The Ten Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Season Four

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.

Going into The Beverly Hillbillies’ fourth season — its first in color — the series has already begun its decline, for as we’ve seen, in order to maintain the status quo and further the premise’s regular use in story, scripts have had to keep the Clampetts from learning more about, and thereby integrating into, their Beverly Hills world. As a result, the characters have become more unbelievable with each passing season, which in turn makes it harder for them to satisfy the very premise they’re trying to protect. Episodes then follow either one of two tacks: they can either reuse old ideas and coast on past glory or pivot away from the premise’s narrative center entirely in an attempt to obfuscate the fact that there’s tension. Like Three, Four does both, and in a continuation of what we saw last year, if scripts are not recycling previously employed jokes that are stretched into familiar weekly stories, then the otherwise well-defined leads are being put, as in the Hollywood movie studio arc, into broad, comedic situations that maybe have something to do with their identifiably rigid personas, but mostly are Victories In Premise that are enjoyable simply because they’re broad and comedic. (Some even include guest stars — Sebastian Cabot, Charles Ruggles, Julie Newmar, and Wally Cox are among the big “names” who appear this year.) Meanwhile, Jethro, in particular, is allowed to anchor more plots, as it’s easiest for the series to branch out with his character, seeing that he’s already among its broadest. Eventually though, all the leads will heighten within story and Hillbillies will cross the Rubicon of foolishness, after which it’s impossible to find many worthwhile entries. Fortunately, that’s still far away, and Four’s issue with its leads is more like Three’s: the stagnation is worse than the inflation, however ongoing. The difference is there’s more mediocrity in Four, for Three was bolder in its efforts to revitalize an offshoot of the central premise via an expansion of its narrative scope, and boldness is always a vital part of Hillbillies’ appeal. To wit, we’ll see that the next two years continue the series’ general descent in quality (before the “Rubicon”), but as the overall aesthetic becomes more extreme and the disparity between good and bad shows widens, the good ones seem to shine brighter — they’re bolder (if weaker). That said, there’s still much to enjoy here and I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the year’s finest.

 

01) Episode 107: “Admiral Jed Clampett” (Aired: 09/15/65)

The Clampetts mistake a Navy vessel for a yacht.

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

Although Four’s premiere is one of the year’s most memorable, I confess that I don’t think it’s an exceptional half hour. With a big ostentatious set piece that takes the characters away from their usual surroundings and into a new location that’s not a clear ambassador for Beverly Hills and its culture, the episode is not an A+ sample of what The Beverly Hillbillies does best. However, I highlight it here because it’s a great summary of the season and the evolution of the series’ narrative habits, as this gaudy premise with a big misunderstanding that’s only slightly related to the main premise (and is merely just an excuse for the Clampetts to be ignorant in front of a new set of people) is perfect for launching our coverage of the color era.

02) Episode 108: “That Old Black Magic” (Aired: 09/22/65)

Granny believes Mrs. Drysdale has turned into a bird.

Written by Ronny Pearlman | Directed by Joseph Depew

Again, this well-remembered offering isn’t exactly the best showcase for Hillbillies, as we’re dealing with a tired comic idea that fundamentally stretches credulity and therefore threatens to jeopardize both the characters and the premise. Yet I’m featuring it in illustration, once more, of the series’ evolution, for the notion of Granny being steeped in the hills’ supernatural folklore has previously yielded a moment where she’s believed a human has been turned into an animal. But it was over in a few scenes. Eventually, in Season Nine, the Frog Man arc will stretch this single gag out for nine whole weeks! Here, it’s just one week (mercifully), and the human is Mrs. Drysdale, Granny’s rival and the series’ key antagonist — great for the invocation of the premise. So, the laughs are bigger and the story is better supported by the show’s identity.

03) Episode 111: “Possum Day” (Aired: 10/13/65)

Mr. Drysdale tries to get Beverly Hills to throw a Possum Day Parade.

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

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Possum Day” is the first of two entries involving Mr. Drysdale’s efforts to mollify his largest depositors by indulging their customs. Improving, with bolder hahas, on an idea introduced back in Season Two, this two-parter is about the banker’s attempts to convince Beverly Hills, or somewhere nearby, to throw a Possum Day Parade so that the Clampetts won’t go back home to the hills (which, naturally, his wife is encouraging). Obviously, this is a very straightforward application of the series’ core premise, for the Clampetts are so out of their element (still) in Beverly Hills that they’re celebrating a holiday that doesn’t exist there, and Mr. Drysdale (as usual) is determined to keep them where they are and will do anything to pacify them, including throwing a Possum Day Parade. The campaign rally at the end, where Granny convenes a crowd to announce her candidacy for Possum Queen, is the highlight, but the strong foundation of the plot and its use of the regular characters (particularly Granny and Drysdale) are why it’s superb.

04) Episode 112: “The Possum Day Parade” (Aired: 10/20/65)

Mr. Drysdale helps create a race for Possum Queen between his wife and Granny.

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

Taking the same comic engine from above — Drysdale helping the Clampetts celebrate Possum Day — this installment basically deploys all the same jokes as before with little variation. But it focuses more on Mrs. Drysdale’s role in the story, as Granny is convinced that her permanent rival is now her opponent for Possum Queen, and in order to keep Granny happy, Mr. Drysdale allows her to keep thinking it’s true — first by advertising his wife’s candidacy on their limo and then by playing recordings of her trash-talking Granny. It’s a hoot, and produces some of the richest laughs of the season — not because of the situation, but mostly because of the heated dynamic between the two women. Nevertheless, the latter half of this outing fails to provide as many yuks as both the setup and this Mrs. Drysdale centerpiece, so the previous excursion — which introduces the amusing premise — is more wholly satisfying as an MVE.

05) Episode 118: “Mrs. Drysdale’s Father” (Aired: 12/01/65)

Mrs. Drysdale’s gambling father tries to bilk money from Jed.

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

Veteran actor Charles Ruggles makes his first of two guest turns this season as Mrs. Drysdale’s father, a charming conman with a love for gambling. As a relative of the series’ primary adversary, Mr. Farquhar functions a lot like Sonny Drysdale (who makes a final appearance this year) in that he’s really only valuable to the series insofar as he is able to complicate Mr. Drysdale’s objective. And fortunately, because his character is, like Drysdale, after money, Farquhar’s attempts to bilk the Clampetts are inherently threatening to his son-in-law and, in contrast to Sonny, a much more direct use of the series’ central concept.

06) Episode 119: “Mr. Farquhar Stays On” (Aired: 12/08/65)

Granny thinks Mrs. Drysdale’s father is courting her, but he just wants her money.

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

One of the signs that Four is middling comes from the fact that I’m highlighting a lot of two-parters. With past lists, if there was an idea that worked and lasted two or three shows, I only chose one to represent it, for there were so many good ideas that were worthy of discussion. That’s no longer the case — there aren’t enough laudable stories to exclude entries that share the same sturdy concept. Here, Ruggles stays on as Mr. Farquhar, but his sights turn from Jed to Granny, who of course mistakes his interest for romance — it’s another way of providing premise-affirming conflict and showcasing the consistently in-character Irene Ryan.

07) Episode 123: “The Trotting Horse” (Aired: 01/12/66)

Mr. Drysdale tries to appease Granny by getting her a trotting horse.

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

In another premise-led instance of Mr. Drysdale having to cater to the whims of his “out of water” fish, this two-parter hinges on the simple notion of Granny wanting a horse (because she still can’t drive). So, Drysdale gets the Clampetts a racing horse as an investment, but all Granny wants to do is attach it to a buggy and ride around — as she does in the climactic track scene. If this whole plot seems like an excuse to get to that broad centerpiece, that’s because, well, it is, but the story does work for the series and these characters, with some pretty good-sized laughs too. Along with the “Possum Day” duo, these are among the year’s finest.

08) Episode 124: “The Buggy” (Aired: 01/19/66)

Granny intends to race Mrs. Drysdale with her new horse and buggy.

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

Just as the “Possum Day” pair also began with an establishing story rooted in the central premise of Drysdale humoring the Clampetts, the “Trotting Horse” two-parter follows the same pattern in its second half and expands its narrative purview to include Mrs. Drysdale, whom Granny is determined to race in a horse and buggy. The fun is magnified, not just by their contentious relationship (which has served a handful of Four’s greatest), but also by several plot points: the arrangement Mr. Drysdale makes with his wife (if she wins, the Clampetts must leave), Granny’s attempt to cheat by getting her rival a lame horse ironically called Lightnin’, and the ultimate way Granny (on Lightnin’) wins the race: with some help from her old friend, White Lightnin’ moonshine. With some of the biggest laughs of the season and another terrific plot for the show and its regulars, especially Granny, this is an MVE contender.

09) Episode 130: “The Old Folks Home” (Aired: 03/09/66)

Granny thinks her family is trying to replace her and send her to an old folks’ home.

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

Even with all the great stories above that directly address the central premise and Drysdale’s mission to appease the Clampetts, I think this installment is the year’s best vehicle for Irene Ryan’s Granny and Irene Ryan’s Granny alone, as another misunderstanding develops, in part because the family has hired a housekeeper who makes the old woman feel that she’s being replaced so they can ship her off to a retirement home. Ryan’s clowning is the main attraction, though Drysdale giving her a job at the bank is the cherry on top of this figurative sundae (and its funniest moment). It’s not a classic, but it’s solid, and in comparison to my top Honorable Mentions, I’d rather single out a show where Granny shines over anyone else.

10) Episode 135: “Jethro Gets Engaged” (Aired: 04/20/66)

Jethro gets a job as Dash Riprock’s stunt double.

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

Jethro’s increased usage was noted above in our seasonal commentary, but it should be reiterated that there are a handful of shows in which he both anchors the plot and serves as its focus, as he takes us to new locales and is, really, our only link to the series’ givens. A few of these offerings are cited below as Honorable Mentions, but this is easily the best of Four’s Jethro-centric lot because it makes use of some of the narrative particulars already established, like Jed’s movie studio, Jethro’s desire to be in pictures, and the funny recurring character that is Dash Riprock. In this one, Jethro — calling himself “Beef Jerky” — gets a job as Dash’s stunt double, exasperating a befuddled Pat Harrington Jr. There are some big laughs here!

 

Other episodes that merit mention include: the two closest to the above list, “A Real Nice Neighbor,” which is a riot for fans of character actress Kathleen Freeman, and “The Common Cold,” a Granny offering with Fred Clark’s Dr. Clyburn that’s fun but considerably weaker than two similar-yet-more-laudable outings from Season Five, along with “The Cat Burglar,” with an amusing plot but not a great use of the series’ premise, and “Granny Tonics A Birdwatcher,” the second of two shows with Wally Cox as Miss Jane’s birdwatching pal (in a nod to her prior role on Bob Cummings). Of more Honorable Mention quality, meanwhile, are “The Courtship Of Elly,” which is a routine but above average “love potion” show, “The Big Chicken,” which is a funny but shamelessly blatant attempt at recapturing the magic of “The Giant Jackrabbit,” and “Sonny Drysdale Returns,” which boasts the first and only appearance of Louis Nye’s Sonny Drysdale since his first season arc (he works better in this one-off). I’ll also note two more Jethro-heavy entries — “The Private Eye” and “Jethro’s Pad” — neither are as strong as “Jethro Gets Engaged,” but they’re a cut above his others in Four and actually may be among the series’ best examples of two recurring story templates with him: his desire to be both a “double naught” spy and an international playboy.

 

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

“Possum Day”

 

 

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