The Ten Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Season Six

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.

Although many fans extend the series’ minimum acceptability through Season Seven, Six is the last year with any great episodes — and even they test my limits. We’ll talk more about Seven next week, but here I’ll note that, while we often look to changes behind the scenes to explain big qualitative descents (for instance, this year is Mark Tuttle’s swan song), our mounting concerns with the text are now inherent to The Beverly Hillbillies and independent of any specific scribe. The series’ constant refusal to alter its status quo continues to make the characters progressively heighten, alienating us more and more with each passing season as they become less able to support the premise believably, forcing it to be sidelined and plots instead to grow more situationally broad and tangentially focused. Starting next year, this trouble writing for the regulars will manifest itself in an over-reliance on drawn-out story arcs to carry the narrative burden, and this is largely why I associate Seven more with Eight and Nine, for it dramatically resembles them and is disappointing for the same reasons — good ideas get stretched and bad ideas linger. Six, fortunately, is more episodic; it’s able to benefit more in the short term from its good ideas, and be less harmed in the long term by its bad ones. That said, there are signs of what’s ahead — the opening England shows (discussed below), the Jethro/military arc, and a handful of other two-parters all predict the upcoming turn to sustaining narratives — and in order to appreciate Six, where comic situations officially overtake premise/character stories as the guiding modus operandi, one has to accept funny ideas at face value, and be generous when examining incidental laughs in otherwise inhospitable plots. If that’s possible, I think you’ll see an affable display of comic storytelling — not laudable alongside the series’ past gems, but boldly amusing — and something missing when later years seek to bury their problems in single-dimensional jokes that can barely amuse for one half hour let alone several. So, despite an unideal broadness that serves as an unofficial demarcation of the “Rubicon of foolishness” (a rhetorical device introduced a few weeks back), Six is the final year with any true merit in the show’s weekly returns, and I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify its finest.

 

01) Episode 173: “Robin Hood And The Sheriff” (Aired: 10/04/67)

Jethro continues to enthrall a group of hippies in Griffith Park.

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

I’ll take this space to share thoughts on the year’s opening England arc, which like Hollywood, is meant to expand the series’ purview so that the Clampetts can, per the premise, remain fish out of water in another locale. Unfortunately, England is less effective than Hollywood because it’s farther away from both Beverly Hills, where we want to be, and Mr. Drysdale, who has the series’ only palpable objective. Accordingly, the best entries in this storyline occur when the family is back home and Jethro’s newfound Robin Hood fixation leads a group of hippies in Griffith Park to think he’s the most far-out dude they’ve ever met. The smoked crawdad gag is fun, and the use of Drysdale in this particular half hour excuses some of the stupidity, giving us something legitimate on which to attach humor. Victor French plays a police officer.

02) Episode 175: “The Army Game” (Aired: 10/18/67)

The army thinks Jethro is pretending to be goofy to avoid military service.

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

The big joke propelling this outing is similar to the above — a misinterpretation of Jethro’s childlike stupidity, as outsiders try to rationalize the extremeness of his depiction. (In this way, the series is almost commenting on just how absurd he’s become!) Here, the story involves the army, as an arc about Jethro being drafted gingerly addresses some contemporary happenings, and the staff believes that his personality is all an act to avoid service. It’s a funny idea, as is the scene where Granny gives him his exam. Joe Conley, Paul Reed, and King Donovan guest.

03) Episode 176: “Mr. Universe Muscles In” (Aired: 10/25/67)

Both Mr. Drysdale and his rival Mr. Cushing have found suitors for Elly May.

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

Real-life Mr. Universe Dave Draper appears in this installment as himself, and his inclusion has probably inflated its memorability, as the only thing his presence really provides is the funny notion of Granny thinking he has a condition known as “barbell bloat” that she must fix. However, the narrative foundation has some virtue; the story features Mr. Drysdale and his rival John Cushing (Roy Roberts) competing to set Elly up on a date. Drysdale’s guy is the bodybuilder, while Cushing’s is another vain actor called Troy Apollo (John Ashley), whom Drysdale manages to keep scaring away. All these beats are easy and unoriginal, but with Drysdale’s objective driving the action, the character work is notable and appealing.

04) Episode 177: “A Plot For Granny” (Aired: 11/01/67)

The Clampetts unknowingly buy Granny a plot of land at a cemetery.

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

Enjoyable merely for its comic idea, this is a misunderstanding show where the Clampetts purchase a plot of land for Granny at what is, unknown to them, a cemetery. But it also features terrific guest work by two solid character actors, Jesse White and Richard Deacon, the latter of whom plays a salesman who visits the house and believes that this family has killed their little old Granny, and while there are no redeeming character interests here, just laughs, laughs are the guiding focal point of this sixth season, so that’s enough to make this one of the year’s best.

05) Episode 178: “The Social Climbers” (Aired: 11/08/67)

Granny plays matchmaker for Jed and her old friend, whom Mrs. Drysdale thinks is a socialite.

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

Mary Wickes guest stars in this oft-overlooked outing as an eccentric widow from back home whom Granny is hoping to set up with Jed. Wickes is always a material-elevating performer and her scenes with Ebsen give Jed more to do than he typically has at this point in the run, as most of the stories now revolve around the broader players: Granny, Jethro, and Mr. Drysdale. What I like best about this entry, however, is the yielding of the city to the country when Jane schemes to get Mrs. Drysdale over by convincing her snooty Beverly Hills crowd that Wickes is a true socialite, creating an amusing scene where Mrs. Drysdale kisses up to Granny for access.

06) Episode 184: “Corn Pone Picassos” (Aired: 12/20/67)

The Clampetts try to help Mrs. Drysdale with her art unveiling.

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

Season Three featured a narratively similar story where the Clampetts show up the art world, but this is an expectedly bolder take on the idea and probably better accomplishes its comic goals. It also, as with “The Social Climbers,” delights in the evergreen prospect of humiliating Mrs. Drysdale — a reliably winning formula for the series, considering that she represents the elitist culture of Beverly Hills over which the Clampetts’ folksy ways are intended to triumph. No other show here does a better job of reinforcing this belief in their supremacy.

07) Episode 188: “Topless Anyone?” (Aired: 01/17/68)

Jethro decides that he’s going to make his restaurant “topless.”

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

Jethro’s latest ambition is opening up a restaurant, and in this laugh-heavy excursion — the second of a two-part story — his idea to attract customers to his tiny place is to advertise it as having topless waitresses. Of course, his understanding of “topless” means not wearing hats. Har de har har. It’s a corny bit that maybe is stretched too thin, but this broad entry actually is worth looking at for how it uses Mr. Drysdale, as the family forces him to take a pair of rich potential depositors to Jethro’s place… an act that puts his own interests in conflict.

08) Episode 189: “The Great Snow” (Aired: 01/24/68)

Mr. Drysdale creates a fake blizzard to give Granny the winter she misses.

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

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “The Great Snow” is something of a throwback to an earlier era — the kind of offering that definitely isn’t competitive in relation to the black-and-white shows, though wouldn’t feel out of place in, say, Season Four, back when the characters were heightening but they were still closer to their connectable origins and the scripts were still able to regularly incorporate the series’ premise into their narratives. I bring this up to note that, with a story entirely built around Mr. Drysdale’s maneuverings to appease one of the Clampetts’ whims so that he can keep them in Beverly Hills and maintain their business, this is exactly the kind of show that supports itself with character value that fuels the series’ identity and contributes to its most potent stylings. Yet the best moment here actually comes at the end, when Drysdale is caught by Jed and confesses to putting on an elaborate ruse, giving us one of Hillbillies‘ last traces of honesty, humanity, and brains. A rarity in any era.

09) Episode 190: “The Rass’lin’ Clampetts” (Aired: 01/31/68)

Granny thinks wrestling is real and goes into the ring with a professional.

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

If I were picking a favorite based solely on laughs, this would probably be the winner, as this popular entry includes one of the most memorable comedic centerpieces of the entire series when Granny steps into the wrestling ring to stand up for poor “Rebecca of Donnybrook Farm” against a mean Yankee, “The Boston Strong Girl.” Now, I don’t have to tell you that the whole thing is ridiculous — Granny believing wrestling is real isn’t a terrible stretch (although it’s a tired idea — Season Two did a story where she confused TV actors with their on-screen counterparts), but seeing her, this little old woman, doing crazy wrestling stunts in a ring… well, we can yuk it up, but this may very well be the aforementioned “Rubicon of foolishness.”

10) Episode 193: “The Clampetts Fiddle Around” (Aired: 02/28/68)

Mr. Drysdale hires a musical genius to teach Jethro how to play the violin.

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

Hans Conried is delightful in this installment as a classical virtuoso whom Mr. Drysdale and Miss Jane hire when Jethro expresses interest in studying the violin. This engages the primary objective — the city twosome catering to the country family — and provokes a story that, like “The Great Snow,” is a little more grounded and straightforward with its character beats than most this season. Additionally, Foster Brooks also joins in to play a down-home fiddler, creating an ideal juxtaposition (through music) of cosmopolitan sophistication with rural charm.

 

Other episodes that merit mention include: “The South Rides Again,” the middle and boldest entry in the year’s “Granny thinks the Civil War is happening again” story (which has some big guffaws, but goes on for too long and isn’t as sharp as Five’s similarly conceived “The Indians Are Coming”), “The Soap Opera,” which has a memorable climax and comic premise (that the series has nevertheless already employed before), and “From Rags To Riches,” which boasts the great gag of Mr. Drysdale dressing as a superhero called Money Man in a TV commercial where he depicts the Clampetts as hicks (if only it wasn’t burdened by some earlier disqualifying absurdity). I’ll also cite both “The Diner,” the first half of Jethro’s restaurant two-parter, and “The Great Tag-Team Match,” the second half of Granny’s wrestling two-parter, while, more trivially, saying I enjoy “Jed Inherits A Castle,” notable for the scene with the hilarious Paul Lynde, “The Clampetts In London,” the strongest of the on-location England shows, and “Cousin Roy,” which is nothing but a vehicle to showcase guest Roy Clark.

 

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

“The Great Snow”

 

 

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