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Case Number 21441

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Father Knows Best: Season Six

Shout! Factory // 1960 // 840 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 29th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Bill Gibron prefers less knowledgeable—and more entertaining—dads.

Editor's Note

Our review of Father Knows Best: Season One, published April 16th, 2008, is also available.

The Charge

All in the Formulaic Family.

Opening Statement

By the time Father Knows Best reached its sixth and final season, star Robert Young had been playing the character of Jim Anderson for nearly 11 years. He had started on radio in 1949, and watched as the sitcom turned from a slightly more cynical look at post-modern, post-WWII family life to a wholesome slice of conservative TV white bread. During its small screen run, kids "Princess" Betty, "Bud" James, and "Kitten" Kathy had grown from silly small fries to complicated teens, and the easy going Eisenhower years were branching off into the impending (and unknowable) counterculture. Still, the Big Three Networks saw a need for shows like Father and its better, youth-oriented companion piece, Leave it To Beaver. With teen violence on the rise, divorce becoming the norm, and a distinct social shift in the air, TV thought shows like this could set the communal conversation. Instead, they remained as entertaining as the times would allow them to be. No wonder Young baled after more than a decade dedicated to this concept. Looking over the episodes that are part of this sixth (and final) season overview, the bland bloom is definitely on this otherwise ordinary rose.

Facts of the Case

At this point in the Anderson narrative, eldest child Betty (Elinor Donahue, Get A Life!) was well into her college career, Bud (Billy Gray, The Day the Earth Stood Still) was just beginning, and youngest girl Kathy (Lauren Chapin, Scout's Honor) was in high school. Jim (Robert Young, Marcus Welby, M.D.) was still in insurance—though contemplating his next step—while wife Margaret (Jane Wyatt, Gentlemen's Agreement) was busy taking care of the home. Most of the storylines still centered on adolescent misjudgments, familial struggles, and the bond between parent and offspring that conveniently arrives to save the 24-minute-per-episode day. Nothing complicated. Nothing concerning. Just love and the limits of a writer's "aw shucks" imagination.

Here are the mini-synopsis of the 32 episodes in this final collection:

Disc One
• "A Day in the Country"
While on a scenic Sunday drive, the Andersons' car breaks down.

• "Bud Branches Out"
A French professor turns Bud's head.

• "The Gardener's Big Day"
The town is not happy with the choice of representative at a new park opening.

• "The Imposter"
Betty falls for a mysterious young man.

• "Bud Plays It Safe"
How do you make the football team, Bud? Why, date the head coach's daughter.

• "Bicycle Trip for Two"
The Andersons have one of their rare arguments.

• "First Disillusionment"
Bud and Kathy discuss job prospects, and problems.

Disc Two
• "Margaret's Old Flame"
A college reunion sparks a discussion of old boyfriends/girlfriends.

• "Kathy Becomes a Girl"
Tomboy Kathy gets a make-over.

• "Bud, The Willing Worker"
Bud wants a boat, and takes a job at a gas station to get one.

• "Turn the Other Cheek"
Members of the Anderson clan feel slighted by friends.

• "Good Joke on Mom"
Mom Margaret gets a chance to prank the rest of the family.

• "Betty's Double"
Betty wins a contest aimed at finding a famous Hollywood actress' lookalike.

• "Father, The Naturalist"
Jim tries to help Kathy earn her herbalist merit badge.

Disc Three
• "Bud Hides Behind a Skirt"
While Betty champions safe driving, Bud gets a ticket.

• "Togetherness"
The Andersons are the subject of a newspaper spread.

• "Second Best"
Betty takes on the boys in a fencing tournament.

• "Kathy's Big Deception"
In order to ease her family's suspicious, Kathy creates an imaginary boyfriend.

• "Cupid Knows Best"
Betty tries to play matchmaker.

• "The Big Test"
Bud "cheats" on a science test.

• "Jim's Big Surprise"
Jim is named Father of the Year…and no one seems to care.

Disc Four
• "Time To Retire"
Bud reaffirms his father's dedication to his job and family.

• "Bud the Speculator"
Bud tries his hand at the stock market, with standard results.

• "The $500 Letter"
It's an Anderson family "whodunit" when a check from a secret admirer arrives.

• "Adopted Daughter"
Kathy recalls the time when she questioned her connection to the other Andersons.

• "Family Contest"
Kathy enters a photo in a contest.

• "Love and Learn"
Bud falls for his fetching English tutor.

• "Blind Date"
Betty dates a boy of questionable means, much to her friend's catty chagrin.

Disc Five
• "Betty's Career Problem"
Betty and a boy from college compete for the same job.

• "Bud Lives It Up"
Hoping to impress a girl, Bud becomes loose with his limited funds.

• "Not His Type"
Betty tries to play peacemaker among quarreling friends.

• "Betty's Graduation"
As they prepare to move on, Betty remembers her graduation from high school.

The Evidence

For those without a TV history book—or a birth date before the rise of Reagan—Father Knows Best is the Diff'rent Strokes of old school television. No, it was not a sassy urban comedy featuring a pint-sized, precocious cherub and his assorted fish-out-of-water Central Casting siblings. You see, as much as the immensely popular Gary Coleman series was in the spotlight for the bad behavior of its company post-cancellation, this beloved slice of late '50s life also begat a world of Geraldo/Ricki/Springer offshoots. Gray and Chapin became casualties of the '60s, their drug abuse—and later reinvention as child actor advocate and born again evangelist, respectively—illustrating the rollercoaster reality of their pre-tabloid time in the (s)limelight. Young himself would go on to even more mainstream popularity with Marcus Welby before shocking his fanbase with the revelation of what a raging alcoholic he truly was. By the end of the '70s, Father had the kind of notoriety that something like Strokes earned from its incarcerated, incapacitated kiddie cast.

This does not mean the show suffered at the time. It just means that some aspects of Father Knows Best are more compelling than the often clichéd content within the series itself. Research makes it clear that the boob tube turned the Andersons from a wireless family fraught with tension into another permutation of the perfect Ozzie and Harriet homely. No major strife. No big picture concerns. And definitely protracted parent/child positioning. Unlike 2011, where kids are the collectibles in a step/mother/step/father's separation arsenal, children were to be seen and not heard here. For all their "maturing" issues, Betty, Bud, and Kathy were cardboard, clipped stereotypes strung together from sugar, spice, snails and puppy dog tails. In fact, it would be decades before the patina of passive plainness would wash off the sitcom brat, turning the wee one into a source of snarky, sarcastic putdowns.

Throughout Season Six, you can see the show struggling. You can watch as Young grows weary, Wyatt feels frustrated, and the children channel their hidden desperation. Chapin, specifically, looks unhappy as who she is, while Gray always appears poised to implode. Even with all the warm hugs and glowing endearments, this is a concept that had run its course. The nuclear clan was slowly giving way to a more permissive view, and as with The Cleavers and their rapidly mutating boys, entertainment was off to explore new territories. Offerings like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Addams Family, and Car 54, Where Are You? would blast by the nattering old-fashionedness of Father Knows Best, turning it into a relic before Young could reestablish himself in a new show (a weird "thing" called Window on Main Street, which this DVD uses as bonus features). Audiences no longer craved the nostalgia of home and hearth. They wanted a more contemporary turn, something a series like this could barely imagine.

Overall, the sixth season is mildly entertaining. Highlights include "Bud Branches Out," "Kathy Becomes a Girl," Cupid Knows Best," "The $500 Letter," and the highly sentimental series ender, "Betty's Graduation." Along the way, we get the standard sitcom formulas: get rich quick schemes, mistaken identity, husband/wife money woes, and that always arch chestnut, painful puppy love. To call the narratives stock is to provide a dictionary definition of the term. About the only "radical" element is the race-oriented entry, "The Gardener's Big Day" and even that has limited legitimacy. Thankfully, those who really revere this tired TV staple will enjoy the digital presentation of same. The 1.33:1 transfers can vary wildly (some pristine, some sloppy prints), but since the show was filmed instead of videotaped, the image is usually good to excellent. Sound, of course, is another story since little can be done with a thin and tinny mono mix. As for added content—well, there's that odd Window on Main Street stuff to suffer through. No wonder it wasn't a well-remembered part of the medium's middle history.

Closing Statement

It's a shame that time has not been kinder to shows like Father Knows Best. While their attention to period detail and universal themes of love, compassion, family, and friendship are nothing short of commendable, there is a vast difference between the gentleness and gentility of a bygone era and the ADD addled, short attention span mandates of the medium circa 2011. A show like this no longer resonates. Instead, it's a decorative doily your grandmother gave you just before she died. It looks great. It has wonderful sentimental value, and on some basic, broad level, it continues to have some nice things to say about the way the world was. But the key element of that last sentence is the final word. While beloved and still immensely popular, Young knew the series had reached its end. Anyone watching this DVD set will see the same thing.

The Verdict

Guilty and not guilty: not necessary terrible, but definitely of its time.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 89
Audio: 85
Extras: 50
Acting: 80
Story: 78
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 840 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Classic
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Episodes

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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