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TV Picks: 'Dobie Gillis,' 'Awesomes,' 'Casting By,' 'Broadchurch'
"The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (Shout Factory DVD). One of television's great comedies, collected completely: 20 discs, 147 episodes, immaculately transferred, compactly packaged. I mean to get around to speaking of its virtues at length in some future piece, but briefly: For all that we are living in a so-called Platinum Age of Television -- somebody said that once, and it seems to have stuck -- when personal expression is the order of the day, TV has 1) always been a writer's medium, expressive of individual vision, and 2) never lacked for talent. They may have had narrower lines and stricter rules to deal with in the olden Golden days, the envelopes may have not been the sort you could push very far -- as if that were a good in itself -- but works of pop genius, even crazy pop genius, are not exclusive to the post-"Sopranos" TV era. "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," the 1959-1963 CBS series in which Max Shulman adapted his short story collection of the same name -- a movie version, the 1953 "The Affairs of Dobie Gillis," with Bobby Van is less well remembered -- starred Dwayne Hickman as a perennially lovestruck high school (then a junior college) student. While the series nestled in the common settings of teenhood -- school, home, park, malt shop and the grocery store run by Dobie's parents, played by the alliteratively paired Frank Faylan and Florida Friebus (despairing and doting, respectively) -- it had a slightly surreal edge, and ran on highly musical dialog that mixed the archaically formal with contemporary (and invented) vernacular. Phrases like "not a smidgen of an iota of a chance" and "grapple me to your bosom" and "Unhand me, wench." The show is probably best known for Bob Denver's Maynard G. Krebs, America's sweet-tempered beatnik, but also featured, in its first year at least, Tuesday Weld as the money-minded Thalia Menninger and Warren Beatty as rich-kid Milton Armitage (replaced by Steve Franken's rich-kid Chatsworth Osborne, Jr.). Steadfast through the series was Sheila Kuehl (then Sheila James, later a California state legislator) as the smart and determined Zelda Gilroy, whom Maynard calls Small Girl and whose passion for Dobie is her great blind spot: "He’s weak and bewildered and helpless; he needs me to guide his faltering feet." Some of these characters provided the model for the Scooby Gang, it has been acknowledged: Maynard for Shaggy, Zelda for Velma, Dobie for Fred, Thalia for Daphne.
By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
August 1, 2013