The Twelve Best LEAVE IT TO BEAVER Episodes of Seasons Five & Six

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re finishing coverage on the best of Leave It To Beaver (1957-1958, CBS; 1958-1963, ABC), which is currently available in full on DVD!

Leave It To Beaver stars BARBARA BILLINGSLEY as June Cleaver, HUGH BEAUMONT as Ward Cleaver, TONY DOW as Wally Cleaver, and JERRY MATHERS as The Beaver.

Compared to previous seasons, Beaver‘s final two years tend not to be as popular, for they have the same problem first observed in Four: the characters, particularly Beaver, are aging and the show is unable to believably write for teens as it can kids. Accordingly, the authenticity for which we lauded the show in its first few seasons is actively rescinded during the latter half of its run, and this hampers everything — even the comedy, for while the show, primarily in late Four and some of Five, goes broader with its storytelling in an attempt to compensate for what’s missing, enjoyment depends on our faith and investment in Beaver’s depiction. His usage determines all else. As a result, Season Five only works when it’s able to acknowledge that the main player is changing; when it tries to pretend (like Four), that Beaver is still a little kid, we know that’s false and we inherently disconnect. Also, because writing Beaver as he grows is such a challenge, the show continues to decentralize him, throwing many stories to Wally and/or his best friends Eddie and Lumpy, two thankfully flawed characters who are always pranking Beaver and the too-perfect Wally. As I’ve said, Eddie is the series’ best-defined part, and Lumpy’s not too far behind him, but stories that intentionally minimize the role Beaver plays reject the series’ premise and are not worth featuring (unless they’re so hilarious I have no choice). The same goes in Six, which technically tries to catch up with Beaver — now he’s a football star and likes girls — but still can’t write him (the way he talks, the things he wants, etc.) authentically, and thus keeps turning to the older kids for plot, never mind that they’re not 100% believable either. Meanwhile, the final year is also especially tired, with rehashes of old stories that suggest, aside from being incapable of showcasing the new Beaver, it’s also not displaying its era well. That is, though the theme song gets an early ’60s reimagining, the show feels no more like 1962-’63 than 1957-’58, and despite this being true for most domestic shows of the time, it adds to our perception that Beaver is no longer worthy of being called honest… So, with honesty now rare, it’s become the most valuable commodity, determining the entries I’ve selected below; I have picked twelve that I think exemplify the last two seasons’ finest.


Season Five (1961-1962, ABC)

01) Episode 158: “No Time For Babysitters” (Aired: 10/07/61)

Beaver feels that he’s too old to have a babysitter.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Barbara Parkins (Peyton Place) guest stars in this outing as the babysitter whom the Cleavers have chosen to watch Beaver, despite the fact that he’s 12 and no longer thinks he needs one. A prime example of the series acknowledging its growing lead character, this installment earns its place here for its self-awareness and its genuine depiction of Beaver.

02) Episode 164: “Wally’s Big Date” (Aired: 11/25/61)

Wally is embarrassed to go out with a girl taller than him.

Teleplay by Bob Ross | Story by Kenneth A. Enochs | Directed by David Butler

You’ll notice that, per what I wrote above, I’ve not selected many of the final two seasons’ Wally-focused shows because, although there’s more of them in this era, unless they make great use of Beaver, they just don’t fulfill the terms of the premise. This is one of the better Wally offerings, however, because the goody-goody teen is shown to have believable insecurities, and is therefore not so perfect after all. It’s a realer take on his character.

03) Episode 171: “Farewell To Penny” (Aired: 01/13/62)

Beaver is excited that his nemesis Penny is moving… or is he?

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Beaver’s interest in girls first develops this season in a not-so-funny entry called “Beaver’s First Date”; I probably would have featured it here somewhere if there wasn’t, just two weeks later, a better show — one that employs a more developed recurring character, Penny, to make the same point… but with more laughs, more character, and more Beaver charm.

04) Episode 174: “Beaver’s Long Night” (Aired: 02/03/62)

Lumpy tries to pull a prank while Beaver and Gilbert are home alone one night.

Written by Dick Conway & Ronald MacLane | Directed by Hugh Beaumont

This “home alone” show is one of many examples of Wally’s friends playing a prank on either him or Beaver. In this case, Lumpy’s acting without Eddie, as his attempt to scare Beaver and Gilbert when those two are alone at the Cleavers’ house results in the old bully getting arrested… which yields hahas when Richard Deacon (Mr. Rutherford) wants answers.

05) Episode 176: “Nobody Loves Me” (Aired: 02/17/62)

Beaver thinks that he’s no longer loved.

Teleplay by Katherine Eunson & Dale Eunson | Story by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by David Butler

My pick for this list’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Nobody Loves Me” is an atypical entry, and unlike my prior MVEs, it’s not an accurate representation of this era in the show’s life. Yet it’s a more favorable look at the year, or what Five could have been doing more often, because it not only crafts its premise around the notion that Beaver is becoming a teen and entering a terribly awkward stage of life where his self-esteem is wavering as he himself changes, it also packages its story in a surprisingly pensive teleplay that gives more credit to the characters than most others do. They all feel like people here, and with visits from some of the show’s memorable recurring players (Miss Landers and Gus), this is a quintessential Beaver — a symbol of what it means to grow up, even if the show outside this half-hour can’t keep up.

06) Episode 177: “Beaver’s Fear” (Aired: 02/24/62)

Beaver is nervous about riding a roller coaster.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

A popular offering, “Beaver’s Fear” features the classic centerpiece where the title character, after spending the whole show being scared of riding a roller coaster, ends up having a blast while the series’ perennial wise guy, Eddie, ends up scared and acting a fool. But I like it best because the subject of Beaver conquering his fears is related to maturation.

07) Episode 191: “Sweatshirt Monsters” (Aired: 06/02/62)

Beaver wears a gaudy sweatshirt to school.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Reminiscent of earlier stories that would rely on some sight gag to deliver their value — specifically something that Beaver would either choose or be forced to wear — this outing suggests growth, as his garish sweatshirt and the idea of self-expression feels like more of a teen-based premise than something better tailored to a younger kid.


Season Six (1962-1963, ABC)

08) Episode 202: “Tell It To Ella” (Aired: 11/08/62)

Beaver writes to an advice column when he dislikes his parents’ rules.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Youthful rebellion has always been a theme on this series, but teens rebel with more of an edge than kids, and it’s rare to see the Beaver openly defiant. That’s what I most appreciate about the premise for this show, which memorably has Beaver turning to an advice column in the hopes of refuting his parents… but, of course, it doesn’t work. Tim Matheson appears.

09) Episode 204: “Beaver Joins A Record Club” (Aired: 11/22/62)

Beaver is unable to budget his money after joining a record club.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

We’ve seen similar stories used before on the series, but this premise gains points for both reflecting the early ’60s well — the “record club” is a vestige of this era — and also for recognizing that music is such a big part of kids’, and especially teens’, lives. This is a step towards acknowledging the realities of what boys his age would be enjoying.

10) Episode 209: “The Party Spoiler” (Aired: 12/27/62)

Beaver and Gilbert decide to play pranks during Wally’s party.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by Norman Abbott

Usually this period in the show’s run has Wally’s pals pranking the other characters, so this installment is popular because it reverses the usual setup and has Beaver (with Gilbert, the cut-rate Larry) as its driving agent… Naturally, it’s gentler than it really should be if wanting to produce true guffaws, but at least it has the right idea.

11) Episode 220: “The Silent Treatment” (Aired: 03/14/63)

Beaver punishes his mother after she makes him do something he doesn’t want to do.

Written by Theodore Ferro & Mathilde Ferro | Directed by David Butler

If I were choosing an MVE for the final season by itself, this honor would go to “The Silent Treatment,” which has one of the few stories where the series pits two members of the Cleaver family against each other — or, at least, a truly angry Beaver against someone else. This time it’s his mom, whom he self-absorbedly attempts to punish by giving the silent treatment. It’s a tactic that requires a more developed brain — and a behavioral choice more indicative of teens than kids — so, I like this one because it meets Beaver where he’s at chronologically and gives us some rare, for this period, sincerity in his depiction and their relationship.

12) Episode 234: “Family Scrapbook” (Aired: 06/20/63)

The Cleavers look through a family scrapbook

Written by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by Hugh Beaumont

The series’ finale is a glorified clip show but it’s notable for being among the first self-conscious endings of a television series, as it fully intends to provide closure to these characters by reflecting on their past and acknowledging how much they’ve changed — or haven’t. It’s sweet without being cloying and addresses the main theme of this last list: growth.


Other notable episodes that merit mention include: shows that make fine use of Wally’s friends, like “Wally’s Weekend Job,” “Wally Stays At Lumpy’s,” and “The Yard Birds,” and shows with memorable ideas, like “Beaver Takes A Drive,” “Beaver, The Bunny,” “Beaver’s Jacket,” and “Beaver’s Laundry.” Those are all from Season Five. The only Honorable Mentions from Six are “Double Date,” which reveals the delicate dilemma of progressing Beaver while keeping him young, “Beaver’s Autobiography,” in which he’s punished for being a jerk, and “Box Office Attraction,” which I find unintentionally hilarious because it puts the sappy Wally up against what it considers to be a “bad” girl.


*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Seasons Five & Six of Leave It To Beaver goes to…

“Nobody Loves Me”



Come back next week for The Danny Thomas Show! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!