I watched a good bit of television as a child, and I remember most of the shows fondly. Today, many of the old shows are available either on DVD or on one of the many streaming channels. I have been revisiting some of these shows, and not simply for nostalgic reasons. I have discovered that most of the older shows were simply better than the modern fare that I have seen.
That statement, of course, does not apply to the technological aspects of the old shows. Modern production values are much better, much more polished. But it seems to me that, for the most part, the writing and acting in the old shows were better.
I began my review of the old shows many years ago, when I purchased the five-season set of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). It took nearly a year for me to view all the episodes. I have three comments: (1) the story lines were even better than I remembered; (2) the graphics and special effects were worse than I remembered; and (3) there were quite a few actors in the series who later became big stars. I am hard pressed to pick a favorite episode, but I believe “The Silence” (Liam Sullivan, season 2 episode 25) edges out “Time Enough at Last” (Burgess Meredith, season 1 episode 8), “Eye of the Beholder” (Donna Douglas, season 2 episode 6), “Two” (Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson, season 3 episode 1), “To Serve Man” (Lloyd Bochner and Richard Kiel, season 3 episode 24), and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (William Shatner, season 5 episode 3).
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Roger Jacquet, season 5 episode 22), which was adapted from an Ambrose Bierce story, gets an honorable mention. Season 4, the one season when the show moved from a 30 minute to a 60 minute format, gets two thumbs down.
I seem to recall watching something called The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, or perhaps The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, but whatever its original title, it has been repackaged as Rocky and his Friends (1959 – 1961). This series is even more entertaining now than when I was a child. This may have been a cartoon, bit it was clearly written for adults. The animation is just short of terrible, but the stories, from the serialized escapades of the squirrel/moose duo, to the historical adventures of the dog Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman, to the Fractured Fairy Tales narrated by Edward Everett Horton, were top notch, and generally above the comprehension level of a child. The following snippet of dialogue was posted by a reviewer on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. Boris Badenov (a play on the historical character Boris Godunov) had just set fire to a bridge:
Bullwinkle: “This is an ethical dilemma fraught with portents!”
Rocky: “What does that mean?”
Bullwinkle: “I dunno. I heard it on ‘Meet the Press.’”
Bill Scott and June Foray did the voices of Bullwinkle and Rocky, respectively. William Conrad, aka “Cannon”, was the narrator.
I bought the discs containing the 82 episodes of “Zorro” (1957 – 1959) on a whim. I remembered this Disney Studios series fondly, and now, more than halfway through the discs, I remember why. This is a highly entertaining show, featuring a happy swashbuckler. The star of the show, Guy Williams, plays both Don Diego de la Vega and Zorro. Williams is probably more famous for his role as Professor John Robinson in the campy comedy Lost in Space (1965 – 1968), a show I did not see, but it is hard for me to imagine that he gave any finer performance than he did in his role as Zorro. His smile was infectious, and it was clear that he enjoyed the role. I doubt he did all his own stunts, but he did his own fencing scenes, so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he did at least a few.
Judging by the surnames, there were very few Hispanics on the show. Williams looked the part, but his ancestry was Sicilian. The regular characters (Gene Sheldon, Henry Calvin, Don Diamond, George Lewis, Jolene Brand, Barbara Luna, Richard Anderson) were, for the most part, neither Spanish nor Mexican.
The most pleasant surprise of all was The Avengers (1961 – 1969), a British series. I saw only seasons 4 and 5 back in the 1960s, as these were the first two seasons distributed in America. These two seasons featured Mrs. Emma Peel (a young Diana Rigg) as the athletic sidekick of the suave John Steed (Patrick Macnee), and I am sure that Diana Rigg in leather had something to do with my fond memories of the show. (The discs of seasons 2 and 3 reveal that Rigg was but the second leather-clad sidekick.) The show was quirky, bordering at times on campy. Steed and his sidekicks (Peel was the third of four) seemed perpetually to be saving Britain, if not the world, from mortal peril. Steed was the professional, an employee of some unspecified branch of British intelligence, while his sidekicks were talented amateurs, charmed by Steed into risking their lives for some worthy adventure.
The first season is mostly lost. I believe my discs contain only 3 episodes from season 1, in which Steed plays sidekick to medical doctor David Keel (Ian Hendry). After the first season, Keel is gone, and Steed is in command. He works with a variety of partners before settling on Cathy Gale, a PhD anthropologist perfectly played by my favorite sidekick, Honor Blackman. Gale appeared in seasons 2 and 3. The final season saw Mrs. Peel replaced with Tara King (Linda Thorson). Thorson did a nice job in her role, but it is clear (to me, at least) that the series should have ended after season 5.
Honor Blackman left the show in order to take the role of Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger (1964). One of my favorite post-Blackman scenes occurred in season 4, episode 13, “Too Many Christmas Trees”. Mrs. Peel is sorting through Steed’s Christmas cards and reads one card aloud:
“Best wishes for the future, (signed) Cathy”
“Mrs. Gale!” says Steed. “Ah, how nice of her to remember me!” He then studies the envelope. “What can she be doing in Fort Knox?”
I see that this post is a bit long, so I will stop here. I do have one request. If anyone knows where I can obtain the discs for T.H.E. Cat (1966-1967, starring Robert Loggia), please get in touch with me.