The Seven Best THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS Episodes of Season Four

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re concluding our coverage on the best of The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963, CBS), which is currently available in full on DVD.


The final season of Dobie Gillis is a disgrace. The show is decidedly no longer providing stories that fit its structural premise about a boy in college, instead turning outward to gaudy episodic notions that not only have nothing to do with the series’ long-abandoned thematic interests, but also engage with high-concept, illogical ideas that encourage emotional divestment, simply because the show is forsaking its relatability promise to the audience, and even more now, asking us to believe things we can’t. We started to see this at the end of Three when Dwayne Hickman had to take a step back and scripts began putting more emphasis on others — mostly Maynard, finally fulfilling one of the common complaints leveled against this series: that it was overtaken by a side character who broadened and untethered it from what it was supposed to be. This is partly true. Yes, there’s too much Maynard and not enough Dobie because Hickman was consciously tiring of the show, and yes, Maynard is now just a wacky presence (more like Gilligan — episodes where he turns into Mr. Hyde, has a Latin American double, and becomes super-strong are almost eerily similar to Denver’s next series), and yes, too many of the stories in Four are both logic-defying and have little to do with Dobie Gillis or his established world. (Never mind that Shulman’s heightened style of writing has always allowed this, and while he’s not credited with many scripts here, he’s still the primary creative force, which means, there’s nowhere to shift blame for what happens.) But, remember, this is all just the symptom of the larger ailment, which began when the series stopped catering to its initial dramatic pursuits and thus lost its raison d’être, thereby opening up the show’s narrative aperture to whatever — good, bad, or indifferent. At first, this was only a mild concern, because there was an ensemble of characters we liked seeing, such as Zelda and Chatsworth. This year, however, those two only appear four times each, and the regular cast is down both them and William Schallert as the main professor. (Jean Byron has taken his place.) In their stead, the show introduces two Gillis cousins — one (Ray Hemphill) who guests three times in story-heavy music-related outings, and another (Bobby Diamond), a high schooler meant to be a younger replacement Dobie. But the latter is a pale imitation. We want the real thing, Hickman’s indifference be darned.

Meanwhile, the show’s corruption by a storytelling that ignores traditional logic confirms a trend that inspired my reason for coverage, making it like most forthcoming sitcoms of the ’60s, where the normal bounds of common sense disappear and we’re just supposed to leap without being asked. Unfortunately, this also plunges Dobie Gillis into hell, for this is a sitcom not built for absurdity beyond the human condition’s. And, once and for all, I reject the notion that it’s “surreal” — an aesthetic some fans use to excuse the ongoing loss of reality, offering Dobie’s fourth wall-breaking monologues (now in darkened limbo) as evidence to this claim. For one, realism is a red herring; Shulman’s work has always been heightened — that’s part of its charm — and as we’ve seen, he’s been directly responsible for crazy stories. Rather, what was honest about Dobie Gillis wasn’t that it was a mirror of real life, but that it could reach teens without condescending to them, while also making a valued comment on the breakdown of communication between generations. I’ve called it “thematically true” or “emotionally true” because even though people talked funny and did funny things, the universe they inhabited was recognizable and we could track their choices via a character logic supplied by sustaining depictions that propelled story. There was internal truth. Secondly, Shulman only ever uses Dobie’s monologues to provide logic — to reinforce this heightened world and maintain our belief in it by fleshing out the character’s interior life. This isn’t metatheatrical, it’s simply theatrical, and it’s in stark contrast to what George’s asides did on Burns & Allen, where he’d tell us we were watching a TV show he could manipulate — winking that everything is fiction. That’s surrealism: redefining the real — in this case, through meta-awareness. Dobie Gillis seldom implies that it’s a TV show (I can think of only a few jokes to the contrary), which means, like most ’60s comedies, when it presents stories that reject sanity and reason, it’s doing so without intending to reshape its boundaries. And the problem then is that Dobie Gillis, as it adopts this ’60s attitude regarding truth, loses ALL shape, all reliability — not only with story, but with its characters too… unintentionally. And that’s the real crime… However, as always, I’ve somehow managed to eke out one final (truncated) list of favorites, for your reference.


01) Episode 116: “A Splinter Off The Old Block” (Aired: 10/24/62)

To win a girl, Dobie’s younger cousin lies about Dobie being an alcoholic.

Written by Max Shulman | Directed by Rod Amateau

The first of seven episodes with Dobie’s cousin, Dunky, a.k.a. Dobie Lite, this entry works because it lets the new character be immature and do the lying, while keeping the comedic repercussions reserved for the character about whom we care. The funniest gag has Ellen Burstyn, who appears as a social worker determined to reform Dobie, finding the Gillises making homemade root beer in their kitchen and destroying it because she believes it to be moonshine. And with not much competition in this season or even on this list, I have selected “A Splinter Off The Old Block” as my MVE. It feels the most Shulman-esque, utilizing Dunky as the year intended, but without shortchanging Dobie in the process.

02) Episode 119: “Where Is Thy Sting?” (Aired: 11/14/62)

Dobie feigns illness to impress a girl.

Written by Joel Kane | Directed by Rod Amateau

With Dunky lying above, this offering returns to the traditional model by having Dobie be the fibber, and the narrative is similar to Season One’s “The Unregistered Nurse,” where Dobie fakes illness to cozy up to a girl, only for it to snowball as others come to think he’s dying. The same happens here, but the script’s elevated comic energy, and use of character, makes it just as good as its predecessor (albeit WAY broader). Howard McNear and Burt Mustin guest.

03) Episode 120: “Flow Gently, Sweet Money” (Aired: 11/21/62)

Dobie’s gold-digging girlfriend uses her sister to target Dunky.

Written by Arnold Horwitt | Directed by Rod Amateau

Yvonne Craig has the distinction of appearing most often as Dobie’s one-episode love interests, and this is the half-hour that gives her the most to do, as she drives the action by attempting to groom her sister into a gold-digging protégé, with their sights set on poor Dunky. She’s a little harsher and more villainous than Thalia, who also had dollar signs for eyes, but because the story is subliminally about sex, and keeps Dobie involved, it works — and it’s memorable.

04) Episode 131: “The Moon And No Pence” (Aired: 02/13/63)

As Zelda tries to groom Dobie for success, he falls for an oddball Russian dancer.

Written by Bud Nye | Directed by Rod Amateau

Zelda’s second of only four outings this year, “The Moon And No Pence” does one of Four’s better jobs of attempting to replicate Shulman’s original ethos, as the story finds Dobie torn between a sensible relationship with Zelda that looks to poise him for success, and a passionate affair with a Russian chick who turns totally kooky when she has him (and his family) dancing outside in the dark while wearing robes. It’s the kind of quirkiness that is within the series’ wheelhouse — rooted in human behavior — as opposed to the mechanics of absurd plot.

05) Episode 134: “Three Million Coins In The Fountain” (Aired: 03/06/63)

Chatsworth and his mother lose their fortune.

Written by Joel Kane | Directed by Rod Amateau

Franken and Packer are two of the series’ funniest performers and their unique characterizations have done a lot to keep the show watchable in the years since it abandoned the regular exploration of its thematic interests. Chatsworth appears only four times this year, and they’re all worthwhile, despite being idea-based and not-so-related to Dobie and his college life. But this is the best, because it takes what we know of the Osbornes and puts them in a situation with inherent conflict, maximizing the comedy without resorting to more gimmicks.

06) Episode 141: “The Rice And Old Shoes Caper” (Aired: 04/24/63)

Zelda decides to settle for marrying Maynard, instead of Dobie.

Written by Arnold Horwitt | Directed by Rod Amateau

Sheila James’ final outing is a shockingly sincere affair in which the show sets aside the year’s typical quest for cheap laughs by attempting to reinforce the ensemble’s most seminal relationships, principally between Dobie and Zelda, the latter of whom decides to abandon her pursuit of Dobie and settle for marrying Maynard. It’s a fitting last excursion for these characters, and while the plot is something of a contrivance (Maynard agreeing is a leap), everyone feels relatable enough to be emotionally identifiable, and within a thematically appropriate story. (Both Burt Mustin and Linda Henning have small roles.)

07) Episode 145: “Beauty Is Only Kin Deep” (Aired: 05/22/63)

Dobie has to find love for his girlfriend’s older sister: Dr. Burkhart.

Written by Bud Nye | Directed by Rod Amateau

Dr. Burkhart, who joined in Three but replaced Pomfritt as the main adult figure on campus in Four, is the subject of this amiable episode that engages in predictable, formulaic humor — all the guys showing up as her ex-suitor (including Peter Lupus) is an old gag that’s not fresh. Yet despite this, and a seeming reinterpretation of her character (which I only condone because it’s more comedic), the plot nevertheless works because it’s grounded by a romantic motivation for Dobie and based in the real world, showcasing some of the ensemble’s best players.


Other notable entries that merit mention include: the year’s idea-driven Thalia appearance that goes for style over substance, “What’s A Little Murder Between Friends,” along with two memorable premise-led outings, “And Now A Word From Our Sponsor,” which has Zelda with Lennie Weinrib, Alice Pearce, and Carole Cook hamming it up like no tomorrow, and “The Beast With Twenty Fingers,” where Maynard and Herbert get their fingers stuck together in a Chinese finger trap. Of more Honorable Mention quality, meanwhile, are two Chatsworth shows, “There’s Always Room For One Less” and “Now I Lay Me Down To Steal”; two remakes of Season One scripts, “Thanks For The Memory” and “The Devil And Dobie Gillis”; and two silly shows that display the year’s illogicality in a slightly-less-than-unbearable light, “Two For The Whipsaw” and “The Call Of The, Like, Wild.”


*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis goes to…

“A Splinter Off The Old Block”



Come back next week for Andy Griffith! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!