Just sit right back and we'll tell you a tale, a tale of how Judge Joel Pearce was shocked at how poorly the content of this show has aged. Bring your own Ginger.
Our review of Gilligan's Island: The Complete Third Season, published September 14th, 2005, is also available.
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This is the first exposure I have had to this classic television comedy. My suspicion is that many people will find that it doesn't play as well now as it did 40 years ago, but fans who still think it has charm and staying power are sure to be pleased by this DVD set of the second season.
Facts of the Case
As the second season of Gilligan's Island opens, the seven castaways are still trapped on the island. Gilligan (Bob Denver) screws things up, and the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) yells at him. Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) talks about his money, and Mrs. Howell (Natalie Shafer) wishes for the comforts of home. The Professor (Russell Johnson) uses all manner of science to try to find a way off the island. Ginger (Tina Louise) tries to seduce everything that comes on the island that doesn't have breasts. Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) does everyone's cooking, cleaning and laundry. Sometimes, someone else arrives on the island and they think they will be able to be rescued.
In the introduction to the second season on the first disc, Gilligan's Island series creator Sherwood Schwartz refers to the show as the "ideal babysitter," because you can sit your kids down for a half an hour and know that they will not have their senses assaulted with inappropriate content. No offense, Mr. Schwartz, but I wouldn't let my children anywhere near this horribly antiquated exercise in discrimination. Now, I'm not saying I would rather have my children watch South Park or The Sopranos, but this experience with Gilligan's Island has acted as a reminder at how far the world has come in the area of civil rights in the past forty years.
Mostly, I just find the whole thing incredibly misogynistic. Mrs. Howell has absolutely nothing intelligent or worthwhile to add to the show, merely acting as a comedic counterpoint to Mr. Howell. For the most part, this counterpoint is simply a question of being even more unaware than he is of what's happening on the island. Ginger's only function on the island is to look good and use her hyper-sexualized "feminine charms" to seduce whatever man on the island she feels she could gain something from at that moment. Mary Ann is in even worse shape. Although by the second season she had secured a name for herself in the opening song (the Professor was also excluded in the first season), she has virtually no character whatsoever. She looks nice, and takes care of the menial cooking and cleaning tasks on the island. Occasionally, she also acts foolishly so that she can be corrected by a stronger, smarter man.
The way the women on the island are approached is echoed by the way a number of other groups are also treated. The savages on the island, the Russians, poor people, Europeans…everyone the castaways come across is treated as laughable, flawed and inferior. This show was released right on the cusp of the postmodern revolution and the civil rights movement. Perhaps I was expecting more than I should have, but it was hardly progressive in any way, even for its time. I know that this is simply a product of the society that produced it, but this kind of material hardly stands as "harmless entertainment" anymore. Enough generations of children have already been pumped full of these types of prejudices.
Perhaps I would have been more forgiving of the ideology embedded in the series if I had been more impressed by the content. Although I had not had any exposure to the series before sitting down to this DVD set, I had all of the characters and their traits fully figured out in the first ten minutes of one episode. All of the jokes in the series seem to center around these basic traits, so I found it hard to grow attached to the characters, since we never learn any more about them. After several episodes, it's easy to watch each joke get lined up, then promptly get knocked down. I know that some people would be comforted by this consistency, but I like to be surprised by comedy.
Also…chapter stops would be a good idea. That theme song gets really obnoxious after a few times in a row.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To be fair, comedy is highly subjective, and I am not even close to the original target audience for Gilligan's Island. The light physical comedy is aimed squarely at 10-12 year olds, who probably find it much funnier than I do (though I still wouldn't let them watch it). In fact, the characters act and relate to each other much like children do, which may explain why it seems so idiotic. People that have a social mindset squarely set back in the '50s will probably find much of the verbal humor more entertaining and less offensive than I did. Some of the routines are charming and humorous the first few times, and I can't say that the season didn't make me chuckle occasionally. Just be aware that if you remember the series fondly from your childhood, you may discover that it has changed quite a bit since then—or, rather, we have changed quite a bit since then.
For fans of the series, it's hard to imagine a better way to watch the series than these DVDs. The image quality is impeccable, with a minimum of dirt and grain, vibrant colors, and sharp, clean edges. The show simply doesn't look 40 years old. It does, at times, have that early color film look, but that is to be expected from one of the first color shows on television. This is the first season of Gilligan's Island that was shot in color, and it's hard to imagine what the island would have looked like in black and white (even though many people who watched it then would never have known it was in color). The sound is also well represented. It is the original mono track, with clear dialogue and about as much detail and depth as can be expected from mono. There is no audible hiss or damage. Considering the age of the show, I was amazed at the quality of this transfer. This is top-notch restoration at every moment. I have seen worse transfers from shows that were produced less than ten years ago.
There are a couple of special features as well. The first disc contains an introduction to the second season, including discussions with Sherwood Schwartz and Russell Johnson. It offers a good overview of the show, how far they had come in the first season, and the changes that were made at the beginning of its sophomore year. Schwartz also has some commentary tracks, but he covers a lot of the same information that he does in the introduction. These are really the only two special features, both contained on the first disc.
If you are a fan of Gilligan's Island, this set is a no-brainer. If you simply remember it fondly from several decades ago, however, you may want to dip your toes in first to test the water, rather than jumping right in. A lot of the content hasn't aged especially well in the past few decades, and much of the humor is still aimed at 10-year-olds. I realize that's probably going to earn me some hate mail, but I feel I've spent more than enough time with these people on their ridiculous little island.
Nothing is wrong with these discs, but I think the series has gotten more than a little stale.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Introduction to Season Two
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