I was thinking about how many TV shows I’ve gone to the trouble of watching in their entirety. And it turns out to be quite a few. I’m going to try this out and see if I get some decent posts out of it. But what does a series review even mean? I choose to look at the pilot, the main (i.e. names in the opening credits) characters, how those rosters change over time, and finish up with a look at the series finale.
Gilligan’s Island was composed of 98 episodes from 1964 to 1967. (99 if you include a failed pilot with a slightly different cast.) Think about that. More than thirty episodes a year! They definitely don’t make them like that anymore. The show was about as high concept as you can get. Seven folks from different walks of life are stranded on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean after a storm throws the boat way off course. Hijinks ensue. (They were all white and straight, of course. This was the 1960s, after all.) But who are these castaways?
Gilligan is our every-man, a first mate on a tour boat. He’s sweet and naive, and also kind of dumb. He’s our proxy for the youth culture. (Deadly sin: Sloth)
The Skipper (aka Jonas Grumby) is the captain of the boat. He’s got a temper, but his abuse of Gilligan is limited to smacking him on the head with his captain’s hat. Skipper represents the working class, including veterans. (Deadly sin: Wrath)
Thurston Howell III is an insanely wealthy industrialist who never quite realizes that his off-island wealth really has no meaning on the island. He represents the class of power brokers. (He’s also the first indication I’ve noticed in TV of the occasional trope of a Harvard graduate being a little too proud of their alma mater.) (Deadly sin: Greed)
Lovey Howell is Thurston’s mildly ditzy wife. She is a stand in for society culture, often complaining about things that just “aren’t done”. (Deadly sin: Gluttony)
Ginger Grant is our resident siren, a Hollywood starlet still wearing an evening gown. She’s our representation of the entertainment industry: pretty, but largely hollow. (Deadly sin: Lust)
The Professor (Roy Hinkley) is a no-nonsense teacher with encyclopedic knowledge on enough topics to make it plausible that these people could survive. He represents academia. (Deadly sin: Pride)
Finally, Maryann Summers is the wholesome, baked apple pie, girl-next-door stand-in for middle America. (Deadly sin: Envy)
As the series progressed, no one left the island, and no one arrived (except episode by episode). There was also precious little character growth. Thurston’s avaricious edge was sanded down slowly. Professor slowly developed a sense of humor. But that’s about it. Week in and week out, there were adventures, interpersonal drama, and very occasionally the tiniest bit of romance. The lack of any sexual chemistry between anyone is, perhaps, the most dated thing about the show to modern eyes.
What does work is the comedic delivery, the combination of sly word play and slapstick, the extraordinarily light touch that a show from the mid 60s could get away with when talking about matters of life and death. I wouldn’t dwell too much on how it portrayed native peoples (who were usually headhunters) or that Japanese soldier who thought WWII was still going on. Or even how the women on the island have dramatically less agency than the men. These are products of the times, not of the show.
How did the show end? It kind of didn’t. The last episode was the one where Gilligan pretends to be a woman to appease a king from another island who wants a “white goddess”. It’s not a memorable episode, except for the fact that I probably yell out “four!” in a falsetto every six months or so. Don’t know why that stuck in my brain for decades.
There were TV movies after the fact that rescued the castaways, then stranded them again, then had them create a resort on the island. They are mostly bad. In retrospect, I prefer to remember the show as a show. And I did enjoy it, though I have to assume the fact that I watched it as a kid is a big part of it. Nostalgia, y’all.