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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"Will you give me a haircut for a scratched doorknob? It's hardly scratched at all."
DVD ReviewLeave It To Beaver originally aired from 1957-1963, starting out on CBS for a season and ending up its run eventually at ABC. But that's ancient history. If, like me, you grew up in the 1960s, odds are that you discovered the show during its syndication run, back in the pre-cable days when there were only a few channels to choose from. It seemed to fall out of popular rotation as time rolled on, even as the growth of cable channels with plenty of room to fill came along, though by then it seemed the attraction had significantly waned. For new viewers it was old, it was black-and-white. And to most folks under 30 it was a dinosaur of dated, artificial television family life.
And they're not entirely wrong.
But that's the show's charm. Leave It To Beaver is an iconic 1950s creation—with nearly every episode written by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher during its early run—and it centered on the innocent exploits of eight-year-old Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) and his older brother Wally (Tony Dow), along with their immaculately groomed parents Ward (Hugh Beaumont) and June (Barbara Billingsley). The Cleavers live in backlot splendor in the town of Mayfield, one of those Rockwellian television family neighborhoods of large homes and white picket fences. Nine-to-five dad Ward is rarely seen out of his suit and tie, homemaker mom June prepares meals and gardens in flowing dresses and pearls, while Beaver and Wally are left to get involved in minor, non-threatening antics (losing lunch money, raising a rabbit, saving money) that are neatly resolved in 25 minutes, complete with a valuable lesson learned.
And there's nary a raised voice or hurled insult to be found. Even in the episode when Beaver falls in love with his teacher, played with demure 1950s sweater-and-high-heels appeal by Diane Brewster, there is a refreshing absence of anything overtly sexual, as there certainly would be (and has, no doubt) if a television series were to tackle that plot today. And don't even consider the jokes that could come from the name "Beaver Cleaver."
Even with the comparatively simplistic storylines, this debut season is probably the series' strongest, with all the best moments coming from the back-and-forth flow of chatter between Beaver and Wally. It usually starts with a question: "Gee Wally, how come...?" and then there's the response, delivered with a great deadpan drone by Tony Dow, who often has some of the funniest lines. I always liked the way these two characters spoke to each other—with Wally often using terms like "mess around" or "junk" in his answers, as if those vague terms covered the things he didn't know—and their presentation generally seem far less stiff than any of the adult actors on the show.
For trivia buffs, the series is credited as the first to show a toilet on television. That's something of a quirky footnote, and in watching this premier season, there does seem to be quite a bit of bathroom-centric activity in the Cleaver's day-to-day life. Not toilet humor, just situations that find characters in or around bathrooms. It also spawned the ultimate brownoser in the form of Wally's two-faced pal Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond), a mean, selfish type who is mildly abusive to Beaver but always full of asskissing "Gee Mrs. Cleaver, don't you look lovely today" comments. Referring to someone as an "Eddie Haskell-type" is still a perfectly apt description that ironically hasn't changed all that much in over 45 years.
This Season One set from Universal contains all 39 episodes (those were the days, eh?), including the pleasant bonus of a rarely seen pilot episode with Ward and Wally portrayed by different actors. For those in the know the firmly rooted appeal of Leave It To Beaver—especially in the early seasons before Mathers became a teen and the show seemed to awkwardly grow out of itself—was that not so familiar veneer of long ago and far away harmless virtue when television life was Pleasantville simple.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 full-frame transfer are kind of a mixed blessing, because while they are very clean (in terms of a lack of debris and dirt), there seems to be a fair amount of grain. Still, even with some moderate grain—more prominent on some eps than others—the contrast levels look more than presentable for 1950s-era television series.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital mono, and it provides clean, discernible dialogue and the ever present and overused laugh track with a modicum of clipping during the occasional raised voice. Serviceable without being particularly remarkable.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Kolchak: The Night Stalker, American Gothic, The Munsters: The Complete Second Season, Kicking and Screaming
Extras Review: Universal has issued this double-sided three-disc set in thin NexPak cases housed inside a thick, white cardboard slipcase. Each episode is one chapter, which makes a total of 39 for the whole set. As a plus, each ep also includes the pre-credit "tease" of the upcoming story that was generally cut for syndication. Subtitles are available in English or Spanish as well.
Aside from force feeding the same set of assorted (but thankfully skippable) trailers at the start of each disc, the only other extra is found on Disc 3, but it is bizarrely fascinating. It's the original pilot episode for the series, entitled It's a Small World, and the reason for the oddball alternate universe joy is because different actors portray Ward and Wally Cleaver. And if there is anything more comfort-zone-tilting-strange than seeing a June Cleaver-era Barbara Billingsley peck the cheek of someone other than Hugh Beaumont, then I don't know what that could be. Casey Adams gruffly tackles the role of Ward, seeming far less gentle and maybe just a tad threatening, in a repressed, silent anger kind of way, while Paul Sullivan pulls his pants up real high as a whiny version of older bro Wally.
This "lost" ep has the Beaver trying to collect a thousand milk bottle caps in order to win a free bike after getting some bad information from a rough-and-tumble 8th grader, played with perfect pre-teen bullying by Harry Shearer. Future cast members Richard Deacon (Mr. Rutherford) shows up as a flummoxed milk company executive, as does Diane Brewster (Miss Canfield) as a tight-sweatered secretary who seems to, understandably, transfix a young Beaver Cleaver. This ep is also notable for the complete absence of the used and abused laugh track.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsDepending on your age, a show like Leave It To Beaver is akin to comfort food, and this first season set catches it at its nostalgic time capsule best, with a pint-size star at his "aw gee" cutest. This three-disc set from Universal doesn't really have any extras except for the rare series' pilot, with different actors playing Ward and Wally, which is certainly a tangible curiosity for devotees.
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