Gilligan’s Island: The Complete First Season
June 6, 2006
“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship…”
These are the opening words from one of the most instantly recognizable theme songs in the history of television. It is one that perfectly summarizes the premise of this famous and beloved show: a boatload of people head out on a three-hour tour on the sea. They run into a nasty tropical storm and shipwreck on an uncharted, deserted island. The crew consists of the first mate, Gilligan (Denver), the Skipper (Hale) and their passengers, billionaire Thurston Howell, III (Backus) and his wife Lovey (Schaefer), movie star Ginger Grant (Louise), Mary-Ann (Wells) and the Professor (Johnson). Every episode features the castaways either trying to figure out how to get off the island or encountering strange things and/or people, be it a giant ape, a wanted bank robber or a stranded surfer. Ultimately, Gilligan’s goofy, misguided antics always keep them trapped on the island.
It really is amazing that the show’s writers were able to maintain the premise for so long. Admittedly, it does grow a tad old after, oh, the first couple of episodes but it seemed a pretty funny show when I was a kid. If looked at critically, the show really does fall apart pretty quick. You have to wonder how the Professor could invent or jury rig sewing machines out of coconuts and bamboo but could never make something that would get them all off the island. However, the show really has to be taken on its own level as a formulaic screwball comedy of errors.
Bob Denver and Alan Hale made the show what is was with their comedic antics that recall classic comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello. Denver has an incredible aptitude for physical comedy while Hale delivers memorable reaction shots with his wonderfully animated face. He is the perfect foil for Denver’s pratfalls.
Looking over the episode credits, there are some notable directors that worked on the show. Richard Donner went on to direct such popular films like Superman (1978) and Lethal Weapon (1987). Jack Arnold who produced and directed several episodes is probably best known for Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Ida Lupino was a maverick filmmaker who directed crime films, like The Hitch-Hiker (1953).
Look closely and in the episode, entitled “Gilligan Meets Jungle Boy” and you’ll spot a very young Kurt Russell as a jungle boy who the castaways try to civilize. Many people forget that he was a child actor who cut his teeth on Disney feature films and it is a blast to watch him ham it up with the rest of the cast.
Fans of the show will be especially pleased to see the inclusion of the “Lost Pilot” with an optional audio commentary by the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz. There are several significant differences from the pilot episode that actually aired. For example, the original pilot featured different theme music—a clunky calypso song that Schwartz says he wrote and recorded to show the network how awful it was in comparison to the song we all know and love (the network initially did not like it). The original pilot episode also features different actors in the roles of the Professor, Ginger and Mary Ann. Originally, the two girls were very similar (they were both secretaries), Schwartz realized this and recast them, making one a sultry movie star. His commentary is an informative track as he tells all kinds of anecdotes that will be of interest to fans of the show.
There is also an option to watch “Two on a Raft” with optional “Tropical Tidbits,” a variation on Pop-Up Video as trivia and factoids appear throughout the episode. For example, the S.S. Minnow was named after former F.C.C. head, Newton Minow who referred to television as “America’s vast wasteland.” It’s a fun option that is good for both the casual and diehard fan.
“Gilligan’s Island Survival Guide” is hosted by Buck Thomas. It’s a goofy extra that tests one’s knowledge of how to survive on a deserted tropical island. Thomas comes on like a cheesy Vegas lounge lizard and maintains a completely tongue-in-cheek vibe that is consistent with the irreverent tone of the show.
“Before the Three Hour Tour” is a slight extra that goes through the show’s original treatment and compares each character to what they would become in the pilot episode that eventually aired. However, most of this information is already covered in Schwartz’s audio commentary for the “Lost Pilot.” Redundant and unnecessary padding.
For most of us, a little of Gilligan’s Island goes a long way. However, fans of this classic show will be in their own tropical paradise with thirty-six episodes of the first season presented in crystal clear transfers. While it is not exactly jam-packed with extras, the ones that are included keep with the tone of the show and should appeal to both the casual and dedicated fan.