The Eleven Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Seasons Eight & Nine

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


The final two seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies don’t have enough notable episodes to warrant independent lists — that’s why I’m combining them for this one entry. And there’s no significant decline in quality between the two either that necessitates them being discussed separately. Okay, that’s not entirely true; the gradual descent that began after Season Two continues, so Nine is worse than Eight, but no more so than expected. And we’ve seen larger breaks before — Six was the last with actual gems and Seven was the last for which I could even pretend to find ten worthy offerings to highlight. Eight, the first where creator Paul Henning lets someone else — Dick Wesson, the former Petticoat Junction head writer — shoulder a lot of the scripting burden, is mostly just more of the same, for the show is already past the so-called “Rubicon of foolishness,” having heightened its regulars so outrageously in an attempt to maintain the premise’s status quo that their depictions have made it impossible to find weekly stories to reinforce said premise. Some fans enter Eight surprised by this — as if it’s a revelation — but last year previewed what we should expect, as Mr. Drysdale became caricatured like the Clampetts and further alienated himself from thesis-related plot, for even when his objective was invoked, such behavior was just as logic-starved as theirs, which then provided no contrast — everyone’s a buffoon now (with the possible exception of the perennially sidelined Jane). And when everyone’s a buffoon, then the out-of-water notion loses depth. Perhaps as a hat tip to this, the show finally truncated its opening credits in early 1970, removing the lyrical backstory that explains the high concept. This is a symbol of how much the show was deviating from its premise, now over-relying instead on gimmicky, distracting arcs to propel plot and compensate for the regulars’ inability to continue generating viable weekly stories.

This design is bad for a series whose comedy was always somewhat single-dimensional, because when stories are only built on one silly joke, they can’t handle being stretched — they lose their humor, particularly as the logic grows more tenuous. Also, ideas that are inferior aren’t disposed of quickly — they linger. Boy, do they linger. For instance, Eight starts off, just like Six and Seven, with another trip — this time back to the Ozarks, providing an excuse to go on location to Silver Dollar City, MO. These “homecoming” shows are more intrinsically interesting in 1969 than they were in 1962, for it’s been long enough now to expect something legitimately dramatic to explore. After all, the “Hillbillies” must have changed by now as a result of their new digs and should therefore be out of place back in their old ones… Except, oh wait, they haven’t changed. So, there’s really nothing new to play here as it pertains to the characters and the premise. Instead, there’s familiar situational trappings, like a rivalry between Granny and Pearl’s old nemesis, Elverna Bradshaw (played by Petticoat Junction‘s similar Selma Plout, Elvia Allman). It’s surface-level comedy at best. This then transitions into an arc with Phil Silvers as Honest John, a conman who takes the Clampetts to Manhattan and sells them landmarks like Central Park. It’s a memorable trilogy of outings, if only because of the New York locale and the effortlessly funny guest star, but the story is both a rehash of an earlier idea once used better (in a single half hour with Jesse White from Season One) and an example of the show turning to an external force to alleviate the pressure from its main characters, the Clampetts. The same thing happens in the next storyline, when the family returns to Beverly Hills and Shorty Kellems (Shug Fisher), an old friend from the hills introduced at the start of the season, follows them out… once again dominating the action and leaving little room for the Clampetts. This becomes a pattern; Eight is filled with story arcs that push the primary characters into the background.

After a brief two-parter that sees the end of the already-phased-out Mrs. Drysdale (and a guest stint by Soupy Sales), there’s another Petticoat Junction crossover, which is mildly amusing, but still an inferior character effort (and a gimmick). Following that, we’re subjected to the worst eight-episode stretch of the series’ run (thus far) — the second return of Shorty in a narrative about his marrying Elverna to reclaim ownership of his hotel. It’s a dreadful, dire collection, focusing on characters about whom we don’t care. (It occasionally throws a bone to Mr. Drysdale by giving him some kind of goal to pursue, but otherwise all of the principal motivations are reserved for characters who aren’t principals.) I don’t understand this at all. If Eight wanted to introduce new people to help push story, it didn’t have to sideline the established leads. For instance, instead of playing up the nuptials between two nobodies, Shorty and Elverna, why not have someone from the main cast get married — like Jethro? What if he married Elverna’s oft-discussed daughter? This would give everyone important a motivation to play: Granny would try to stop it, Jed would try to see that his nephew’s happy, Elly would try to get married before Jethro and “beat” him, Drysdale would try to stop the other family from getting any of his money, etc. In this scenario, everybody’s doing something and the narrative spotlight is back on the characters who have already earned our emotional investment. Additionally, if the show wants to get Elly hitched… as it says it does… then in order to make use of the city vs. country clash, why not have her fall for a genuine city slicker? This would pit the Clampetts against a new family of Beverly Hills society, with Drysdale right in the middle, either encouraging a fruitful union or worrying how it might affect his bottom line? I share these ideas to illustrate that even if the show was insistent on committing to serialized narrative arcs with new characters, there was a better way to go about it. Of course, my suggestions both involve some real change to the status quo, and as usual, Henning’s series purposely avoid that.

Instead, the wheel-spinning continues… like at the end of Eight and the beginning of Nine, when Silvers’ Honest John returns with his wife, played by Kathleen Freeman. Both are funny performers who work well together, and actually, their offerings in Beverly Hills, while narratively redundant, are better than his location shows — first in New York and then in D.C. (where the same “monument selling” gags occur) — for there’s less pomp and circumstance. Unfortunately, Nine derails itself quickly thereafter, descending into a nine-episode mess that many fans still consider today to be the nadir of the show’s fallen glory: the arc where Granny thinks Elly May’s beau is a literal Frog Man — half man, half frog. Now, we’ve seen before how this misguided idea was nevertheless rooted in a believable part of Granny’s persona (her superstitious faith in folk medicine), which got narratively heightened the more it was used (and stretched). It was never a great story, for it always required an inherently large leap in logic. But it’s even less great when it’s expanded, because it becomes harder and harder to maintain belief in Granny’s conviction. So, it’s a disgrace when the show takes nine weeks for Granny to realize what we knew from the beginning — it insults both her character’s intelligence and ours, and it’s an indication of how the exaggeration of the Clampetts has harmed them and the show. From there, Nine continues its absurdity by embarking on the “Women’s Liberation” arc, where Miss Jane takes a stand against the now irredeemably antagonistic Mr. Drysdale and even convinces Granny and Elly May to join her in standing up for womanhood everywhere. It’s, I guess, a ham-fisted way to acknowledge the era’s changing social mores, but because this is a series without characters who have any nuance or even a basic awareness of contemporary realities — Miss Jane feels totally out of place, but not intentionally — Hillbillies has no capacity to avoid being anything but shallow and embarrassing when engaging with these issues.

Also, this Women’s Lib crusade falls victim to the series’ ingrained perspective. Because this pursuit comes from Jane, it’s contextualized as a city notion, which therefore means that it’s something the Clampetts have to triumph over. This probably isn’t the intention, but it speaks to why it was the wrong plot for this series: it asks to have the characters finally changed by their environs, which has never happened before. And by 1971, it’s too little too late — it doesn’t fit. When these episodes take us for the first time ever to Miss Jane’s apartment and introduce us to Charles Lane as her crotchety landlord, many fans rightly point out that the series is offering a huge shift in focus; never before has her character been so prominently featured and the plight of the unmarried urban secretary been a concern for this silly comedy about hicks living in a mansion. The conclusion most reach from this is that it’s a desperate “Hail Mary” to modernize the show and avoid the axe, which Henning knew was coming, not only because of the previous year’s Petticoat Junction cancellation, but also because of the rise in “relevant” programming, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All In The Family, the latter of which premiered in January 1971 (and on the same night as Hillbillies). However, I don’t think the series was earnestly trying to be like, well, for lack of a better comparison, Mary Tyler Moore, because as I said above, it can’t do this arc in light of its ingrained perspective; it can’t avoid looking upon Miss Jane and her pals with contempt for being so gung-ho about women’s rights, for it’s not a quest that these decent, rural folks come by naturally. When they can’t support it, the show can’t support it, and we can’t support it. Additionally, putting so much emphasis on Miss Jane is simply another example of the series pivoting away from the Clampetts because it can’t write for them anymore. And yet, even with their usages qualified, everything in this final season has been heightened to absurdity, so the scripts can’t wrest that aesthetic from its treatment of these real-world issues. As a result, it all feels like performed modernity — not a serious attempt to progress the show, but a nose-thumbing to the network and these changing times.

And times were indeed changing. By the final stretch of episodes, as Elly had taken a job as a bank secretary and Petticoat‘s Mike Minor was being featured in an arc as another get-rich-quick schemer romancing Miss Jane to get to Elly and her money (again, here’s a guest that’s given the primary objective and overtaking the action at the expense of the actual stars), the show had already gotten its pink slip from CBS. It had fallen out of the Nielsen Top 30, lost its timeslot to ABC’s The Mod Squad, and was no longer being touted by polled audiences as one of their favorites. The ’60s had ended and in its place was the ’70s, where a trend towards realism was developing, with characters who could grow and change because there was no high-concept premise that had to be protected. Hillbillies was among the last of the ’60s titans to fall — and perhaps the most genuine embodiment of the era’s broad, premise-led modus operandi, where characters were bold and memorable, but didn’t have the capacity to sustain new stories over an extended period of time. 1970-’71 was a “changing of the guard” in terms of programming, and while I wish Hillbillies hadn’t let itself fall into such disrepair, there was no other way — the cycle it helped create had ended. So, I present this final list to you as proof of just how low the series had sunk from its early days, when it was sincerely funny and its characters were remarkably well-defined. When you think of The Beverly Hillbillies, try to remember it at its best.


SEASON EIGHT (1969-1970)

01) Episode 226: “The Hills Of Home” (Aired: 10/01/69)

The Clampetts return to the hills and Granny reignites her feud with Elverna.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

The Clampetts are back on location — Silver Dollar City — for an arc that’s more specific to the series, but still fails to deliver for the characters. However, “The Hills Of Home” is the best of this lot, courtesy of the novelty of the Granny/Elverna feud and the segments with Jethro and Mr. Drysdale at home, where the latter dresses up like a hippie. Also, this is the introduction of Shug Fisher as the overused Shorty Kellems, and Rob Reiner has a small role.

02) Episode 232: “Manhattan Hillbillies” (Aired: 11/12/69)

The Clampetts begin building a log cabin on their new Central Park “property.”

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

Perhaps the most iconic arc of the season, the trilogy where Phil Silvers sells Central Park to the Clampetts, concludes here. I’ve chosen this entry to represent all three, and that may surprise you, for Silvers’ Honest John actually isn’t even in it at all. (Rest assured, though: there’s a better excursion with him below.) Rather, this is the strongest New York show because it’s less dependent on the locale or the guest. It’s about the character-rooted gag of the Clampetts building a log cabin in Central Park, which they think they own. Sammy Davis Jr. appears.

03) Episode 233: “Home Again” (Aired: 11/19/69)

Without her glasses on, Granny mistakes Elly’s prospective suitor for a seal.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

In probably the only self-contained outing of the last two seasons, the Clampetts are back in California and Mr. Drysdale is trying to mollify them by finding Elly a beau. The story of Granny mistaking the fella in question for a seal is, well, stupid… but at least it’s because of her vision, not because she thinks he’s half seal, half man. I really highlight this show, however, for the amusing (but broad) Drysdale spasm bit — an example of his character’s heightened status.

04) Episode 238: “Our Hero, The Banker” (Aired: 12/24/69)

Jethro poses as a general to help Mr. Drysdale’s nephew at the bank.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

Soupy Sales guest stars as Mr. Drysdale’s nephew in this second half of a two-parter that’s most notable as the final hurrah for the great Mrs. Drysdale, whose usage has declined over the years in tandem with the series’ dwindling ability to play to its premise. It’s an okay swan song for her, considering that it focuses on her animosity with Granny, but the action is mostly about Jethro posing as a general to help Sales’ character at the bank, disappointing Mr. Drysdale.

05) Episode 240: “The Clampett-Hewes Empire” (Aired: 01/07/70)

Mr. Drysdale believes Jed has gone into business with Howard Hughes.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

This is the second half of a two-parter that finds the Clampetts heading down to Petticoat Junction for another crossover (their last). It doesn’t elevate either sets of characters’ comedic prospects, but it’s amiable for the amusing idea of Mr. Drysdale hearing that Jed is going into business with a local man named Howard Hewes and mistaking him for the real Howard Hughes. In this regard, I’d classify the entry’s appeal as being correlated to its Victory In Premise.

06) Episode 248: “Simon Legree Drysdale” (Aired: 03/04/70)

The Clampetts’ recently opened hotel for women causes problems for Mr. Drysdale.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

In choosing an offering to represent the best of the Shorty Kellems/Elverna Bradshaw arc, I’ve elected to feature the one in which neither appears, and the regular characters instead deal with the mess he left behind. This is, naturally, the more ideal structure, for his episodes pushed the leads into the background. Here, they’re returned to the fore, and with a surprisingly bold (and more contemporary) story of Shorty’s “hotel for women” — with the Clampetts’ cabin out back — leading to a misunderstanding where a black woman working in the shack is mistaken for a slave owned by Mr. Drysdale. This is a variation of a strong idea used back in Season Two, but the racial element is more shocking — and this risk pays off (relative to the season).

07) Episode 250: “Honesty Is The Best Policy” (Aired: 03/18/70)

Honest John and his wife try to bilk the Clampetts in a smog removal scam.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

Eight ends with the second half of a two-part return appearance of Silvers’ Honest John, and as expressed above, his Beverly Hills shows work better than the location entries from both this year and the following because they’re not distracted by the gaudy settings. Also, this two-parter sees the introduction of Kathleen Freeman as his wife, and in this segment, she dons a disguise to exploit the Clampetts’ eagerness to combat L.A.’s smog problem. The upcoming D.C. shows all hit the same notes, but they’re even less satisfying for their diminished originality.


Other episodes that merit mention include: another of the Silver Dollar City shows, “Silver Dollar City Fair,” the two additional entries with Phil Silvers and the New York arc, “Jed Buys Central Park” and “The Clampetts In New York,” and the lesser first halves of three two-parters featured above, “The Hero,” with Mrs. Drysdale and Soupy Sales, “Buzz Bodine, Boy General,” with the Petticoat Junction crew, and “Honest John Returns,” with Silvers and Freeman. (For you masochists, “Marry Me, Shorty” is the most comically outrageous Shorty/Elverna show — with a tacky harem sequence.)


SEASON NINE (1970-1971)

08) Episode 251: “The Pollution Solution” (Aired: 09/15/70)

Mr. Drysdale tries to keep the Clampetts from taking their money to D.C. to fight smog.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

Season Nine opens with a continuation of the ideas expressed in Eight’s final two-parter, for the Clampetts are still so concerned about smog that they’re willing to take all their money to D.C. and give it to the government. Drysdale refuses to let this happen, so part of his scheme involves getting someone to impersonate Richard Nixon to dissuade them. This ends up being Rich Little. Also, there’s some choice physical comedy as Jethro tries to make his car smoke-free… Frankly, there’s really nothing great here in the final two years, but because this show utilizes Drysdale’s motivation clearly — with the other regulars also at the center — and features several memorable comic bits while taking its premise from the Clampetts trying to apply their good-natured sensibilities to a more cynical urban world, it feels the most like vintage Hillbillies. That’s why I’ve selected it to be this list’s MVE (Most Valuable Episode).

09) Episode 256: “Doctor, Cure My Frog” (Aired: 10/27/70)

Miss Jane directs Granny to a psychiatrist to talk about her Frog Man woes.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

Honestly, I debated about whether or not to even include an installment from the notorious “Frog Man” arc here, but it’s such a big part of this final season and the narrative surrounding the series’ proverbial “shark-jumping” (or “frog-jumping”) that I opted to find the least awful entry and cite it. That would be this one, thanks to a slight reprieve in the first act where Granny thinks Mark has been cured of his froginess, and in the second act, when she slips back into her delusions but Jane actually does something realistic — she sends Granny to a shrink (Richard Deacon), offering us hope that this foolishness will come to an end and common sense will prevail. Alas, it’s still two months away, but for a brief moment, there’s logic.

10) Episode 263: “The Grunion Invasion” (Aired: 01/05/71)

The Clampetts head down to the beach, mistaking surfers for invading “grunion.”

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

Hillbillies has always engaged with misunderstandings as a regular narrative hook, and the comic idea of the Clampetts believing a Grunion invasion means that people from the Island of Grun are attacking is funny and, though totally broad and ridiculous, not as much of a stretch as some of the era’s other plots. (Eventually this bleeds into the misguided Women’s Lib arc.)

11) Episode 270: “Elly, The Working Girl” (Aired: 02/23/71)

Elly May moves in with Miss Jane and gets a job at the bank.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Leeds

When the Women’s Lib storyline pivots away from Miss Jane (and her friends) and more directly involves Elly, there’s a slight uptick in, if not success, then at least accessibility as it pertains to the show and our vested interests, while Mr. Drysdale’s objective — getting Elly out of Jane’s apartment with the help of landlord Charles Lane — at least makes established sense. Of course, with Elly becoming a working secretary, this seems like a play towards some Mary Tyler Moore “relevancy,” but one look at the script would strain any comparisons.


Other episodes that merit mention include: the two gaudy (and unoriginal) D.C. “Honest John” shows, “The Clampetts In Washington” and “Jed Buys The Capitol,” the second best “Frog Man” entry, “Don’t Marry A Frogman,” an offering that’s notable for the comic idea of Mr. Drysdale having to be nice to the secretaries with Elly around, “Elly, The Secretary,” and, lastly, both “Love Finds Jane Hathaway” and “Jethro Returns,” the first and third outings in the final trilogy, featuring Mike Minor as a schemer dating Jane to get to Elly’s money.


*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Seasons Eight & Nine of The Beverly Hillbillies goes to…

“The Pollution Solution”



Come back next week for a new Sitcom Tuesday and Wildcard Wednesday!