Father Knows Best: Season One

Father Knows Best: Season One

B+

Father Knows Best: Season One

Robert Young had the kind of voice, face, and posture that were beyond paternal; he was like an über-father, dispensing wisdom and one-liners from inside an impeccably tailored and laundered two-piece suit. First on radio and then on television, Young played the head of Father Knows Best's Anderson family, and while he was capable of sarcasm and peevishness, it was only because he knew he had all the right answers, if only his lousy, self-centered kids would listen. ("It's times like this I wish I had met you before I met your mother," he'd grumble at his son.) Mainly, Young bided his time, waiting for the little life-lessons he planted in his children's heads to take root.

The 26 episodes on the Father Knows Best: Season One DVD set have the direct, explanatory quality of industrial films, and often their plots are indistinguishable from edutainment classics like "A Date With Your Family" and "Posture Pals." One early episode even has Young trying to convince his son and two daughters to volunteer more, because, "Active participation is the key to good citizenship!" The difference is that the Anderson family is a little better-defined, almost like characters in a comic strip. Besides Young, there's Jane Wyatt as his chipper, dapper wife; Elinor Donahue as his romance-obsessed, eerily efficient eldest daughter; Billy Gray as his earnest, mistake-prone jock son; and Lauren Chapin as his weepy, scheming little girl. The children constantly jockey for position, and bark insults like "Ah, turn blue!" at each other, but what makes Father Knows Best such an enduring piece of Americana is how by the closing credits of each episode, everyone would come around, thanks to Young's good heart and unwavering leadership. Though undeniably corny, Father Knows Best can also be so touching at times that it's almost a genre unto itself: The sitcom tearjerker.

Key features: Interviews with Donahue and Chapin, home movies from Young's archive, a special "buy bonds" episode, and the pilot for a later unsuccessful Young series.

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