The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Nine

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing our look at the best of The Danny Thomas Show! This season is not available for purchase, but it is in current TV packages. (Most online episode guides for this series are widely inaccurate; these posts reflect the actual air dates, sourced from contemporary newspaper and TV Guide listings.)

The Danny Thomas Show stars DANNY THOMAS as Danny Williams, MARJORIE LORD as Kathy Williams, RUSTY HAMER as Rusty Williams, and ANGELA CARTWRIGHT as Linda Williams. With AMANDA RANDOLPH, SID MELTON, and PAT CARROLL.

If Eight was a comedown in quality because the series attempted to rely on characterizations that had to be contorted and falsified in order to propel otherwise familiar idea-led plots by new head writers, then Nine deserves credit for not further eroding the series’ baseline. Oh, yes, most of the adjectives for Eight apply here too, and sure, while last year still claimed decent stories for the kids, this one no longer writes for them — mostly Rusty — well, and thus tries less often. But, just as with Terry/Pat in Seven, this year concocts a distraction that both warrants the decreased use of Rusty and diverts our attention so we don’t recognize that a problem necessitates a distraction. I’m referring now to Bunny, wife of Charley and played by great character actress Pat Carroll, who, when paired with Sid Melton, is a theoretically funny addition. Unfortunately, as usual, Bunny doesn’t end up having much of a personality — an opening show tries to define her as domineering, but the series never again makes bold enough plot choices to reinforce the notion. In character terms, she’s a dud. However, her inclusion does allow the show to finally engage the “two couple” structure, and even though this makes it more conventional, as most husband/wife shows have a secondary pair (Mertzes, Nortons, Helpers, etc.), “the Halpers” (see the Dick Van Dyke connection?) invite more story at a time when the series craves it. Additionally, Charley and Bunny enable the latter half of Nine to push a pregnancy arc, something CBS had wanted for years (first with Danny/Kathy). As expected, this gives the back half of Nine a sense of narrative purpose and its stories hold slightly more character-interest than those typical guest-star-driven outings, of which there are a handful… whether the head writer is Sid Caesar‘s Danny Simon, who lasts for about two-thirds of the year but facilitates the series’ growing association with Dick Van Dyke (which premiered this season and was created by Simon’s old associate, Carl Reiner), or his replacement, future The Facts Of Life creator Howard Leeds. So, Nine ends up more episodically rewarding than its predecessor, even if, underneath, the same qualities persist and the new couple only exists as a tactic for Danny to once again attempt a part-time retirement in Ten. But that’s for next week; in the meantime, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this year’s finest.

 

01) Episode 253: “Love Letters” (Aired: 10/16/61)

Linda distributes Danny’s love letters to Kathy around the building.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Although the series has already done a story where Linda acts as postman (see: last season’s “Kathy Delivers The Mail”), this inventively comic premise is original in its own right and comes within a script that keeps the characterizations honest, and grounded by the solid Danny/Kathy relationship, making this the best installment from the fall of 1961, which isn’t necessarily full of turkeys, but isn’t as strong as the two pregnant trimesters ahead.

02) Episode 263: “A Baby For Charley” (Aired: 01/01/62)

The Williamses try to prepare Charley for the news that he’s going to be a father.

Written by David Adler | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

After only two outings with Bunny (the first of which, referenced above, is dreadful), the season gets around to its ulterior motive: introducing a pregnancy arc that can make Charley a daddy and posit him as a possible replacement for Danny. These shows have an objective — made more obvious in hindsight — yet they’re mostly funny and sincere, with believable character moments and a sense of narrative purpose that’s not only appealing, but fresh (for the series). This is one of the best, thanks to a fun centerpiece where the Williamses’ attempt to show Charley a nice, loving family meal turns into a slapstick disaster. Sweet, but comical too.

03) Episode 264: “Useless Charley” (Aired: 01/08/62)

Charley feels useless now that his wife is expecting.

Written by Danny Simon & Mel Tolkin | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Some online episode guides erroneously have this entry and the prior reversed; obviously this is the correct order (verified by newspaper listings), as Charley is nervous about his now pending fatherhood, leading to the requisite scene where Danny tries to put him at ease with a plastic baby tutorial. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again (like on Joey Bishop), but this version is as good as any; Simon and Tolkin’s script is effortless — crisp ’60s comedy writing.

04) Episode 265: “Linda, The Tomboy” (Aired: 01/15/62)

Danny teaches Linda how to flirt with boys.

Written by Iz Elinson & Fred S. Fox | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

While Rusty only gets two offerings here, both of which pale in comparison to those from earlier years, Linda’s usage remains fine, and indeed, she actually gets this half-hour to herself, for even though it’s basically a hodgepodge of earlier ideas — Linda being a tomboy and needing a makeover, Danny trying to give a young girl romantic advice (like with Gina), etc. — it’s definitive and the climactic scene, where Linda tries her darndest to flirt, is a hoot.

05) Episode 267: “Casanova Tonoose” (Aired: 01/29/62)

Tonoose needs help with his dating life.

Written by David Adler | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

This is the best of Tonoose’s three appearances in Nine — all of which cover familiar territory and won’t earn any awards for originality. However, this entry, about his trying to date and needing help from Danny and Kathy, is the most fun, putting an emphasis on the comedic moments and not shying away from big laughs. Amzie Strickland is choice here, and she’s aided by a script from “Adler,” then also contributing to Dick Van Dyke. Ann Tyrrell also guests.

06) Episode 268: “Charley Does It Himself” (Aired: 02/05/62)

Charley and Danny try to put together the nursery.

Written by Ray Singer & Dick Chevillat | Directed by Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas

I’m a sucker for physical comedy — well, at least when it’s well-handled, as it is on Lucy and Dick Van Dyke — and since our coverage of Danny Thomas is especially concerned with this series’ relationship to those aforementioned classics, I am particularly excited when it offers a good slapstick sequence, like this one, which trots out all the old familiar gags when Charley and Danny attempt to makeover the baby’s nursery themselves. Sid Melton shines.

07) Episode 272: “Temper, Temper” (Aired: 03/05/62)

Danny tries to watch his temper just as Kathy schemes to make him explode.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

By this point in the season, the head writing duties (or “story consultant” duties, to be technical) have transferred from Simon to Leeds, and though there’s not really a big difference in quality, I’d say Leeds’ brief era is broader and less honest, with characters behaving like characters — Kathy going along with Bunny’s scheme here, for instance. But some of these outings earn their laughs by keeping motivations clear and letting the performers take over. That’s why this one, also a prime example of how the “two couple” structure is so ubiquitous on the sitcom, works.

08) Episode 274: “Bunny Cooks A Meal” (Aired: 03/19/62)

Bunny needs help cooking a dinner for Charley’s cousin.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Danny and Charley get pies in the face at the end of this rowdy episode that makes Bunny the butt of its joke, as her lack of skills in the kitchen force her into mania as she seeks help from Linda and Louise (the latter is seldom used in story, so it’s always a treat when she’s involved) to cook a meal for Charley’s cousin (Louis Nye). It’s silly, but memorable too, and goes a long way in filling out, via the dots, a characterization with which Carroll can play.

09) Episode 277: “Extrasensory Charley” (Aired: 04/09/62)

Bunny and the Williamses convince Charley that he has ESP.

Written by Leo Solomon & Ben Gershman | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

More “two couple” hijinks occur in this installment, courtesy of an amusing charades centerpiece where Bunny, in retaliation for a prank played on her, decides to get back at her husband by convincing the Williamses to help her make him think that he has ESP. This is a tweak on a story that we’ll find often in these last few years — the old gaslighting bit — and we’ve even seen it before, like in the classic “Danny And The Little Men,” but there’s enough that’s different here to make this tried, true, and slightly overused, formula feel new.

10) Episode 231: “Baby” (Aired: 05/07/62)

Charley is sedated just before Bunny goes into labor.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Baby” is the point to which the entire year has been building, if not from the moment Bunny debuted in November, then at least since it introduced her pregnancy in January. So, as part of the story arc that defines the season, this entry is inherently deserving of being singled out as its best, but I also like it both because it’s extremely funny — again, it’s a showcase for Sid Melton — and also because it’s a great indication of the series’ dovetailing interests with Dick Van Dyke, which, earlier in the ’61-’62 season, produced an iconic flashback about a nervous daddy-to-be waiting for his wife to go into labor. Well, this is another iteration of that story, taking Rob’s energy and transferring it to Charley, but adding another comic twist: he’s been tranquilized right before her water breaks and is therefore a no-good, loopy mess as it’s time for her to check into the hospital. It’s a lot of silly, unforgettable fun, revealing a link between these two shows while also displaying the best of what this particular season of Danny Thomas has to offer on its own.

 

Other notable entries that merit mention include: “Danny Weaves A Web,” which may have been highlighted above if there wasn’t a much funnier take on the story coming up in Season Eleven, “Keeping Up With The Joneses,” which is Bunny’s second episode and the first real “two couple” story, and “A Nose By Any Other Name,” an overly sincere outing where Danny is self-conscious about his nose — a remake of a show from Season Two! Of more Honorable Mention quality are: “Tonoose Vs. Daly,” a more physical but less substantive remake of the last time Conried and Demarest were paired, along with “Teacher For A Day,” which features Mabel Albertson but is unpleasantly didactic, “Casanova Junior,” the best of the two Rusty shows because his growth is obvious (even though he’s less truthful than before), “Danny And Bob Hope Get Away From It All,” another chance for Bob Hope to do part of his act, and “Kathy, The Pro,” a strong example of Danny Thomas taking a story done earlier in the year by Dick Van Dyke and reformatting it for its own purposes.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Nine of The Danny Thomas Show goes to…

“Baby”

 

 

Come back next week for more Danny Thomas and tomorrow, a new Wildcard Wednesday!