Written by Hombre Divertido
In 1963 Paul Henning was basking in the glow of one of the most successful situation comedies of all-time, The Beverly Hillbillies, which he had created. He took the simple fish-out-of-water premise of a country family striking it rich and moving to Beverly Hills and turned it into a rating smash. In 1965 Henning would reverse the premise, and send an affluent lawyer and his ditsy wife from Park Avenue, New York to live in the country, and would strike ratings gold again with Green Acres.
In between these two juggernauts, Henning also launched Petticoat Junction. A simple show based on the childhood memories of Henning’s wife. Petticoat Junction starred Bea Benadaret as Kate Bradley, the mother of three beautiful girls, Billie Joe (Jeannine Riley), Bobbie Joe (Pat Woodell), and Betty Joe (Linda Kaye Henning) who ran the Shady Rest Hotel along with Kate’s Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan). The Shady Rest was located just outside of Hooterville, and could be accessed by a ride on the Cannonball, which was part of the C&FW Railroad.
Despite a shaky premise for a series, substantial cast turnover, and a first season full of episodes with thin plots, America embraced this show depicting a simple life, and it lasted for seven years. On December 16th 2008, CBS will release all thirty-eight episodes of the first season.
The cast is solid in this kindhearted series, but the characters are not quite fleshed out yet, and the writing in the first season lacks depth, and often makes little sense. What this new release may lack in comedy writing, it certainly makes up for in bonus material.
Whereas CBS has made a habit of releasing series from the sixties with no bonus material, there is some fun and informative extras here. Each episode includes an optional introduction by original cast members Pat Woodell, and Linda Kaye Henning (daughter of show creator Paul Henning). Their brief introductions, which occasionally include memories of the filming, are as charming as the show itself. Other extras include in-depth interviews with Ms. Woodell and Ms. Henning, an interview with Paul Henning, original sponsor spots featuring cast members, and a photo gallery. Ms. Woodell and Ms. Henning provide introductions to all the extras and for all intents and purposes serve as hosts and guides for this trip down memory lane. You can applaud CBS for making the viewing of previews for its other releases optional when loading the discs.
Some of the episodes are fun, especially “The Ladybugs” in which Uncle Joe attempts to capitalize on Beatlemania by forming a rock group with his nieces. It’s fun to watch the girls don wigs, and rock out, but like many other episodes in this first season, it is the performances that make this episode enjoyable, as the plot and details are extremely weak.
Along with the talented cast, the first season also includes some fun guest appearances by a pre-Batman Adam West, Ken Osmond from Leave it to Beaver, and a young Dennis Hopper.
Recommendation: Petticoat Junction has always had a strong and loyal following, and though the first season was certainly not the best of the series, the insightful bonus material makes this new release well worth owning.