Thursday, February 08, 2007


The Beverly Hillbillies was the most successful, and some say the best, sitcom in the history of television. What is the evidence of this? Ten of its shows in the first season ranked, at the time, in the top twenty most watched shows of all time. That will never be matched or even approached. It was No. 1 in ratings for six of its nine seasons.

More evidence is the fact that critics and snobs hated it. No, that is not a redundancy. Although all critics are snobs, that does not make all snobs critics. (There’s a lesson in logic.) Critics are a humorless lot. They would have to watch a show with an audience to know if something is funny. And even so, it would have to be dignified humor. A fart joke would have them en masse reaching for the perfumed handkerchief tucked into their left sleeve. A critic’s first goal is to show they are better than the material they are reviewing.

Okay, enough on critics. You get the idea.

So what made The Beverly Hillbillies so successful?

It had a lot of things working for it. One thing was Al Capp’s hugely successful comic strip, Li’l Abner. TBH didn’t plagiarize Capp’s creation, but they did borrow liberally. Max Baer as Jethro Bodine was the personification of Li’l Abner in looks and personality. Donna Douglas as Elly May Clampett was pretty close to Daisy May for looks. Granny in looks and personality was Ma Yokum. Even her given name in the show was Daisy May.

Only buddy Epson as Jed Clampett didn’t fit into Capp’s cartoon mold. But he was a familiar face on TV from other hit shows. So TBH had easily, if not universally, recognized characters.

Then the characters are thrown into a completely foreign, to them, environment. “Fish out of Water” plots work well in all storytelling. The shows were well written to accentuate that situation.

The biggest asset on the show though was Max Baer. He was nothing short of great as the giant, innocent, dumb, Jethroe. His was one of the classic, all time comic portrayals.

TBH is a show that should be studied by would-be sitcom promoters for how to do things right. (Granted, a Max Baer does not come around very often.)

Which brings me to "Two and a Half Men". Believe it or not, this show has many similarities to TBH. Each character is unique and has their own niche on the show. That makes them easily recognizable and distinct. So, although they didn’t have the advantage of a national cartoon as a pre-introduction, all it takes is one episode to sort out who is who.

The “Fish out of Water” theme is followed when Jon Cryer, playing nerdy, P-whipped, Alan Harper, moves into the beach front home of Charlie Sheen, playing his worldly, womanizing brother, Charlie Harper. The writing exploiting this situation is brilliant.

The supporting cast is quite good. I seldom like kid actors, but Angus T. Jones, the kid playing Cryer’s son, is excellent. Holland Taylor, who plays the mother of the brothers, has been a favorite of mine since she appeared on Bosom Buddies.

But the show’s biggest asset is Charlie Sheen. He is so perfect in the role of the amoral womanizer you might suspect he has spent his whole life studying for the part. Beyond that, his comedic talents are flawless. He is one of the best sitcom comics ever.


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