Thursday, August 25, 2005

Gee, Wally...

"Leave It To Beaver," Season 1 is finally coming out on DVD. What took them so long?

And has any show ever been the victim of more undeserved pseudo-ironic sneering? It's not as bad now as it used to be, but there was a time when "Leave it to Beaver" was derided as a symbol of everything that was wrong with television and even everything that was wrong with an entire culture -- namely 1950s American culture. In talking about the sanitized, rose-colored view '50s America had of itself, it was extremely common to point to "Beaver." And those who didn't point to it as a symbol of cultural rot were pointing to it as unintentional camp.

Well, now that we've gotten the sneering out of our system, let's remember what's important about "Leave it To Beaver": It was, and still is, one of the best shows ever made about children, and one of the few works of popular culture at the time that actually presented kids who acted like real kids, instead of cartoonish Little-Rascals style moppets. The fact that it's comedy about children, from the children's point of view, also makes it essentially unimportant that the parents are idealized versions of real parents: when you're a kid, your parents often seem a lot like Ward and June -- all-knowing, all-wise -- and so Ward and June are true to the child's perspective.

It also did a lot to shake up and change the TV sitcom. At the time "Beaver" started, most TV comedy was an extension of radio comedy, and of vaudeville: fast, loud, brash. "Beaver" was much quieter, pulling humor from observational touches, willing to go for chuckles of recognition rather than belly laughs. It may have been the first TV sitcom that really showed how you could use the intimacy of TV to create a kind of comedy you couldn't do on radio or on the stage.

And besides, everybody -- and I mean everybody, even people who don't care for the show otherwise -- agrees that Eddie Haskell is one of the great characters in television history. And like all the best stuff on "Beaver," he's great because he's real: not only do we all know an Eddie Haskell as kids, but we all know several Eddie Haskells as adults. There's an Eddie Haskell in your office; there's an Eddie Haskell in your family. The government sometimes seems like it contains nothing but Eddie Haskells. All Hail Lord Haskell.

1 comment:

Kenneth Burns said...

"Leave it to Beaver" reruns used to make my mom cry.