RERUN: The Ten Best GILLIGAN’S ISLAND Episodes of Season One

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the start of a two-week Rerun series, designed to give yours truly a quick reprieve before we launch back into regular programming. In the meantime, I’m excited to resurrect two currently relevant posts from this blog’s nearly eight-year run!

As with our earlier reruns, I’ll provide a link to each original piece and then offer a bit of updated commentary, either on episode picks I’d call differently now or something broader, like evolving thoughts on the year/series as a whole. I’ve chosen two seasons to discuss — the first is timely, given the recent passing of a beloved ’60s star, and the second will set the table for our Get Smart coverage, coming soon… But please be gentle with these older articles. They’re from my first year on this blog, and standards have changed as I’ve changed — I’ve improved as a thinker, a communicator, and a television-watcher. I share them now to amend “the record.”

Let’s revisit… The Ten Best GILLIGAN’S ISLAND Episodes of Season One.

In the same way that others nostalgically call The Beverly Hillbillies or I Dream Of Jeannie their favorite childhood sitcom of the ’60s, Gilligan’s Island was one of the shows that cultivated my early appreciation of TV. As a kid, I was drawn to its concept, its characters, and its comedy, and when I first discussed the series in 2014, it was difficult to set aside my preconceived preferences for an analytical study. Since then, I’ve developed a more critical understanding of the genre that allows for a more honest look, so last week’s surprise passing of Dawn Wells presented an opportunity that I couldn’t ignore — a chance to share a smarter appraisal of Gilligan’s Island, which I’ve come to affirm as far from the greatest ’60s sitcom, but one of the era’s sincerest ambassadors, due precisely to what’s mentioned above: concept, characters, and comedy. You see, like so many from this period, Gilligan‘s is high-concept, with most stories revolving around the particulars of its premise (castaways marooned on an island), making it appear outside of both the traditional family or workplace format. Yet just as supernatural efforts like Bewitched and Munsters were variations on domesticity, Gilligan’s is, at heart, a workplace show, with a bunch of characters who ordinarily wouldn’t be together now coexisting with the same career pursuit — getting off their island. This renders the show’s premise reflective of a typical ’60s structure, high-concept uniqueness and all. Speaking of the characters though, while Gilligan‘s is led by its concept, said concept pushes its regulars to the fore, and that’s where the series shines, for it happily displays some of the biggest, most memorable personalities of the decade. These personalities are little more than exaggerated stock types, with not a lot of nuance, but they’re clearly established in every story and brought to life by a wonderful cast that doesn’t have a weak link. In fact, so many of the mid-’60s’ popular sitcoms are remembered for their premised concepts — this series is no exception — but, as usual, it’s the larger-than-life players who supply the humor and end up becoming transcendent cultural icons. Gilligan’s is richer than most on this front, creating indelible figures in every single character. What’s more, the premise is purposely constructed to showcase their personas, for this situation requires the regular interaction of different types of people, whose differentness must be blatant.

However, even as I celebrate the show’s premise via its use of character, I’m much more critical of its dramatic capabilities. For one, not all the leads are created equal: Gilligan and the Skipper have their Laurel & Hardy routine, the Howells are caricatured blue bloods, and Ginger is a libidinous egomaniac, but they’re the only ones who can yield comedy or anchor story; “the rest” merely serve a practical purpose — the Professor is a straight man who provides plot exposition, while Mary Ann is the least-defined, essentially the island’s homemaker. There’s only so much they can do. Also, I’m not one to credit the show for genuine social commentary, because, no matter what Sherwood Schwartz claimed, he’s not truly concerned with it — even in the first season, which is more attuned to believable conflicts, scripts eschew pointed looks at the new living arrangement in favor of broad, comic set pieces. Pretending otherwise would be disingenuous, as the show is obviously more interested in slapstick shtick, especially as its time slot gets earlier and earlier, each move naturally ratcheting up the series’ focus on younger viewers with shorter attention spans, catering to them with loud stories and even louder gags. That speaks to another key part of the show’s identity — comedy — and many of the segments we remember today come from the later years and are indeed the loudest, with classic Victories In Premise (and/or dream sequences) that are utterly ridiculous and often fantastical. My thoughts on these outings, which increase as the run continues, vary; as you could guess, I prefer character-based ideas that arise more from the castaways’ coexistence rather than any hijinks. But the show’s individual sense of humor is very important, and a balance between elements is ideal. Accordingly, the best of Gilligan’s Island reconciles its amiably silly comedy alongside a strong display of character, both of which should be explored in plots that affirm the high-concept premise. This is actually what I seek from most ’60s sitcoms, and although Gilligan’s isn’t consistent enough to be the best, it usually presents these qualities admirably, and in a design that deserves way more credit than it’s given. So, I honor it now not as a great ’60s sitcom, but as an iconic representation of one, and like I did last month with Bewitched, I want to share a list of episodes that I would highlight if I was discussing the series today.

And, in honor of the late Dawn Wells, here are my picks for Mary Ann’s three finest showings: “The Postman Cometh,” “And Then There Were None,” and “The Second Ginger Grant” (the latter being her absolute best). Wells seldom got the chance to clown, but when she did, she took risks and asserted herself as a valued member of the ensemble — a likable beauty pitch-perfect for her role. She brought joy to many, and she’ll never be forgotten.



Come back next week for another Sitcom Tuesday rerun! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!