We live in an absolutely amazing time for fans of any kind of media because we have access to content in ways that just a few years ago simply were not available. I remember being a teenager in the eighties and often thinking to myself, “I wish they hadn’t cancelled Tales of the Gold Monkey, that was a really cool show!” Well, now I own the DVD collection and ripped it to my hard drive so I can see it whenever I want, I can even take an episode or two with me on my iPhone 5s so I’ve always got something to watch.
Disk based media and hard drive rips are great, but there are also various streaming options like iTunes, HULU, Netflix, Amazon and YouTube (and there are others) which offer a huge catalog of old TV series and individual episodes. Each of these different content providers allows members to create a queue; I will never get to everything I put in mine – BUT DON’T MESS WITH IT!
And finally, the bay area also has three (YES THREE) channels that play vintage/classic TV programs; just this week I’ve watched Emergency!, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Marcus Welby, M.D., my DVR could easily be filled with with programs that last aired well before I was born, and that, sadly, was a long time ago.
There are so many excellent series from the past, and they are so accessible today I think it is worthwhile to spend some time each week taking a look at these, to borrow a term from the automotive world, vintage survivors. What would you rather do, spend thirty minutes watching some truly horrible 2013 series or the same amount of time watching something of the highest quality from a bygone era? I certainly would pick the latter.
In honor of today’s holiday I thought I’d give a boney, Halloweeny, thumbs up to one of my favorite off-beat dark comedies from the 1960’s, The Munsters. Watch one of the best TV intros here:
Herman (Fred Gwynne), his wife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), her father Grandpa A.K.A. Sam Dracula (Al Lewis), son Eddie (Butch Patrick) and the beautiful (by cultural standards, not Munster standards which is a major running gag in the series) Marilyn (Beverly Owen ep. 1-13, Pat Priest ep. 14-70) are the Munsters and they live in a creepy old house with a dungeon, behind a squeaky iron gate, at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in the fictional town of Mockingbird Heights.
Running for only two seasons (seventy episodes which means there are more episodes of The Munsters than Breaking Bad which had five seasons) the program received low ratings when it initially aired, but became a cult classic in syndication. While the wonderful functionality of the family, the offbeat humor, the quirky behavior (for example Lily cleans by blowing dust and cobwebs OUT of her vacuum) and the monster makeup are all a draw for the audience, I am of the belief that the success of the series is due in large part to the chemistry between Grandpa and Herman.
Al Lewis and Fred Gwynne had worked together before (Car 54 Where Are You?) and they developed a simply charming on screen relationship which served them well as they got into all kinds of trouble, scrambled to fix things and learned their lessons. I will admit, I was always confused as a boy as to how Herman could get into so much trouble when he was already 150-years-old; shouldn’t he know better?
I watched this program religiously as a child and I learned a couple of valuable life lessons. First, people are not always what they appear to be; take a breath, pause for a moment and make an effort to get to know someone before you run screaming in the other direction. Second, I learned that scheming behind the backs of authority figures (in this case Lily, who was the only true adult in the series) was simply a bad idea, something will go wrong every time, as an adult I have revised that a bit; don’t do something you want to keep secret because it will often blow up in your face and cause all kinds of trouble.
I could recommend watching the Munsters because it is well written, superbly acted, has well above average set design and costuming, Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis’s magnificent chemistry, and because of the valuable life lessons the series has to teach; the real reason to watch is all these elements conspire to produce a thoroughly enjoyable thirty minute escape from reality, and sometimes that is the best thing about watching TV, getting a respite from the world.
All seventy episodes of the series are available to stream on Netflix and there is a very well done documentary available on YouTube. Check it out here:
– John Morton