Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees is looking forward to the big-screen version of this sitcom, in which Reese Witherspoon will play the title character and sing a trip-hop version of "Que Sera Sera."
Que sera sera.
Doris Day's transition from the big screen to the small got off to an inauspicious start: She reportedly didn't realize she'd been contracted to the series at all until the death of her husband and manager, Martin Melcher. Melcher's death also left the series without an executive producer, until son Terry stepped in to fill the void. This rocky history is belied, however, by the gentle, sunny nature of the series—a family-friendly sitcom sustained by the presence of Day and Denver Pyle (The Dukes of Hazzard).
Facts of the Case
Day plays Doris Martin, a widow who takes her two young sons to live with her father, Buck Webb (Pyle), on his California ranch. Their family is rounded out by the guileless handyman Leroy B. Simpson (James Hampton, The Longest Yard ), who has a big heart but a small intellect; a kindly housekeeper (whose identity changes over the course of the season); and of course Lord Nelson, their big shaggy dog. Together they must cope with the travails of living in the country, as well as the normal growing pains that ten-year-old Billy (Philip Brown) and six-year-old Toby (Tod Starke) experience. Doris also ventures back into the troubled waters of romance, whether she's being fixed up by her sons with an egotistical lawman or giving a braggart his comeuppance. But whatever crisis may arise, Doris's native good sense and her father's homespun wisdom will restore harmony in the end.
The Doris Day Show would become known for its frequent and dramatic metamorphoses. After this first season, Day's character would get a magazine job in San Francisco and begin to commute to work from the ranch, and from that point on her character kept becoming more and more sophisticated and city-based, ultimately losing her two sons and becoming a no-strings-attached single working girl à la The Mary Tyler Moore Show. This first season, with its laid-back pace and focus on country life, is very much a distaff Andy Griffith Show. There's the widowed parent with son(s); a kindly older relative; and a rather dim-witted but good-hearted right-hand man. Aside from splitting the Aunt Bea character into two people—Buck and a housekeeper—the main difference from the basic Andy Griffith Show template was that Doris Martin is not the center of her town as Andy Taylor is. As the sheriff and justice of the peace, Andy sees the world come to his doorstep; his courthouse is the hub of activity in Mayberry. In contrast, Doris is fairly isolated, and although the series does bring different characters to her (including a comic hick type who comes off as a cut-rate Ernest T. Bass), there's a limit to the situations that can be explored in such an out-of-the-way setting. This difficulty seems to have spurred the writers to take Doris Martin into the working world in the second season; as James Hampton observes in his interview, they had run out of stories for the ranch setting by the end of the first season.
The similarity to The Andy Griffith Show extends to the story lines, several of which seem to have been inspired by episodes from the earlier series. There's a female manicurist who sets hearts a-flutter, a tangle between one of Doris's sons and a bully, and even two darling little old ladies who run an illegal still. To their credit, the writers use these similar situations and characters to launch new story lines, but I was never sure whether I was watching an imitation or an homage. It's also a pity that The Doris Day Show is simply not as funny as The Andy Griffith Show. There's no brilliant comedian like Don Knotts on board, and the jokes are very mild indeed. Some episodes stand out, like "The Fly Boy," almost a miniature version of one of Day's sex comedies, in which she takes sultry revenge on a pilot who has bragged to his buddies that he will "defrost" her. "The Friend" gets credit for confronting racism, although it's not so much a confrontation as a rear-guard maneuver; it treats the topic in such a gingerly fashion that it never even mentions race. But there are far more episodes that are simply bland and predictable, like "The Librarian," in which Leroy tries to impress a pretty librarian by pretending to be a fan of nineteenth-century poetry, and "The Tiger," in which Doris must prevent a posse from shooting a tiger who is actually tame. To wrap up the comparison between the two shows, I'd say that The Doris Day Show is ideal for audiences who thought that The Andy Griffith Show was too zany and fast-paced.
Just as Day's own presence redeemed many big-screen mediocrities, her uniquely warm and likable persona is a large part of what makes her series watchable. She's also helped out by Denver Pyle, who brings his distinctive grizzled persona to each episode. He particularly shines in "The Manicurist," in which he and an old friend fall out over the pretty new manicurist and he makes the noble gesture of fixing his friend up with the object of their mutual affection. He and Day are believable as father and daughter, and it's fun to see these two pros acting together. The rest of the cast is pretty ho-hum after the departure of Fran Ryan, who played housekeeper Aggie Thompson in the first ten episodes. Ryan was often compared to character actress Marjorie Main (best known as Ma Kettle), and she brought a tart individuality to her role that is missing from her amiable replacement, Naomi Stevens as Juanita. (Since Aggie is a movie fan, during her episodes we are often treated to inside jokes about Rock Hudson and Cary Grant.) James Hampton gives a standard aw-shucks performance, and the two child actors, Philip Brown and Tod Starke, are adequate, although neither is as cute as young Ronnie Howard.
This boxed set offers an agreeable transfer that is probably even more attractive than what was originally aired; colors are clear and bold, yet natural, and both image and sound are crisp and free of obvious defects. The Dolby Digital stereo mix is pleasantly full, with good fidelity even during the singing of "Que Sera Sera" during the opening and closing credits. There's even a pleasing array of extras. The best are two recent interviews with former cast members James Hampton and Philip Brown. Hampton's interview is the longer (17:22), and since he was an adult during the filming he has more inside anecdotes and information to share than does Brown. He speaks with great affection for the show, as does Brown in his shorter interview (11:25). Both also discuss the audition process and how they came to be cast, as well as their experiences of working with Day. We're also treated to some vintage materials, the most enjoyable of which are two ten-minute segments from different episodes of What's My Line? on which Day appeared as a guest. There are also TV promotional spots for the series and two filmed messages from Day in which she addressed the series' sponsor and affiliates in lieu of making a personal appearance. These are of mild curiosity value but will not demand repeat viewings. Even less gripping are the text-free versions of the opening and closing credits and "A Message from Doris," a brief plug for the Doris Day Animal League and Animal Foundation. Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the Day-Hudson comedy Lover Come Back and a preview of Season Two, which runs about ten minutes and excerpts the episode in which she gets her San Francisco job. It's a nice way of giving us a taste of the second season of the show, but a taste was all I wanted.
If you find comfort in the predictable, if you yearn for the simplicity and innocence of rural life and times past, and especially if you're a fan of Doris Day or Denver Pyle, you should give this set a rental. However, this season has nothing innovative or fresh to offer viewers who are accustomed to sitcom conventions. Those who prefer to see Day in a more sophisticated urban milieu would do well to hold out for a future season of the show…or just get one of her big-screen successes instead.
I'm going to let this one off with a warning. After all, the defendant meant well.
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