Dead Stars, Dead Television

January 24, 2008

Lost in the news about Heath Ledger's mysterious dropping dead, you may have caught a flattering obituary for Suzanne Pleshette. Lost behind even that was the death of Allan Melvin, who you might remember as Alice's boyfriend Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch.

Until I saw this tidbit today, I never knew his name, but Allan Melvin was constantly in reruns that I watched growing up. In the past week, I saw him on two different episodes of Andy Griffith -- once as an army sergeant trying to enlist Earnest T. Bass, and once as a robber of some sort who was trying to hide out in Mayberry. Without checking his IMDB page, I could definitely remember him as Sam the butcher, Sgt. Hacker in Golmer Pyle USMC, and as Archie Bunker's recurring friend.

(Speaking of Golmer Pyle USMC, I'm probably the only one ever to have seen all 5 or 6 years' worth of episodes. It never dawned on my while watching this as a kid how unlikely Golmer Pyle as a marine would be. It was a fish-out-of-water show as much as Green Acres. Even more unlikely, Golmer and his Sergeant were located at the same base for all of these years, and Golmer never rose above the rank of Private.)

Melvin made his living bouncing from episode to episode on shows where the producers liked him, but TV fans today would never let a show get away with having a guy play different characters in different episodes. A couple of seasons ago, I started checking nerdy sites about Lost, and the die-hard fans not only know the islanders who sort of hover in the background, but they have pretty educated theories about where these people were seated on the plane. And on that show, you're supposed to notice when a person shows up in person A's flashback in season 2, and then shows up again in unrelated person B's flashback in season three. Thus my need to check such things on the internet.

I've become a big fan of these running dramas with huge, huge casts, with entangled plots that almost require a level of study. There are only a few shows that do this well. I just started watching the remake of Battlestar Galactica on the strength of 5 or 6 recommendations. It's the same way, and like Lost, it features at least five hotties.

I'm also going to go back to DVD's of The Wire. I've watched about half of the first season, but by the third season, it was getting praise from all quarters. ESPN's Bill Simmons -- who favors bad television, still watching new seasons of The Real World even though he's my age -- and Slate political columnist David Platz, who probably favors better programming than that, both called season 4 of The Wire "The best thirteen hours of television ever made." The half of one season that I watched was pretty good. And if this writer's strike continues a lot longer, I'll have plenty of time to watch the whole series.

Otherwise, there's nothing exciting me on the television at all. The bad singer shows on American Idol will be fun for the next week or two, but after that, I'm not excited. Celebrity Apprentice is awful. The game show with the people who have to be truthful verified by lie detector kept my attention for fifteen minutes, but it's bad too.

So I'm left watching reruns of shows featuring Allan Melvin.

If you have a forgotten jewel of a show that I can get on DVD, please let me know.