In 1964, CBS was cruising with hits such as the rural comedy The Andy Griffith Show, and the fish-out-of-water hit The Beverly Hillbillies. So why not take a supporting character from Mayberry and make him the proverbial fish out of water? CBS did just that by taking gas-station attendant Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) and placing him in the United States Marine Corps, as seen in the final episode of season four of The Andy Griffith Show. Throw in an overbearing yet bumbling Sergeant (Frank Sutton) and you’ve got yourself a hit.
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was indeed a hit for CBS lasting five seasons. On March 15th 2015 Paramount repackaged the previously released five seasons, 150 episodes, and sent the entire series to store shelves.
Like every television series, there are good and bad episodes to be found here, but the comedic chemistry between Nabors and Sutton is what sustains this series. Sutton plays the stereotypical drill sergeant perfectly but adds many characteristics and the sensibility of Ralph Kramden as he constantly looks for opportunities, and subsequently plans and schemes to get ahead, make a deal, win a bet, etc. The naïve and extremely ethical Pyle always manages to get in the way and foil the plans of Sergeant Carter while jocularity ensues.
To the credit or discredit of the series, depending on your perspective, the writers managed to avoid the actual subject of war while the conflict in Viet Nam was raging. Other than maneuvers, which were milked for all the physical comedy Nabors could muster, the subject of actual battle was not broached. This was a situation comedy and this was the vehicle they rode into the battle for ratings, which Gomer Pyle was quite successful at, having never fallen out of the top ten in the Nielsen Ratings.
Nabors would eventually go AWOL, choosing to leave the show while it was still a tremendous hit (Number two in the ratings) in 1969 to pursue other opportunities. CBS would hold onto its star by giving him his own variety series that ran from 1969 through 1971.
Complete-series releases are generally for original fans of the show or those who came to appreciate it in syndication. Thus, it is the bonus material that can often be an enticing draw to those who already know all the episodes and are reticent to spend their money. Unfortunately the bonus material found here was previously released with each individual season. Though there was cooperation and involvement from Nabors, there is not much here to speak of.
The backdoor-pilot episode from The Andy Griffith Show is included with audio commentary by Nabors. The storyline is a bit forced with a subplot where Andy manipulates the situation by inferring that Gomer may be related to a general. The commentary is awkward and Nabors seems uncomfortable with interrupting dialog. One of the most interesting pieces of bonus material accompanies the pilot. Nabors introduction of the series is curiously enjoyable as he indicates that Gomer won’t be quite as dumb and disrespectful in the series as he was in the pilot. Other episodes feature audio commentary by Nabors and Ronnie Schell, who played Gomer’s pal and eventual corporal Duke Slater. Select episodes feature audio intros by Nabors. These can be a bit challenging to find on the disk menu and are far more cute than informative.
Other bonus material includes a clip from The Lucy Show where Lucy is in the Marines and an appearance by Gomer Pyle serves as the punchline to a joke. An interview of Nabors by David Frost is not reflective of Frost’s ability to do an interview, but does display Nabors ability to shine in any situation. Well, almost any. The clip from his variety show is sadly the weakest piece of material in the set. A horribly contrived sketch with Nabors and Sutton slipping back into their roles with Sutton as the overbearing brother-in-law chastising Nabors for his naiveté in renting rooms in the boarding house they run. The sketch also features an appearance by Ronnie Schell.
What is fun for both fans and those new to the series is to watch the episodes and spot not only comedic legends such as Carol Burnett and Don Rickles, but also stars of the future such as Rob Reiner, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, Wayne Rogers, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Pat Morita, and a very young Barry Williams. Many friends from Mayberry would also make appearances.
Recommendation: Yes, fans that have purchased individual season can be frustrated by the lack of new material, and Paramount should be chastised for editing some of the musical numbers from the series due to the inability, or more likely the lack of effort, to obtain the rights to the music. Nonetheless, for the unjaded, this is good stuff.
Many may scoff at the simplicity of the fish-out-of-water premise, but at its core, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. is solid comedy executed by a team of talented actors who knew their jobs. Nabors and Sutton played off each other in a comedic dance worthy of some of the legends in the industry. This series is worth owning and watching and deserves far more credit for the talents displayed than it has received from those who dismiss the rural comedies of the sixties.