Judge Christopher Kulik makes a mean bunt cake.
The Stones are back in a new season full of love, lessons, and light humor.
When I watched and reviewed The Donna Reed Show: The Complete First Season in late 2008, I was really surprised at how much fun it was. The show managed to avoid the molasses in which other '50s sitcoms drowned. From the first episode to the last, the show was nothing less than exceptionally pleasant. Thanks to a strong matriarch, a devoted husband, and two endearing kids, The Donna Reed Show successfully lasted for eight seasons. Now, all 38 episodes from Season Two are available on DVD courtesy of Virgil Films.
Pediatrician Alex Stone (Carl Betz, Judd, for the Defense) and his lovely wife Donna (Reed, It's a Wonderful Life) have been married for nearly 15 years. While Alex works part-time at the local hospital, he has his own practice at home. In the meantime, Donna takes care of the house…but don't even think about calling her a "housewife."
Their daughter Mary (Shelley Fabares, Coach) is a typical teenager, always looking forward to the next rock 'n' roll album and thinking about boys. And then there is Jeff (Paul Peterson, Houseboat), the 13-year-old son who seems to always be up to something when he isn't playing sports or hooky. His favorite hobby seems to be tormenting his older sister with all the gleeful immaturity a kid his age would possess.
Even though there was a four-month hiatus between seasons, the second begins as if nothing much has changed. Aside from the kids being a bit older and more demanding, Season Two has the same irresistible family going through more innocuous complications. Indeed, many of the Stone's troubles are straight out of the 1950s, and are no more controversial than organizing a strike against homework or hiding an engagement ring for a friend so her parents won't know about it. Modern audiences may deem Donna Reed too quaint or sweet to embrace, but the fact is the show remains popular thanks to reruns.
What makes The Donna Reed Show standout from other sitcoms of the time is its smart writing and spirited performances. The Stones are not perfect. They are also not overdrawn, nor punctuated by mushiness. They actually interact like a real family, and the crises they face never come off extreme or ludicrous. Granted, the show follows the rules of television by introducing a conflict and gracefully resolving it within 25 minutes. Few do it so effortlessly, however, and The Donna Reed Show remains special on many levels.
There are a lot of diverting episodes, here, but I shall mention only a few which stand out. In "Nothing Like a Good Book," Donna attempts to bring more culture into the house through literature. Naturally, Jeff prefers TV over Dickens, and Alex attempts to deal with a reading of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Happy Days mom Marion Ross plays Jeff's new teacher in "Flowers for the Teacher," and several members of the L.A. Rams play themselves in "All Mothers Worry." My vote for the best one, though, is when Donna causes a stir on a local radio program when she's labeled, "Just a Housewife." The announcer is none other than Jerry Hausner, better known as Ricky Ricardo's agent on I Love Lucy.
As great as the show is, my review score is seriously affected by Virgil's DVD treatment. The First Season was released by Arts Alliance America, and their efforts were mostly admirable. Supposedly, all the Season Two episodes were re-mastered, but many still suffered from scratches and grain. Even worse, two or three episodes had serious audio damage and tinting issues. Virgil occasionally uses syndicated versions (the ones with the Screen Gems logo) and not the ones originally broadcast, which is even more infuriating. English subtitles are provided.
The paltry set of extras begins with two photo galleries. The first is a series of shots taken during production of the show and the other set focuses solely on From Here to Eternity and shows Reed in nearly all the shots. Both galleries last approximately 4 minutes and 15 seconds. The rest of the bonus features can viewed exclusively on DVD-ROM, and they include three downloadable episode scripts; a Chicago Tribune review of the show dated September, 1958; a letter to Reed from her PR man about the show's ratings; finally, we also have Screen Gems bios of Paul Petersen and Shelley Fabares. While this is slightly more than what was offered last time, they aren't any more interesting.
The Stones are free to go, but Virgil Films is found guilty of a tepid DVD
package and presentation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Virgil Films
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