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Monday, April 9, 2012

'Dennis the Menace' S1: No Good Deed Goes Unlaughed At

The 1959 - 1963 classic kidcom is another literal Nick at Nite show that Shout Factory rescued from obscurity. This discussion will focus on the DVD release of the first season

Future postings will comment on the show's second, third, and fourth seasons.  

Before discussing "Menace," I would like to share my excitement on learning this morning that Shout Factory is releasing the entire series of the hilariously crude "The Sarah Silverman Program" in June. Silverman's gleefully childlike but raunchy character is what I could imagine Dennis growing up to be if he did not receive proper adult guidance during his formative years.

"Menace" was based closely (and successfully) on the popular comic strip of the same name. The show and the strip depicted the amusing antics of young all-American suburban boy Dennis Mitchell and the effects of his well-meaning antics on his middle-aged parents and retiree neighbor Mr. Wilson. A discussion of a more adult-oriented depiction of these characters, with a late teens Dennis, is unsuitable for this forum.

The after-school lineup of kidcoms in the Boston market did not include "Menace," and I confess that I was not a fan during its Nick at Nite phase but really loved watching the shows on DVDs.

My first impression was that I did not understand why this show was not as popular as the equally terrific "Leave it to Beaver," which Shout Factory has also granted great love. Shout has released individual season sets of "Beaver," but the  complete series set is one of my favorites.

Returning to "Menace," Dennis portrayer Jay North is wonderfully bright-eyed and hyperactive without being overwhelming. I was also surprised that the eight-year old North memorized the large amount of dialogue that he had in each episode. He had a major role in virtually every scene.

The show was also very appealing because it offered roughly 25 minutes of entertaining silliness and nostalgia during a time that a large number of us are experiencing a great deal of stress.

The pilot episode was particularly amusing and set a good tone for the show. An early scene had Dennis "helping" his mother by "fixing" the kitchen table with typically disastrous results. The main plot had Dennis developing a clever scheme to sneak out to a movie.

The other episodes were similar, with much less scheming by Dennis, and had plenty of scenes in which Dennis obliviously and innocently created chaos. The consequences of Dennis accidentally replacing a fallen street sign in the wrong position were particularly hilarious and catastrophic.

The best bit of nostalgia was watching Ron Howard playing an Opie-like character the year before "The Andy Griffith Show" premiered. I also enjoyed seeing movie popcorn costing ten cents, a Cold War era depiction of civil defense activity, people having shared "party line" telephone service, and a nice house in a good suburban neighborhood selling for $20,000.

The bottom-line is that "Menace" is a great "feel-good" escapist series for an era in which many of us need this type of video therapy.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Menace" is welcome to email me.