The Ten Best THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES Episodes of Season Two

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.

Last week, I called Season Two of The Beverly Hillbillies my pick for the series’ best. Here is why: “. . . The show is able to exploit its conflict, showcase Drysdale’s objective, and reinforce its fundamental belief that rurality should ‘win out’ over urbanity, while also . . . utilizing well-defined characters who have not yet been forced to heighten (because of an inability to evolve).” Actually, that was written in reference to the last half of Season One, which launches this Golden Age that extends into Two, where my praise still applies because the same qualities persist but with even more consistency. You see, the first half of One was a little too driven by its premise to truly give an indication of how the characters could fulfill these terms outside of a handful of its most obviously necessary ideas. That is, the show couldn’t really be great until it got through all its easy, establishing plots and started relying more on its excellently crafted leads to support its concept, its identity. Once the Clampetts — including Bea Benaderet’s Pearl — came back to Beverly Hills after a Christmas return home, we got a clearer picture of how the series would operate on a regular basis: hilariously. Benaderet’s exit to Petticoat Junction for the 1963-’64 season, then, is a definite loss, removing one of the first year’s richest purveyors of laughs and story. However, it’s not detrimental; the departure of a focus-stealing star ends up freeing scripts to do more with the other, more important regulars (like Irene Ryan’s iconic Granny, who shines here), and they’re now better able to exist in narratives that take advantage of the series’ central notion — the rural Clampetts being fish out of water in Beverly Hills, where Mr. Drysdale (the emissary for urbanity) coddles them so that he can keep the premise’s status quo. With less distraction, there’s more exploration. Accordingly, this strengthens both the structure and the characters in it, which furthers the cycle of them being mutually beneficial, making sure that almost every episode is a gem. To wit, there are more than ten laudable segments this year, and this list should be definite proof that, at this juncture, this series is more than just a fascinating historical document — it’s a reliably entertaining one, too.

Season Two, and to a lesser extent the half-year before it, is unique in this regard because, as usual, the intersection of premise novelty and character knowingness creates a finite period of peak performance. Even as early as the third season, we’ll find that, well, I’ll repeat myself again, “. . . [I]n order to maintain use of the premise in episodic story, the Clampetts have to stay extreme, which means they have to remain unbelievably ill-fitting in their new environment… in spite of what common sense tells us: that their evolved awareness of this new world should make life easier for them.” In other words, the series’ need for story that affirms the “urban bending to the rural” perspective insists that these already broad fish out of water avoid evolution and stay so ignorant of Beverly Hills that they progressively shed common sense, in turn undermining the inherently leap-requiring premise they’re supposed to sustain with their precise, unyielding characterizations. This, the series’ true undoing, is gradual — and it doesn’t just happen with the Clampetts; for instance, we’ll also see that, while Mr. Drysdale’s core motivation continues to be laid in plot after this golden second season, the caricaturization of his persona into the Ultimate Miser, well beyond his grounded, rational desire to keep the Clampetts’ fortune in his bank, continues to drive the series away from its premise and the central, easy-to-understand idea that this season plays with in weekly story — and sometimes in story that’s extended to two, three, or even four weeks. (Unlike in future seasons, where comic ideas are stretched too thin, all of Two’s mini-arcs work. However, with only ten slots below, I’ve had to rely on one installment to be an ambassador for each story.) Fortunately, this year, the first that creator Paul Henning co-wrote with Mark Tuttle — whose eventual departure in 1968 will coincide with a dip in quality — is able to use its “novelty” and “knowingness” to avoid this decline. So, The Beverly Hillbillies‘ two-time Emmy nominated second season, which was even more popular than its smash hit predecessor (see “The Giant Jackrabbit” below), does great things for both the premise and the cast, which together make this the series’ strongest collection of episodes. I have picked ten that I think exemplify the year’s finest.

 

01) Episode 41: “The Clampett Look” (Aired: 10/23/63)

An elite classmate of Elly May’s believes that the Clampetts are at the forefront of fashion.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

The second of a two-parter guest starring Joanna Barnes and Doris Packer as a snobby mother-daughter duo who have been told (by Miss Jane) that Elly May is a cultured fashion maven, this outing heightens the enormous comedy of its predecessor by bringing the pair to the Clampett mansion, where ritzy Cynthia Fenwick is enchanted with her new classmate’s customs, thinking that she’s the epitome of modern class. Meanwhile, the Clampetts erroneously believe the women are flat broke, and with broad but unforgettable performances, this delicious parody of urban trend-chasers, contrasted against the authenticity of the Clampetts, puts the story firmly within the show’s premised wheelhouse, yielding an obvious classic — one of the funniest, most memorable half hours from the series’ entire run. (The scene where Doris Packer, dressed as a bumpkin, wallops Mrs. Drysdale is not to be missed!) An MVE contender.

02) Episode 43: “Chickadee Returns” (Aired: 11/06/63)

Jethro continues to pursue the woman he loves, an unwitting stripper.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

Barbara Nichols makes her second of two consecutive appearances as Chickadee Laverne, a stripper Jethro falls for because he heard music playing when they met (cues from her radio). After a hilarious setup in the previous, where Chickadee believes she’s being courted for a job, this entry extends the same comic ideas, but with bigger laughs, as Granny tries to teach Jethro’s beloved how to cook (something she is NOT about to do) and Miss Jane attempts to use radio music to trick Jethro into falling for her, producing hahas in the Bob Cummings variety, which is what these two offerings — with their atypical sexual innuendos — feel like. Yet with character riches rooted in the Clampett’s big city naïveté, it’s another classic. (Also, this is one of the rare shows with a decent part for the late Sharon Tate’s Janet Trego.)

03) Episode 47: “The Garden Party” (Aired: 12/04/63)

The Clampetts insist on attending Mrs. Drysdale’s stuffy garden party.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

If you wanted to distill the series’ basic premise into an episode that used the main characters to propel it, then “The Garden Party” would probably be the result, for the narrative not only hinges around a quintessential Beverly Hillbillies story construct, the misunderstanding, but it’s also predicated on the clash of cultures between the Clampetts and their new environs, represented here by their primary nemesis, Mrs. Drysdale. As always, Mr. Drysdale’s goal of mollifying his wealthiest clients means treating them with kid gloves, especially when it comes to his oppositional wife. And with the “hillbilly” hoedown proving more popular than her sterile garden party, the series reinforces its winner and loser: the hicks beat the snobs.

04) Episode 49: “The Clampetts Get Culture” (Aired: 12/18/63)

Mr. Drysdale tries to convince the Clampetts that they belong in Beverly Hills.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

As with the above, there’s an essentialness to this offering, courtesy of a premise that activates the series’ main jeopardy: that the status quo will be disrupted when the Clampetts realize they’re still so out of place in Beverly Hills and decide they’d be better off moving back to the country. This springs Mr. Drysdale into action, per his sustaining motivation, and here, involves him forcing the recent threats to the Clampetts’ peace — his wife and Eleanor Audley in her recurring role as Jethro’s headmistress — to make nice with the rich family, the latter flirting with Jed and the former bringing in Granny on her bridge games, while Drysdale takes the fellas to his country club. There’s lots of humor in these premise-led situations.

05) Episode 52: “The Giant Jackrabbit” (Aired: 01/08/64)

Nobody believes Granny when she says she’s been seeing a giant jackrabbit.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

In choosing “The Giant Jackrabbit” as this season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), it may seem like I’m calling it the most exemplary show from The Beverly Hillbillies‘ most exemplary year. But this is not the series’ best; heck, it’s not even this list’s best. And yet, its importance to the show’s legacy, and what it represents within its identity, is undeniable, looming so large over the rest of Two that there was no other MVE choice. You see, this installment made history with record ratings — a whopping 44 points (and a 65 share) — and while such high numbers were not unusual during Season Two, which rated a 39.1 average in its entirety, this was the series’ apex of popularity, airing the same day as President Johnson’s first State of the Union (less than two months after Kennedy’s assassination). That’s interesting in a historical lens, because here, this really silly half-hour sitcom about an old woman mistaking a kangaroo for a giant jackrabbit (that nobody believes exists) was consumed the same day as a political speech written for a difficult, solemn time in our history… Hey, isn’t that “the story” we’ve since applied to TV comedy in the 1960s, whose programs were collectively escapist and uninterested in addressing difficult topical realities, no matter if not doing so made them ridiculous? Absolutely! And because Hillbillies is one of the ’60s’ most popular, we also look to it to reflect larger trends from the decade — so, with this applied context, no outing is more appropriately revealing… As for quality, well, there are big laughs because of Irene Ryan, who, as usual, carries the bulk of the comedy. And though the story maybe isn’t totally connected to the series’ central concept, Granny’s unfamiliarity with an animal like a kangaroo is due to her limited perspective, based on who she is and where she comes from — allowing the conflict then to be adjacent to the fish out of water design and indeed worthy of the character. Now, the series will try to do plots like this again, but never so earnestly or with as many true guffaws. A TV time capsule.

06) Episode 61: “Granny Versus The Weather Bureau” (Aired: 03/25/64)

Granny puts her predicting skills up against the head of the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

In kinship with the season’s first two offerings, in which Granny’s folk medicine provides comic conflict in the world of Beverly Hills (particularly with a studied, licensed doctor in the formal tradition), this entry has her challenging the national weather bureau with her old foolproof method: her weather beetle, Cecil. It’s a terrific premise-affirming story of the fish (Granny) being out of water in her new place, and ultimately getting validation for her ways over theirs. John McGiver is ideal as the head of the bureau in question, and the double-meaning “Hurricane Daisy” scene with Jed is a standout, but, once again, it’s Irene Ryan’s show.

07) Episode 64: “The Great Crawdad Hunt” (Aired: 04/15/64)

Drysdale’s associates think the Clampetts’ crawdad shipment is code for a secret military project.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

This is yet another popular excursion, thanks to an intrinsically amusing idea — a Victory In Premise — that again looks upon a foundational misunderstanding to carry all of its story, and the majority of its laughs. Here, with some setup from the prior installment (noted below), Mr. Drysdale’s banking associates mistake the Clampetts’ recent crawdad shipment from back home for a top-secret project involving military reconnaissance. There are some big yuks in support of this notion, including a great gag where they’re led to believe that Jethro (of all people) is a genius, and with such a memorable story that, again, emphasizes the differences between the Clampetts and the rest of the world, this is another gem.

08) Episode 68: “Jed, Incorporated” (Aired: 05/13/64)

The Clampetts take the top floor of the bank after Mr. Drysdale makes Jed incorporate.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

There are several stories over the years that involve the Clampetts descending upon Drysdale’s bank, with the comic centerpiece taking place on his turf instead of theirs — the most famous of these is an overextended arc from Season Seven, where the family takes over the fifth floor for six whole weeks. But you’d be hard-pressed to find one better than “Jed, Incorporated,” in which Drysdale has decided to have Jed incorporate for tax purposes, giving the family nominal space on the top floor of his building, which they decide to visit. And after taking his words at a different meaning, they decide to “spread” their money around by throwing it down to the people below. Of course, the Clampetts would do this. Great show for the main cast.

09) Episode 69: “Granny Learns To Drive” (Aired: 05/20/64)

Granny attempts to drive as a cabbie thinks the Clampett mansion is a mental institution.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

One of the funniest episodes of the entire series, this MVE contender guest stars the iconic Mel Blanc as a harried cabbie with the misfortune of chauffeuring Granny, who doesn’t quite understand the concept of taxis and leaves him waiting for his fare, while she decides that she’s going to learn to drive… an act that naturally leads to her being escorted back by a cop. In one of the best uses of the show’s misunderstanding template, the driver comes to think the Clampetts are inmates in a mental institution — a belief he shares with the policeman and one seemingly validated by the family’s loony behavior. There are some big, broad laughs here, but we’re still at a point in the run where the regulars’ extreme depictions (in order to maintain the status quo) are not yet an insult to common sense, so we can enjoy this as a superbly funny half hour, which still basically works for the characters and the show’s premise.

10) Episode 70: “Cabin In Beverly Hills” (Aired: 05/27/64)

A college student sees the Clampetts’ cabin in the back and thinks it’s slave quarters.

Written by Paul Henning & Mark Tuttle | Directed by Richard Whorf

Dobie Gillis’ Sheila James guest stars in this hilarious outing — the first of a two-parter — as a nosy college student who sees an Ozark cabin erected in the back yard as a birthday present for Granny and comes to the conclusion that the Clampetts are living in that shack as the Drysdales’ slaves. All of the comic energy is directed to prop up her false conception of the situation, and it even brings in John Stephenson as her professor for help, but this hysterical idea yet again contrasts the Clampett way of life with the ritzy Beverly Hills world they inhabit, which helps legitimize this silly mistake. Also, this Golden Age entry also offers many supreme character laughs, like when Mrs. Drysdale surprises Granny in her cabin…

 

This is a year with so many good episodes, including six I easily could have featured above: “Jed Gets the Misery,” which positions Granny’s folksy doctoring up against a licensed professional’s (played by Burns & Allen’s Fred Clark), “Turkey Day,” an amusing show that has the classic “billiards” gag, “Another Neighbor,” which is probably the funniest “spring tonic” entry of the entire run, and three whose better halves were highlighted, “Elly Starts To School,” which introduces the riotous Cynthia Fenwick and her mother, “Jethro’s First Love,” which has Jethro falling in love with a stripper, and “Jed Foils A Home Wrecker,” which continues the cabin story as the college student believes the Clampetts have led a rebellion against the Drysdales. Of more Honorable Mention quality, meanwhile, are “Hair-Raising Holiday,” which is the second part of the doctor storyline (and introduces the notion of the Possum Day Parade — it will come up in a funnier way in Season Four), “A Bride For Jed,” which is the series’ strongest Flatt & Scruggs segment (because it works for all the characters), “The Bank Raising,” which sets up the Crawdad story and includes some fun location stuff, and “The Dress Shop,” which guest stars Natalie Schafer and launches the dress shop arc. I’ll also cite here, briefly, the amiable holiday show, “Christmas At The Clampetts,” along with “Lafe Lingers On,” the best of the four Lafe Crick outings.

 

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

“The Giant Jackrabbit”

 

 

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