OK... I *like* this show. In spite of that I absolutely agree with many (most actually) of your assessments of its overall shortcomings.Episode Commentary
Dennis the Menace
"Woodman, Spare That Tree" (S2E28)
For those of you who found this series charming, spoiler alert: I am about to eviscerate this particular episode in a mean and spiteful manner.*
I must admit, I was never a fan of Hank Ketchum's comic strip or the show. To me, Jay North (Dennis) was the pinnacle of tiresome adolescent overacting--screechy voice and the irritating habit of constantly nodding his head after every sentence as if cementing his thought. His outfit of bib overalls and a striped t-shirt was an affront to every kid that age. I was approximately the same age as Jay when this series was filmed (1958-1963), and I can assure you I'd have preferred to wander around in a periwinkle-colored pinafore dress rather than to wear his silly ensemble. I was also dumbfounded by how much latitude and deference the adults gave to such a spoiled little brat. In my neighborhood, any kid that acted like Dennis would have caused the neighbors to storm our house with pitchforks and torches.
The premise of this episode has Mr. Wilson (Joseph Kearns) on a crusade to save a large oak in the park that has been scheduled to be felled to make room for a volleyball court. With this rickety premise, the writers built an entire episode. Inspired, yes? Dennis and his equally annoying friend Tommy (Billy Booth) are feeding crows in Wilson's back yard. One of the birds swoops in and steals a $100 bill from Wilson's hand and flies off. Good 'Ol Mr. Wilson is apoplectic, requiring wife Martha (Sylvia Field) to dissipate his exasperation. Martha is an uncommonly compromising woman for being married to such a pompous ass, wherein any other self-respecting female would have exulted in burying a dull hatchet between his buggy eyes long ago.
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Ya just wanna kill him, dontcha? Mr. Wilson at his happiest; the freakish indulgence of the parents
To build on the edge-of-seat excitement so far, the $100 bill has been incorporated by the crow into his nest. Where? In the targeted tree in the park, of course. Mr. Wilson is compelled to climb the tree to fetch his cash and as such is mistaken as a martyr by trying to stunt the attempt to fell the tree. A true friend of nature and the bird society. Bah. Humbug.
So why did I bother to write such a nasty commentary on a show I don't even like? I dunno. I guess I just wanted to share my rankleness with anyone who might feel the same as I do. There were so many interesting sitcoms in this time period (Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver, Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke, Donna Reed Show, just to name a few) that never sank to the dreadfulness of this mindless TV effort. For a sitcom that never made the top ten in ratings, I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did.
This episode was directed by Charles Barton, an Academy Award winner who also worked on some Abbott & Costello and Ma & Pa Kettle films--which remain among my favorites. What the hell was he doing here?
The role of Dennis pretty much killed any serious adult-acting future career for Jay North. He bounced around in the Navy and finally retreated into the health food industry. Fortunately, he is well off today due to his mother's strategic investments or his earnings as a child star.
Billy Booth (Tommy) graduated with a law degree from USC and taught at Cal Poly.
If one is considering a sitcom based on a comic strip, my choice would be "Zits"--as long as creator Jerry Scott also writes the scripts.
*My apologies if you liked this show.
Dennis *is* an annoying brat. Tommy *is* annoying but nowhere as much as Dennis. Wilson *is* an overbearing blowhard who never does anything if it's not in his interest and will spin misfortune to make it that way if necessary. Everyone else is rather boring and just sits back to take whatever comes along with a "Oh well... boys will be boys..." attitude (whether the "issue" is from Dennis or Wilson). You can pretty much see where things are going and what's going to happen within minutes. And that outfit? No self-respecting boy in those years would have willingly worn anything close. Overalls? Maybe (especially in the country if you lived on a farm), but never that shirt or one remotely like it.
So... just *why* do I like this show? Don't know. Maybe it's because it struck a chord with me as a kid (I was 8 the year it ended). I also like the comic strip and the show feels pretty much like an extension of that so it also has that going for it - at least for me.