideas once employed with more intelligence and better character laughs. But let the record show that most of the threads in this storyline work — and it would be easier to enjoy if briefer, for each script after the Clampetts take over the floor basically operates with the same single joke and it gets old fast. This one at least has something fresh: Charles Lane’s Homer Bedloe (from Petticoat Junction) — his inclusion is a stretch, but it makes sense that Mr. Drysdale would bring in “a heavy,” because he wants the Clampetts out of the building but can’t evict them himself (due to his super-objective) And it leads to one of the season’s most memorable bits — a faux “shootout” between the two. So, because of this — and the fact that it heavily features Drysdale and thus represents Seven well — “The Hired Gun” is my MVE.
09) Episode 223: “The Jogging Clampetts” (Aired: 03/19/69)
The Clampetts take up jogging after Mr. Drysdale feigns interest to land an account.
Written by Buddy Atkinson & Lou Huston | Directed by Joseph Depew
Among the year’s most popular — one of the few that may come up in a discussion of the series — “The Jogging Clampetts” is, I must confess, among this list’s weaker selections. While I think the idea of the Clampetts not being accustomed to jogging is appropriate — this strikes us as a very trendy, cosmopolitan hobby — the teleplay doesn’t maximize the derivable comedy, instead choosing to focus on Drysdale, who’s depicted as ridiculously caricatured and extreme.
10) Episode 224: “Collard Greens An’ Fatback” (Aired: 03/26/69)
The Drysdales try to sell their house to Pat Boone, who befriends the Clampetts.
Written by Paul Henning & Buddy Atkinson | Directed by Joseph Depew
Pat Boone plays himself in this overlooked segment that expectedly halts a few minutes before close for a mini-concert with its guest — which is never something I support on a sitcom that should be filling its time elsewhere — but is otherwise a good show for the main characters. Even though it’s built for a star — a tactic this series doesn’t actually use very often (thank goodness) — the story is really a classic misunderstanding that nevertheless doesn’t require the Clampetts to be stupid to participate. And with Mrs. Drysdale being terribly embarrassed by her hillbilly neighbors, the thesis is better enforced here than in most of Seven.
Other episodes that merit mention include: “Sam Drucker’s Visit,” where Frank Cady’s Sam Drucker (from Petticoat Junction and Green Acres) comes out to Beverly Hills for a story that also features Dash Riprock’s swan song and puts Jethro in a narrative role usually reserved for Mr. Drysdale, “The Thanksgiving Spirit,” which is the only time that all three of Henning’s rural sitcoms are together, “The Hot Rod Truck,” which cobbles together several silly ideas into one outing that never fully gels, and two more entries in the “fifth floor” arc, “Jed Clampett Enterprises,” where the Clampetts first take over, and “The Happy Bank,” which wraps up the storyline and again includes a handful of funny ideas thrown together with spotty cohesion. Of more Honorable Mention quality (lesser quality), meanwhile, are the three best “return to England” shows, “Something For The Queen,” which has a fun airplane sequence, “War Of The Roses,” which is the boldest in terms of using the British customs as a contrast to the Clampetts’, and “Coming Through The Rye,” which claims a flimsy but amusing story.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Seven of The Beverly Hillbillies goes to…
“The Hired Gun”
Come back next week for more Hillbillies! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!
I had not previously heard that Henning was less involved in seasons 8 & 9. Can you share more details or are you waiting to talk about that more next week?
Hi, Scott! Thanks for reading and commenting.
There’s not much to add next week — Wesson negotiated an elevated “Script Consultant” credit (a new position for this series) and took on more of the weekly responsibilities. Henning was still significantly involved during the last two years, but his sights turned to development of a fourth show (which never materialized), while Wesson shouldered more of the actual writing and rewriting burden than either Tuttle or Atkinson had (as “producers”).
Henning’s focus on HILLBILLIES was also diverted here in Season Seven, but this was largely because he was spending more time on PETTICOAT in the wake of Bea Benaderet’s death. (That’s essentially why Wesson came back to HILLBILLIES in the first place.) And while Henning first tried delegating his duties several years earlier — he actively began hiring writers during Season Five when he promoted Tuttle to producer and stopped cowriting every script, instead focusing on story approval, rewrites/polishes, and development — it wasn’t until Wesson (who basically replaced Atkinson) that he had a more equal deputy.
Interesting. Do you think Henning’s reduced presence is felt?
Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, I think there are signs every time his involvement decreases (specifically, the more that other writers become involved, the more outrageous the pool of stories becomes). But in the middle years, Henning was still shaping every script — even when Tuttle was producer — so qualitative distinctions between teleplays credited to him and teleplays not credited to him are negligible because the creator was both rewriting every single one and ultimately responsible for the choices defining the series’ overall health.
We’ll talk more about the final years later — although not under this framework, for, again, the series’ overall health is the main concern, and by this point, the patient is, well, terminal. And while Wesson certainly doesn’t bring new life to the show, it’s also not as if more exclusive attention from Henning would have been healing. I mean, we can look at earlier years that both develop and fail to stop these problems for assurance of his culpability. (And in fact, he was still touching every script, just with more actual writing assistance from Wesson.)
Accordingly, even when the time comes that Henning has someone he can rely on more heavily, his guiding influence on HILLBILLIES’ trajectory is ultimately what determines why things are dire. For that reason, I haven’t and won’t dwell on staff changes when discussing this series’ decline; they’re more a matter of trivia, and even when noticed, they have far less to do with the descent than its endemic shortcomings as established by the creator. So, there won’t be much more on this next week, just as there hasn’t been previously. Our focus remains on the whys: the use of character, premise, story, etc. That’s a Henning issue no matter who’s writing. Stay tuned…
Ok, remember earlier when I mentioned Season 7 as my cutoff? The Hired Gun is the reason. In addition to Homer Bedloe and the “shootout scene”, don’t forget all the wonderfully tasteless gags involving Drysdale’s father (who Bedloe worked for once, we learn). My MVE too, no question, and the last episode of the series that really stands out for me.
Hi, Hal! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I bump against the entry’s heightened depiction of Drysdale — exemplified by the jokes about his father — for although this is reflective of the entire seventh season and therefore not a problem unique to “The Hired Gun,” its story is still infested by the troubling characterizations that remind us of why Seven is so qualitatively depleted.
It’s an ideal MVE because it’s a memorable ambassador for this year specifically, but it’s so good at being an ambassador for this “qualitatively depleted” year, that it’s inherently not competitive with past classics. I can’t call it one for that reason; both the episode and the season it typifies are aesthetically inseparable, and thus fatally flawed. (But I do think it’s the best of this year — not to mention the whole final trimester.)
When I watch those crossovers there is definitely a feeling that this is just wrong (totally out of left field) to suddenly connect the Hillbillies and Petticoat (and drag Green acres in as well) together when during all the time Bea (Kate) was alive there never was any connection.
Hi, Matt! Thanks for reading and commenting.
All of Henning’s shows share aesthetic interests and had been associated both in the press and by viewers, so I don’t think it’s “totally out of left field” to connect them officially (remember, Hooterville was first mentioned on a 1962 HILLBILLIES episode). However, I understand what you’re saying — and in fact, Benaderet’s presence on both HILLBILLIES and PETTICOAT probably created the earlier resistance to crossing the two shows. With her (sadly) out of the picture in late 1968, this was no longer an obstacle, and since Henning and company were desperate to help PETTICOAT during its hour (season) of need, having them intersect was, well, not a surprise. Gimmicky, yes… but not a surprise.
I believe it was mentioned on “The Beverly Hillbillies” that Pearl and Kate were cousins.
Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.
We never find out how Pearl and Kate are related. They’re referred to only as, and I quote, “distant kin.”
I’ve been impressed with your assessments of the seasons 4 and beyond. Since I was a kid, Season 3 has always been my cut-off. I remember thinking this show is so horrible when watching the later episodes in afternoon reruns, but the first three seasons make up one of my favorite shows of all time. Because of your review, I actually gave season 4 a watch recently, and while it’s certainly weaker, it wasn’t as bad as I remember. But I don’t think I could rewatch it and I don’t know that I could ever make it to season 7.
Hi, JC! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I appreciate the compliment. The key is expectations; since we know now that every year after Two offers a precipitous decline, then the only way to be satisfied by an episode from, say, Four, is not to expect it to be like Two. We can relax standards for the sake of maximizing enjoyment without eradicating our ability to distinguish qualitative gradations and maintain preferences. But as always, it’s subjective.
Now, you already know that I consider the drop between Two and Three to be as significant as (if not more than) the one between Three and Four, so if there’s any color season I’d recommend for you, Four would be it. Meanwhile, some of the episodes singled out here from Five and Six are also worth revisiting, but as discussed above, I can’t say the same for Seven — we’re past the point of the series being able to find micro successes in the midst of its macro shortcomings. Stay tuned for more…