Gilligan’s Island: The Complete First Season (DVD)
Editorial review of Gilligan’s Island season one courtesy of Amazon.com
Despite critical barbs as sharp as a Maroobi spear, Gilligan’s Island has proven unsinkable. Its first season was 1964’s top-rated show. The expository theme song is one of television’s most quoted, and its characters–the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.), first mate Gilligan (Bob Denver), the millionaire (Jim Backus) and his wife (Natalie Schaefer), a movie star (Tina Louise), “and the rest” (Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells, as the Professor and Mary Ann, wouldn’t get their opening credit props until season two)–are pop culture icons. Revisiting the first season’s 36 episodes is a not-guilty-at-all pleasure. Some sure and surprising hands piloted these inaugural episodes, including Ida Lupino, Jack Arnold (The Creature from the Black Lagoon), Christian Nyby (The Thing), and Richard Donner (who went on to direct Superman and Lethal Weapon).
The “seven stranded castaways” from the ill-fated S.S. Minnow (slyly named for former Federal Communications Commission head Newton “vast wasteland” Minow) received memorable visits from the likes of Hans Conreid as errant pilot Wrong Way Feldman, a young Kurt Russell as Jungle Boy, and Larry Storch as a Cagney-esque bank robber. But these were mere diversions from the heart of the series; the no-man-is-an-island social microcosm that creator Sherwood Schwartz conceived as an anti-war parable (this courtesy of his optional commentary during the fabled unaired series pilot). In the Christmas episode “Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk,” Santa Claus himself drops in to lift the disheartened castaways’ spirits. “You could have been enemies,” he tells them, “instead of a family group who all learned to get along.” This is they key to this series’ enduring popularity. That, and the unending debate: Ginger or Mary Ann? –Donald Liebenson