Father Knows Best: Season One – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Here’s an interesting sit-com concept: a son is making a hideous noise up in his bedroom. Downstairs in the living room, his father doesn’t make any jokes about the kid beating off or pounding his girlfriend. There’s not a single sexual innuendo as he comically comments on the ruckus. Shocking! But that’s how family sitcoms worked in the ‘50s. No one ruled these innocent days like Jim Anderson (Robert Young) on Father Knows Best. This is the freakish family friendly entertainment that old people remember when they get disgusted at Charlie Sheen being passed off as a father figure.

The Anderson family were beyond perfect. Jim Anderson made a good living selling insurance. He didn’t push policies on guests or talk about fatal industrial accidents. He enjoyed living without reminding us how we could die in a heartbeat. His wife (Jane Wyatt) was a full time housewife. She took care of their three kids. Bud (Billy Gray) was a teen who didn’t idolize those bad boys like James Dean. Betty (Elinor Donahue) was a responsible older daughter that wasn’t going to get knocked up like that Juno gal. She lived up to her nickname of Princess. Kitten (Lauren Chapin) was a rascal without being an out of control brat. These people lived with a strange harmony that most families now try duplicate with Prozac, Ritalin and lobotomies. I’m addicted to the Andersons.

Like Gunsmoke, Father Knows Best was adapted from the radio. The dialogue sounds like it was lifted off the airwaves. The first season episodes have simple storylines of minor crisis taking place in the house. “Bud Takes Up the Dance” has the son nervous about going to his first school hop. He’s trying to learn steps from a book, but he’s mainly clumping around his bedroom. Will his family help him learn how to trip the light fantastic? “Football Tickets” has dad scoring two tickets for the big game. Since the wife can’t make it, he promises to take Betty. She’s pumped up about being in the bleachers. But then one of dad’s business buddies hints that he’d like to go to the game. Will the salesman do the right thing and dump his daughter to slather up a client?

“Live My Own Life” has Bud wanting to live on his own. He quickly learns that he’s pretty helpless living without mom’s help. “Father Delivers the Papers” deals with Bud’s paper route and his problems with the supervisor. In a modern sitcom, Bud wouldn’t have to worry about this since who reads the newspaper? “Close Decision” has dad punish Bud by not letting him play on his baseball team. Nowadays a father would be punishing himself by ruining his kid’s path to a multi-million dollar deal with the Padres.

Why isn’t there bile and spite for the Andersons and their candy coated dream world? Blame it on my youth where Father Knows Best resided on the same rerun lane as Leave It to Beaver, I Love Lucy and Hazel. It’s nice to retreat from the world filled with terrorists, gangs, AIDS and child predators to a 30 minute universe that’s so darn wholesome. There’s a warm feeling that one family in Springfield (even if they are fictional) denies the existence of the nasty problems of the 21st century. Father Knows Best is the macaroni and cheese of TV with a generous helping of cheese to make it extra tasty.

The Episodes

“Bud Takes Up the Dance,” “Lesson in Citizenship,” “The Motor Scooter,” “Football Tickets,” “Live My Own Life,” “Grandpa Jim’s Rejuvenation,” “Bud’s Encounter With the Law,” “Thanksgiving Day,” “Second Honeymoon,” “Typical Father,” “Margaret Goes Dancing,” “The Christmas Story,” “Sparrow in the Window,” “Boy’s Week,” “A Friend of Old George’s,” “Bud the Snob,” “The Promised Playhouse,” “Jim the Farmer,” “Father of the Year,” “The Mink Coat,” “The Matchmaker,” “Bud the Bridesmaid,” “Proud Father,” “Father Delivers the Papers,” “No Partiality,” and “Close Decision.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are from film prints controlled by Robert Young’s estate. These aren’t the original negatives, but they look good. Because these are from the estate, only half the prints are the 25 minute original broadcast versions. The remainder are 22:30 minute syndicated cuts. The audio is rough at times.

Daddy’s Girls (23:08) is a recent interview with Lauren Chapin and Elinor Donahue.

Robert Young’s Home Movies (9:47) narrated by Bill Proffitt, his grandson. Robert has an amazing large ranch back in the early days. Robert can balance three daughters on a see-saw. It’s a nice glimpse into Young’s home life. He even takes the sky in his private plane.

Behind the Scenes Home Movies (2:49) narrated by Bill Proffitt, his grandson. You’ll get to see what the sets and cast looks like in color.

“24 Hours in Tyrantland” (33:00) is a special episode produced for the Department of the Treasury to promote buying of Savings Bonds. Dad decides to teach the kids a lesson about freedom by turning the house into a Soviet style Gulag. Aleksandr Solzhenitsy should have had a cameo. This wasn’t aired in syndication.

“The Promised Playhouse” – Flashback Version (22:28) is a fifth season episode that reused the first season footage.

The Window on Main Street – “The Return” (29:09) is the pilot to Robert Young’s follow up series to Father Knows Best. It’s easy to see how this series disappeared from the schedule.

Father Knows Best: Season One is warm nostalgic trip to a time when people didn’t have to worry about modern problems. This is a beautiful boxset for people that aren’t driven nuts by the syndicated prints.

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Shout! Factory presents Father Knows Best: Season One. Starring Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Billy Gray, Elinor Donahue and Lauren Chapin. Twenty six episodes on four DVDs. Originally broadcasted from October 3, 1954 to March 27, 1955. Released on DVD: April 1, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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