Friday, June 22, 2007

Leaving it to Beaver

Mission to destroy any and all hip credentials: GO!

I love Leave it to Beaver.

And not in an ironic sense, either. The show actually seems to make some people angry because it depicts an idealized vision of suburban middle America (critic David Marc's term is "Aryan melodrama"), but I'm guessing it was more realistic than, say, Growing Pains or the Cosby Show. Most of the trials and tribulations of Beaver (especially in the middle years) pretty accurately reflect what young boys still fret about, and his reactions to things still ring pretty true. And the supporting cast was fantastic. Eddie Haskell provided the blueprint for the (seriously) annoying kid next door (and still hasn't been topped), and Larry Mundelo was a perfect weak-willed, peer pressuring foil for the generally well-intentioned Beaver. Then you had the great Richard Deacon as Fred Rutherford, the office blowhard with the piece of shit kid he still always bragged cluelessly about.

Mainly, though, the show was well written and well directed, and the stories carried a moral without forcing it down the viewer's throat. Beaver and Wally were probably the first even slightly realistic kids in television sitcoms (although one could probably argue in favor of Bud Anderson on Father Knows Best). Generally, the boys were a bit cynical about life's many charms, and more often than not they did the dumb thing first, despite the many attempts by their parents (and mainly by Ward) to steer them in the right direction. On top of that, Ward's reaction to his boy's misdeeds was often palpabale disappointment, followed by the grudging realization that kids are rarely going to be as perfect as their parents hope. That still strikes me as a pretty realistic reaction, and is much preferable to the smug chuckle and "kids will be kids!" sentiment still pushed by today's (generally awful) sitcoms. Of course, there was also a lot of comic discussion about Eddie's father or Larry's father beating the shit out of them, but we never got to see that.

While it's true Leave it to Beaver rarely touched heavily on social issues, there were attempts to address issues as diverse as racism (Eddie teaches Beaver to tell his Mexican friend that he has a "face like a pig"), class (Beaver befriends the trashmen's kids, and June is forced to realize that class has little to do with character), and even alcoholism (Beaver befriends an alcoholic handyman, who ultimately betrays Beaver's innocent trust). It's hard to imagine many modern sitcoms working so hard to construct a story (more often than not, story has been replaced by an endless string of one-liners) that drives an episode, and letting the humor evolve naturally from the situation. There are valuable lessons in writing to be culled from the best of these shows.

Anyway, I can watch the show endlessly. Flipping through the listings tonight, I saw that TV Land is running the Beav from 1:30 until 3:00. That's an hour and a half of warm fuzzy fun before crashing, and waking up to the relative hell of a new day!

Beaver trivia: Did you know Harry Shearer played the Eddie Haskell character (originally named "Frankie") in the pilot for Leave it to Beaver (originally called It's a Small World)? FASCINATING!


Roger said...

Beaver is a pathological liar. He is constantly lying.

Roger said...

Beaver is a pathological liar. He is constantly lying.