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Friday, June 28, 2013

'The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis:' Early '60s Boy Meets World


Shout Factory's July 2, 2013, complete series DVD release of "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" ENTITLES that company to a special Emmy or other award for preserving largely forgotten shows of the '50s and '60s.

That award would also rectify not properly acknowledging Shout's extraordinary release of the even lesser known pre-"I Love Lucy" funny ladycentric sitcom "The Goldbergs," which is on my list of "desert island" DVD sets along with Shout's release of the complete series set of "Its Garry Shandlings Show."

"Dobie," which was one of the first sitcoms based on a movie, was simply a victim of the "monochrome" prejudice that has resulted in scores of hilarious black-and-white shows becoming the Rodney Dangerfields (Google it millenials) of TV Land.

Properly describing all of the awesomeness of "Dobie" would require far too much time and lose the attention of most readers long before finishing the job.

Folks who are willing to accept that "Dobie" is a must-own set for lovers of awesome classic sitcoms can skip this review altogether and watch a presentation by "Dobie" star Dwayne Hickman on the DVD set. Hickman expertly discusses every major element of the show and evokes fond memories of its unique and hilarious elements.

Another spectacular special feature shows a very cute fourth-wall busting epilog that was part of the original pilot.

Returning to the subject of conciseness, a 1959 episode from "Dobie's" first season that had high school English teacher (and future junior college professor) Mr. Pomfritt instruct his class that modern readers did not want lengthy essays was one example of this series' timeliness more than 50 years after it first aired.

Dobie was a typical all-American teen boy who wanted luxuries such as a car and a nice wardrobe so that he could get a pretty and loving girlfriend. This character was very similar to the role of Chuck that Hickman had played for four years on the Bob Cummings sitcom "Love That Bob," a few episodes of which Shout included in the "Dobie" set. One of these offerings had Chuck conniving to divert a girl's attention from a local teen rock star.

Like most American boys of his era and ours, Dobie did not want to work for the luxuries or to try very hard to score the hot babe. Unlike the teen horndogs of today, Dobie focused much more on love than on "getting some."

Watching Dobie mature in a much better way than "The Andy Griffith Show's" Opie or most TV kids of today evoked memories of the '90s kidcom "Boy Meets World," in which the similarly awkward average kid Cory Matthews dealt with genuine growing pains and let the audience in on his life from the beginning of his adolescence through the early days of his marriage.

"Dobie" even had the Mr. Feenyesque Mr. Pomfritt follow his high school students to college and advise them throughout roughly 150 episodes. Additionally, Dobie's best friend for all four seasons was a charming counter-culture type.

Dobie simply smiling and scheming his way through high school, and later the army and junior college, would have made a decent show that would have been worth public domain DVD releases. Hickman incredibly embracing the character and Dobie's depth regarding his close-to-surface ethics despite strong temptations, his loyalty to the aforementioned beatnik best friend (and beyond awesome scene stealer) Maynard G. Krebs, his often concealed love for his gruff grocery store owning father, and sometimes heart-wrenching concern regarding adulthood made "Dobie" a show to truly treasure. I happily would have hung out at Charlie Wong's Ice Cream Parlor with  that below-average Joe.

Aside from having a pre-"Gilligan's Island" Bob Denver play a much more clever version of his titular role in that series, "Dobie" launched the careers of '60s sex kitten Tuesday Weld and dreamy stud Warren Beatty.

Weld played Thalia Menninger, who was as practical as she was beautiful. She very sweetly explained in detail many times that she did not require that Dobie or any other man that she married had to be wealthy because she was greedy.

Thalia reasoned that she needed a high income because circumstances that included her father having health problems and her older sister essentially marrying a bum led Thalia to believe that she would end up financially supporting her family.

Beatty played uber-wealthy and GQ-level handsome and stylish football captain Milton Armitage, who was Dobie's romantic rival. An early episode in which Dobie entered a deal with a clothing store owner played by cartoon-voice god Mel Blanc in an effort to out-dress Armitage was good clean fun.

Other classic "Dobie" episodes included "The Chicken From Outer Space," which involved a high school science project gone horribly awry, and "It Takes Heap O' Livin' to Make A Cave A Home." That one involved another monumental scientific breakthrough.

Personal favorites included the pilot and the series finale because they provided the most appropriate bookends that any program has ever received.

The show's entire run also benefited from ongoing gags that at worst brought a smile to the viewer's face and at best was hilarious.

Two decades before "Laverne and Shirley's" Lenny and Squiggy would burst on the scene saying "hello" seconds after another character mentioned something thoroughly repulsive, Maynard would show up with a smile and a greeting of "you rang" when another character would mention something that lacked intelligent or another redeeming social value.

This G-rated dark humor was a theme in many other ongoing bits. Characters often reminded Dobie that he was not particularly attractive or bright and did not have spectacular prospects but always softened the blow with the expression "no offense." Dobie just as often returned that favor, using the same expression.

A related bit often used the comedy rule of three that involved two serious references followed by a comedic punchline. "Dobie" used that technique in typically failed efforts to convince someone to do something against his or her nature or to support an ill-advised scheme. The "Dobie" spin involved asking rhetorical questions followed by the word "true" and having the other character respond "true."

Dobie's interaction with the incredibly self-aware, but plain-looking, Zelda Gilroy throughout all four seasons typically involved all of the gags described above and added having Zelda wrinkle her nose at Dobie and his involuntarily doing so in kind. Zelda's theory was that that response showed that Dobie loved her.

The pure honesty of Zelda's largely persistent pursuit of Dobie was another great element of the show. As she stated once in reference to her and Dobie "we're both dogs." Her overall theory was that Gilroy and Gillis alphabetically being assigned seats next to each other in school for years created a closeness known as propinquity that could be considered contrary thinking in that it theorized that familiarity bred attraction, rather than contempt.

Zelda concluded further that Dobie needed her essentially because he was such a knucklehead that he required a competent practical woman to survive. For her part, she figured that Dobie would be loyal to him because no one else would have him. Although some of Zelda's schemes bordered on the psychotic, she always pulled back from the edge.

An interesting real-life fact regarding Dobie centered around science professor Dr. Imogene Burkhart was that that moniker was the real name of Burkhart portrayor Jean Byron. Additionally, Byron went on to play the wife of Pomfritt portrayor William Schallert on and "The  Patty Duke Show" co-star William Schallert.

Although the valiant effort at brevity failed more miserably than Dobie's efforts for an ideal life, folks who want to learn even more about "Dobie" or have a question regarding the series are welcome to email me.