The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory has something of a specialty going where classic American sitcoms are concerned. The company has issued complete series' collections of noteworthy series like "Barney Miller" and "All In the Family," sometimes completing the work that others began but abandoned, and always treating the source material with reverence, taking care to create high-quality transfers.
Those same high standards are in force with Shout!'s release of "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series," in which all 148 episodes (aired across four seasons, from 1959 - 1963) are lovingly brought to DVD. The series is based on a collection of stories by Max Shulman (who also wrote several early episodes), and features the talents of Dwayne Hickman as 17-year-old Dobie, a hormonal heterosexual of the most wholesome sort (popular culture in 1959 could scarcely imagine any other kind), and Bob Denver (who went on to start as Gilligan in "Gilligan's Island") as his dopey beatnik buddy, Maynard G. Krebs.
The series also starred Frank Faylen and Florida Freibus as Dobie's parents, and featured a passel of future stars, including Tuesday Weld (Dobie's love interest, Thalia Messinger, in Season One) and Warren Beatty (he appeared in a handful of early episodes as a rival for Thalia's affections). Steven Franken took over from Beatty, playing the aristocratic cousin of Beatty's rich kid, and Sheila James Kuehl also had a recurring role as Zelda, the brainy girl who, despite her smarts, was head over heels for Dobie. (Zelda and Dobie ended up man and wife in a pair of TV projects, one broadcast in 1978 and the other ten years later.)
The set's biggest selling point are the episodes themselves, which are, by turns, hilariously funny, poignant, romantic, and silly. That's just as well, because the special features are scant. There's an interview with Hickman, who describes how the series was a departure from what was, at the time, the usual formula. Other family sitcoms took the wise father's point of view; "Dobie Gillis" was told from the teenager's perspective.
The single "bonus disc" (tucked in with the Season 4 set) also features several episodes of "The Bob Cummings Show," in which Hickman starred before his stint on "Dobie Gillis," as well as several "Dobie Gillis" sketches (two of which take place on stage at a live performance).
These curios are interesting, but it's a pity Shout! wasn't able to include the 1978 pilot "Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?" (for a sequel series that never happened), and "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis," the 1988 TV movie.
Overall, the series stands up to the test of time; Denver was a brilliant comic actor, bringing a native wisdom to his beatnik character (TV's first!), and Hickman was the perfect foil as the all-American boy whose interest in girls got him in trouble on a weekly basis.