FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (15)
May 20, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite TV shows of the Sixties (in our periodization: 1964–1973).
GILLIGAN’S ISLAND | 1964–1967
Gilligan’s Island, whose apposite alliteration evokes gullible and gills, was a slapstick comedy about a stranding that revealed a heart of darkness. The situation: day trippers out of Honolulu blown off course by a sudden storm. Beached on an “uncharted desert isle,” they must somehow escape. The comedy: they never escape! Ha ha ha!
But the island’s castaways are not just any day trippers. They were plucked from previous movie genres and dropped into the small screen.
- The Skipper is a stock WWII sergeant: a man of great common sense, who sees it is what it is, and gets on with it. In fact Alan Hale Jr.s father, whom he closely resembled, played Sgt. McGee in 1943’s This Is the Army.
- Mr. and Mrs. Howell are alcoholic millionaires, sunsetting in the wake of Nick and Nora. Their money, of course, means nothing on the island.
- Mary Ann is a beach blanket baby, a Mouseketeer-manqué; while Ginger is a bombshell, all eyeliner and bodycon. On the island, though, “star” is just another failed navigational aid.
- The Professor hails not from Hollywood but from educational films. He’s here to DIY various technological hacks that will definitely rescue them this time, until Gilligan screws something up.
- The titular Gilligan is cast in the mold of the hapless WWII private. As played by Bob Denver, Gilligan is the paradox of uncertainty in human form. The uncertainty principle identifies Gilligan as the observing element that alters every perfect system, sending it careening off course; and the certainty principle guarantees that Gilligan will do this every time.
For me, the standout — and most traumatic — instance of the castaways’ failure to escape was a February 1967 episode, “Splashdown!”, which featured orbiting astronauts. The gang spells “S O S” on the beach in flaming logs, and lights it precisely when the capsule is calculated to be almost directly overhead. Gilligan, however, manages to set himself on fire and flail around so the message spells out “S O L” instead. “Oh look!” the astronauts exclaim as they fly over. “SOL! That must be the islanders’ way of saying hello.” Notably, “S.O.L.” is also military slang — dating to WWI — that means shit out of luck.
The castaways never did escape the island. Those of us who grew up watching the show in reruns, on an endless loop, experienced it as a nightmare of eternal recurrence served up as an After-School PTSD Special.
And the song remains the same today. The melancholy undertow is captured perfectly by Stairway to Gilligan’s Island (2020), a mashup by Little Roger and the Goosebumps and here covered by Puddles Pity Party (an America’s Got Talent quarterfinalist). Like the show, this is existential abyss as entertainment: the lady’s progression of minor chords offer empty purchase for the castaway’s futile quest. She’ll keep buying, and they’ll keep trying, and we’ll keep tuning in.
FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Lynn Peril on DARK SHADOWS (1966–1971) | Mark Kingwell on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964–1968) | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on I DREAM OF JEANNIE (1965–1970) | Luc Sante on SECRET AGENT/DANGER MAN (1964–1968 seasons) | Erin M. Routson on THE PATTY DUKE SHOW (1963–1966 run) | Gordon Dahlquist on HAWAII FIVE-O (1968–1973 seasons) | Annie Nocenti on GET SMART (1965–1970) | Sara Driver on THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964–1966) | Carlo Rotella on MANNIX (1967–1973 seasons) | Adam McGovern on JULIA (1968–1971) | Mimi Lipson on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (1970–1973 seasons) | Josh Glenn on BATMAN (1966–1968) | Tom Nealon on HOGAN’S HEROES (1965–1971) | Miranda Mellis on THE ODD COUPLE (1970–1973 seasons) | Peggy Nelson on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1964–1967) | Susan Roe on THE BRADY BUNCH (1969–1973 seasons) | Michael Grasso on UFO (1970–1973) | Richard McKenna on DOOMWATCH (1970–1972) | Adrienne Crew on BEWITCHED (1964–1972) | Michael Lewy on STAR TREK (1966–1969) | Greg Rowland on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (1970–1973 seasons) | David Smay on THE MONKEES (1966–1968) | Vijay Parthasarathy on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1964–1966 seasons) | Carl Wilson on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (1967–1973 seasons) | Jessamyn West on EMERGENCY! (1972–1973 seasons).
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