So now, after years of watching bits and pieces of the series via inviting myself over to people who have cable's houses and tuning into low-wattage UHF stations while holed up in various motels I finally get the opportunity to settle back and enjoy the entire series, more or less in chronological order and in a variety of qualities ranging from good to severe thunderstorm warning! In many ways my viewing of these long-running and still-remembered episodes was almost like a sworn solemn duty to my own youth and upbringing, or at least if I went through my existence (won't call it "life") without doing so I would feel less a man. That's only because DOBIE GILLIS, in its own goofball way, epitomized the boffo 1959-1963 span in time which has been getting quite a few knocks for being so white and privileged, but in retrospect sure comes off a whole lot better'n being multikultural and fearful for your life just because somebody thinks you looked at him the wrong way!
In no way could I call DOBIE a "realistic" series the same way LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (suburban slob growing up) or THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET (kinda like sneaking a peek at your aunts 'n uncles while they weren't looking) were, but it did make for fine settle down with a bowl of popcorn and don't get any butter on the furniture entertainment. And after watching the entire run of DOBIE one thing's for certain, and that is had DOBIE been running weeknights locally during my teenbo year I'd've been front 'n center watching 'stead of lusting after electrolytes in my science book like I was supposed to do! Good acting, good ensemble rapport and (most of the time) good scripts made DOBIE a four-season wowzer, and it didn't hurt that a lotta flipped out, almost screwball humor was tossed in that lent a certain dimension to the series that helped separate it from some of the lesser efforts hitting the boob tube at the time (witness the rather timely BEN CASEY spoof). Fortunately for us this element worked because ever since day one (and probably even until today) various fringe-y developments in an almost surreal fashion had been crammed into sitcoms, and although Don Fellman may disagree most of the ones I've seen fall flatter'n my arches after a hard day at the salt mines. And if I wanna watch surreal humor it better be via DOBIE GILLIS than MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE or THE DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD!!!
Dwayne Hickman as Dobie was perfect as the girl-crazy if slightly nerdoid kid (at first bleached blonder'n Leee Black Childers) who's always in some sort of fix over money to support his girls or his inability to obtain some new piece that comes his way or his own self-shame over his lack of big time luck in the rocks off department. It's obvious just how much Hickman borrows from none other than Jack Benny from his on-screen monologues next to the omnipresent statue of "The Thinker" to his various mannerisms and speech patterns (witness Dobie's reaction to Zelda scrunching her face at him which comes rather close to Benny's perennial "Now cut that out!" quip)...kinda makes you wonder why Benny didn't sue given the overt similarities! Of course Bob Denver as the watered-down tee-vee beatnik (albeit by the time the show was winding down the only thing actually beat about the guy was his "chin spinach") Maynard G. Krebs was just about as boffo a second banana as Ed Norton was to Ralph Kramden that you kinda think that he was gonna steal the show just like Art Carney almost did at times. Of course Frank Faylen and Florida Friebus as Dobie's folks were good enough if kinda irritating (especially Faylen, whose catch-phrase "I'm gonna murder that boy!" was soon to be axed perhaps due to sponsor pressure), though even a non-watcher of THAT SEVENTIES SHOW such as myself could see that the pair would more or less be models for the Formans albeit with a load of Archie and Edith Bunker tossed into the mix.
Can't complain about the supporting cast from semi-regs Tuesday Weld and Steven Franken to Zelda herself Sheila James, all of whom fit into the comedic situations just the way I would have hoped. Maybe I can complain about the dumbfounded way Maynard was briefly written outta the series during the beginning of the first season after Bob Denver was drafted, only to be return within a month or so after he 4-F'd out in real life. And while I'm on a bitch and moan tirade, whose idea was it to have Dobie and Maynard graduate from high school during the middle of season two and then join the army (I know continuity on these programs never was the best, but you woulda thunk that if the Army kicked Krebs out once they wouldn't have the sense to re-take him!). It was a bone-headed move on the part of whoever, but thankfully their enlistment was up at the beginning of season three and the pair could then return to school, this time at the local Peter Pryor Junior College where not so surprisingly their old high school teacher (played by tee-vee omnipresent actor William Schallert) was now working.
Speaking of Schallert, you'll get a kick espying the variety of actors later to proliferate mid/late-sixties prime time who made early appearances on DOBIE. In fact Schallert's soon-to-be tee-vee wife on the also worthy of re-evaluation PATTY DUKE SHOW Jean Byron plays college instructor Dr. Imogene Burkhart (her real life name, without the "Dr.") and surprisingly enough I thought she was a real hot tomato even when they have her wearing her hair flat 'n straight with the large horn rimmed specs! Sitcom character actor Steven Franken as rich kid Chatsworth Osborne Jr. might not have been as wondrously numb as Warren Beatty briefly was as Milton Armitage, but he sure does make a good enough nasal whine at it (and of course Doris Packer as mum to both Armitage and Osborne [she playing her own twin sister was how it was explained] will be more'n familiar to all of you LEAVE IT TO BEAVER fans who remember Mrs. Rayburn with a certain fondness). Stranger still was Raymond Bailey doing some double timing as both Dean Magruder and, with a toupee, Mr. Drysdale on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. And although such not-so-recurring last-season characters as Dobie's cousins Dunky (played by Steve Diamond) and Virgil, a Tennessee-bred scheming rockabilly singer (Roy Hemphill) coulda been dispensed with, it ain't like I'd wanna change stations while the pair were helping to make that final season a bit "wobbly" unless an uncut Bridgette Bardot film was being aired!
Of course the parade of future famous faces from John Banner to Barbara Bain, Mrs. Kravitz herself Alice Pearce and even the overtly sexarama future Batgirl Yvonne Craig'll get you peeling eyes to espy other future television standbys who've been long gone from the screen (and perhaps life itself) to the point where you too will be rushing to wikipedia to play the old "alive or dead" game with your fading memory. (And maybe I should mention the brief appearance of Maynard's cousin Jerome, a replacement tee-vee beatnik played by none other'n Michael J. Pollard who actually appears in a scene with future BONNIE AND CLYDE co-star Beatty on one of the non-Maynard episodes!)
I guess I've gotta give special dues to none other than Sheila James as Zelda, the Dobie-crazed gal who will do anything (even underhandedly) to drag him in front of the local justice of the peace or ship's captain actually succeeding twice although both attempts blow up at the very last minute as was wont these sitcom situations. I must admit that James was a rather fine actor and this was perhaps the role she was born to play, though the revelations about her real life will undoubtedly pop straight into your bean whenever she appears on screen. You can't help it, and I will 'fess up to the fact that the mere knowledge of James' not-so-secret orientation did make for plenty of fun and unintended double-entendres throughout the entire viewing of this series! Whether it be her mentioning how "gay" she might feel or how she loves (presumably platonic-like but who knows?) a member of the same sex, you just can't help but guffaw and chortle whenever these (and many other) situations arise. Really, I haven't had the snickers like this since I was about twelve and some kid actually decided to use the words "crap" and "shit" in class to prove to the teach that there were two words in the English language that meant the exact same thing!
Now in the Public Domain, these "grey area" GILLIS collections are mighty easy to come by in case you're not living in an area where the show might be airing or cablecast. It might be worth picking up a set of 'em in case you're getting those hunger pangs for some real Golden Age ('58-'67 and don't let anybody tell you different!) television and TV LAND just ain't been cutting it for the past eight or so years making me ponder why we ever bothered to get a satellite dish in the first place!