It feels a bit foolish lending a critical eye to “Gilligan’s Island,” a mainstay of afternoon and early evening reruns to hundreds of thousands of school kids in the 1960s and early ’70s, most of whom outgrew the skein as easily as a pair of cheap sneakers. To a child’s mind, “Gilligan” was pure genius — bumbling antics, the Professor’s inventiveness, the sex appeal of the women — a giant piece of illogical eye candy. Fighting through that haze of nostalgia, with the aid of creator Sherwood Schwartz’s commentary, the attraction of the castaways lie in very traditional comedy construction and a burgeoning sense that people from all walks of life can live together.
The treasure on Warner Home Video’s “Complete First Season” is the never-aired pilot with different actors portraying the Professor and the single gals with Schwartz’s dissection of “Gilligan’s” right and wrong elements. He saw the theme song, originally cut in calypso style, as crucial to establishing the storyline. That argument mollified Eye execs concerned that viewers wouldn’t understand why these seven people were stranded on an island.
Jim Backus was the only actor Schwartz had his eye on when he created “Gilligan,” and his Thurston Howell III withstands the test of time. Alan Hale invested his life into the character of the skipper and as tailor-made as it appeared for him, Schwartz says he was cast out of 30 or 40 tryouts because he brought the proper blend of bluster and command to the role. With Bob Denver as Gilligan, the two had a Laurel-and-Hardy element. Their interplay, rather than the writing, can still command a chuckle.
Schwartz’s commentary only runs through one of the 37 episodes on this set of three two-sided DVDs. But it limns the careful construction that Schwartz, via editing and his directors John Rich, Richard Donner and Jack Arnold brought to what remains a piece of goofball fluff.