The Twilight Zone and more...
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Mathews, Richard Deacon, Jerry Paris, Ann Morgan Guilbert
(CBS; US: 3 Oct 1961)
Though overshadowed by its brilliant comedic predecessors, The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show should be remembered (and revered) as a wonderfully irreverent offering to 1960s television. Lasting five seasons, the program brought the genius of Van Dyke to the forefront, showcasing his unique brand of physical comedy adroitly coupled with his decidedly likeable persona. Van Dyke embodied the quintessential young urban professional of the post-war years: successful, well mannered, and, aided by his TV spouse, Mary Tyler Moore, attractive to viewers. But it was his dead pan delivery and penchant for pratfalls that endeared him, and the show, to millions from 1961-66.
Focusing on the personal and corporate lives of Van Dyke’s character, television writer Rob Petrie, The Dick Van Dyke Show provided innocent laughs in an innocent time, with gags and punch lines grounded strictly in good comedy, decades before crassness and low brow humor became the norm. The show also adhered to the same formula that both the Kramdens and Ricardos banked on for their respective successes: incorporate strong ensemble players into the main characters’ daily routine. Many of The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s funniest moments come via the expert give-and-take between wise-cracking, Vaudevillian Morey Amsterdam (Buddy Sorrell) and his eternally tormented foil, Richard Deacon (Mel Cooley). Throw always-a-bridesmaid Rose Marie (Sally Rogers) into the mix, and an occasional visit from Carl Reiner (Alan Brady), and it would have been near impossible for the show to fail. And despite not lasting into the color programming age, The Dick Van Dyke Show lives on as a pioneer of character-driven situation comedies, and still holds an understated charm 40 years later.
For fans of the series, Image has provided nearly pristine versions of these decade old episodes in full season sets.
The Addams Family
Carolyn Jones, John Astin, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy, Blossom Rock, Ken Weatherwax, Lisa Loring
(ABC; US: 18 Sep 1964)
It goes without saying that The Addams Family is a product of its era. Conceived in a time when revolution infested all facets of life—social, political, sexual, musical—artists were taking more chances with their choices. Television still was seen as hopelessly mired in a convention created back when the boob tube was merely a collection of vaudeville-inspired variety shows and how-to programs. Sitcoms themselves found most of their material from previous radio hits, and drama was either melo-, sudsy, or lost in the wilderness of the wild, wild West. With the introduction of The Addams Family (and its brethren in boo burlesque, The Munsters), the networks were attempting to experiment with the still-young funny format, testing the waters to see what audiences would accept and what they would reject outright. The fact that both series sank after just two seasons (they did live on in reruns, however) indicated that, while cleverness and creativity were high on a TV lover’s list, something as downright warped as The Addams Family just couldn’t work. The execution was top notch, but the subversive ideals buried within each episode were just too much for the mostly conservative home crowd to recognize.
Viewed with eyes now 40 years-plus in age, The Addams Family is nothing short of luminous. It is superbly cast, brilliantly acted, and so rebellious in its tone and tendencies that it makes for a perfect post-millennial treat. What was weird and eccentric in 1964 is now nice and normal, the family’s main mantra of individualism and being true to oneself a coveted current cultural directive.It is easy to see what ‘60s audiences eventually dismissed about this wonderfully inventive comedy. The Addamses were radicals, rocking the boat of suburban conformity with their love of all things dark and dour. In a society shuddering under the fear of nuclear annihilation and the advancing threat of communism, a family that forced the community to deal with them on their own terms was downright treasonous. Long out of circulation both as a subject of syndication and for home video fanatics, MGM finally righted this wrong last year. It’s released all of 64 episodes in individual volumes (boo!) or one entire boffo box set (yea!). The results stand as one of the few times when TV tried something surreal—and actually succeeded.
To fully appreciate the importance of The Twilight Zone in the history of television, you must first cross over into another time, another place. You must step into the fervent, socially-conscious mind of a writer named Rod Serling: a man who, above all, wanted his audience to think about what they believed and why that was so.
Serling was well-known and respected as a television writer long before the series debuted. In fact, many of his contemporaries raised an eyebrow at his tackling of a science-fiction series as opposed to more, as they would have phrased it, serious writing.
But it was here that he was to delve one yard below their mines, so to speak. By cloaking controversial social and moral issues in the trappings of fantasy, he dodged the censors of the time.
Of course, that should not suggest that the series is dated. In fact, many of its classic tales are utterly timeless in their social commentary. Understanding how paranoia and fear can tear a community into Us and Them factions as seen on The Monsters are due on Maple Street is as relevant today as it was in the days of McCarthyism and the Red Menace.
The Complete Definitive Edition DVD collection itself is a veritable treasure trove. All 156 episodes of the original series have been lovingly remastered and packaged with a cornucopia of bonus features including audio commentaries, interviews, a documentary on Serling himself, and the unaired pilot for the series.
The Twilight Zone is one of a handful of television programs that can truly be said to have shifted the perspective and expanded the imagination of the generation of writers who first experienced it. Stories such as Eye of the Beholder, Kick the Can, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet have arguably become part of our modern mythology, testament to our hopes and fears regarding ourselves, the society surrounding us, and the new realms that technology places us in.
Exceedingly well-written (by Serling as well as visionaries such as Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and the list goes on), beautiful in black-and-white, and poignant, The Twilight Zone serves as a reminder that, long before the days of CGI, there was an even more powerful tool that could bewitch an audience, holding us spellbound until the closing credits: the imagination.
Joan Bennett, Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Louis Edmonds, Nancy Barrett, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Alexandra Moltke, David Henesy, Denise Nickerson, Thayer David
(ABC; US: 27 Jun 1966)
The soap opera is a strange entertainment format. It requires a long-term investment of time and attention. It constantly laps and repeats itself, remembering to stop and restart its exposition every now and then to allow new fans to catch-up. But perhaps, most miraculously, it trades on tired old formulas and hackneyed clichés about love, loss and life to make its supposedly serious and always melodramatic points. And the reasons for their success are salesmanship simple: daytime shows just drip with the sleazy sexuality necessary to vend these familiar bubbly suds to the masses. Nighttime versions of the housewives’ home companion just substitute a softcore sensibility for ALL plot pointing. So it must have been the hardest pitch in the history of pilot positing when Dan Curtis, at the time a small time producer of off-brand fare for the networks, offered the idea of a governess and a creepy old house to ABC. Surprisingly the broadcasters bought the idea, hook, line and spook show and Dark Shadows was born, the first daytime drama based in the exclusive elements of horror.
The series initially focused on Victoria Winters, hired au pair for young master David Collins and the Collins family. As she went about her business—and learned the secrets—of the old New England family, she searched for unknown family lineages, exposed reasons for revenge (both financial and personal) and experienced a wealth of interpersonal contradictions. It was typical soap stuff. Ratings matched the meandering plots. But a suggestion from Curtis’ young daughter to up the terror temperament (with the introduction of a ghost) found the right chord of commercial appeal. Shadows was suddenly a success, and when the family vampire Barnabas Collins entered the overripe realm, the cult was cemented. Curtis’ vision of a glorious Gothic drama was finally realized. Over the decades, Dark Shadows would be fondly remembered by millions of fans and replayed in syndication on stations like The Sci-Fi Channel. Now, thanks to MPI who is in the process of releasing all 1,250-plus episodes to DVD in 40 installment sets, you too can relive the weird, wonderful world of vampires, witches, warlocks, werewolves, gypsies, tramps and thieves… and of course, evil little children. Daytime was never again so dark—or daring.