Monday, July 2, 2012

Comfort TV Marathon: Ringing in the Fourth

At Comfort TV any holiday is a reason to settle back with some appropriately themed classic television episodes, and Independence Day is no exception.

Here are five patriotic shows to help ring in the Fourth of July. Just make sure to crank up the volume so you can hear the dialogue over any bombs bursting in air.

“My Friend Ben” and “Samantha for the Defense”
A standard Bewitched set-up – Aunt Clara tries to summon an electrician but zaps up Benjamin Franklin instead – is elevated into the series’ best two-part outing on the strength of its shrewd scripts and guest star Fredd Wayne. Wayne takes a gimmick and gives it real depth – he captures Franklin’s wit and principles as well as the scientific curiosity and wonder you’d expect to see in an enlightened man suddenly transported 200 years into the future.

Wayne’s performance as Franklin was so convincing that he would play the character again in episodes of Daniel Boone, Voyagers! and Simon and Simon, as well as in award-winning audio recordings of Franklin biographies. Plus, he’s a lot more convincing as a Founding Father than Bert Convy’s season 7 appearance as Paul Revere.

The highlight, for me, is the courtroom trial in “Samantha for the Defense,” in which Franklin must convince a judge that he is who he says he is, against all logic. It’s like a July 4 version of Miracle on 34th Street. Some interesting cameos in these shows as well from Paul Sand and famed disc jockey The Real Don Steele. 

Star Trek
“The Omega Glory”
This is a season 2 episode of the Original Series that foreshadows the sillier stories that became too commonplace in Trek’s final season. However, it is redeemed by a gloriously over-the-top moment near the climax, when Captain Kirk recites the Preamble to the US Constitution, with all the crazy cadences and random pauses and staccato gesticulations that have made William Shatner a television legend. I wonder if he memorized it from Schoolhouse Rock like the rest of us?

Family Ties
“Philadelphia Story”
A feverish Alex falls asleep while writing a term paper on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and dreams about helping Thomas Jefferson find the self-confidence to write that historic document. Some very funny lines in the writing scenes, as Alex tries to coach Jefferson (played by Keaton dad Michael Gross), without feeding him the right words in advance. “Okay, let’s sign this baby and ship it off to England!”

The Brady Bunch
“Everyone Can’t Be George Washington”
For a Brady fan, any episode can produce a warm and fuzzy glow of nostalgia. But most of the shows that are still pretty funny are the ones featuring Peter: there's “The Personality Kid,” with the pork chops and applesauce bit, and “The Private Ear,” where Pete bugs his siblings’ rooms. To that list I’ll add “Everyone Can’t Be George Washington,” in which Peter auditions to play the Father of Our Country in a school play, and is cast instead as Benedict Arnold. The best moments are at the dress rehearsal, especially when Benedict’s wife Peggy, played by Florence Henderson’s daughter, Barbara Bernstein, pulls out Arnold’s old army uniform. 

Father Knows Best
“24 Hours in Tyrantland”
Now this - this is a remarkable piece of history, shot in 1959 but never aired on television – nor was it intended to. It was commissioned by the US Treasury Department as a warning against the dangers of totalitarianism, and played for years in schools and churches across America.

The story has Jim Anderson – the ever-stalwart Robert Young – trying to get his family to join him in a campaign to sell US Savings Bonds. The kids basically blow him off, saying that bonds might be a good investment but all that patriotic stuff is rah-rah nonsense. Jim, desperate to teach them that bonds preserve the American way of life, proposes a challenge – to see if they can survive 24 hours under a dictatorship – with good old dad as the dictator.

The kids go along and Jim gives them the full treatment; hard labor, unfair working conditions, and severe punishment for trying to escape. “If our young people don’t think enough of our way of life to try to preserve it,” he tells his wife Margaret, “I shudder to think what’s going to happen to America.”

Whether you embrace the message as powerful and patriotic, or dismiss it as the kind of anti-Communist propaganda that produced McCarthyism, “24 Hours in Tyrantland” offers a fascinating insight into life in 1950s middle America. 

No comments:

Post a Comment