The Official First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
f all the “rural” sitcoms of the ‘60s (the series revolving around good ol’ fashioned country folks), “Petticoat Junction” is the one that you hear about the least nowadays. Even though it ran for an impressive seven seasons on CBS, it just doesn’t get the same kind of love as “The Beverly Hillbillies” does. Even more depressing, however, is that even its spin-off has managed to maintain a higher profile over the years. (Surely you’re familiar with a little show called “Green Acres.”) My theory as to why it doesn’t get as much respect from modern audiences: it doesn’t have a memorable enough hook.
Look at “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It’s about a bunch of hillbillies who made a bundle when they struck oil and promptly moved to Beverly Hills. Look at “Green Acres.” It’s about a bunch of big city folks who decide to throw caution to the wind and move to a rural farm. Those are simple premises that promise instant comedy. But what of “Petticoat Junction?” Well, it’s about small-town folks who live in a, uh, small town; and sometimes big-city folks come to visit, but sometimes they don’t.
See what I mean?
If you dig a little deeper than the one-sentence description required by today’s viewers, however, you’ll find that “Petticoat Junction” holds up pretty well as a picture of small-town life. Kate Bradley (Bea Benaderet) runs the Shady Rest Hotel with the help of her three daughters – Billie Jo (Jeannine Riley), Bobbie Jo (Pat Woodell) and Betty Jo (Linda Kaye) – and her uncle Joe, played by Edgar Buchanan. The Shady Rest is the only hotel in town, so while it doesn’t necessarily do a booming business, at least it doesn’t have any competition when folks ride in on the famous Hooterville Cannonball and need a place to stay.
The Hooterville Cannonball is the driving force of the first season, since we learn that the train is part of the CF&W Railroad Company. The problem is that it’s on a line to which the company has paid little attention over the years, and now they want to shut it down. The company’s grumpy vice president, Homer Bedloe (Charles Lane), comes to town with the intent of bringing an end to the Cannonball. He isn’t entirely swayed over to the unorthodox methods of the train’s crew -- like stopping at the Shady Rest for lunch whether the passengers want to do so or not -- but he ends up letting them stay in business. For the time being. The train ends up being the gimmick of the show, with various folks coming into town for a spell (and thereby offering up guest roles for Dennis Hopper and a pre-“Batman” Adam West). But just try selling that concept to kids today; most of them have never even ridden on a train.
Consider the first season of “Petticoat Junction” to be a first cousin of “The Andy Griffith Show,” providing a look at small-town life through the eyes of both its residents and its visitors. Later years found the show intertwining with both “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but Season One was more about establishing the series’ own characters and the towns of Pixley, Hooterville and Petticoat Junction. Will these 38 episodes – yes, there were 38 freaking episodes in the first season! – truly make you “forget about your cares,” as the theme song suggests? Maybe not, but it’s a pleasant excursion nonetheless, one that will make you wonder why “Petticoat Junction” isn’t revisited more often.
Special Features: Given that Benaderet and Buchanan are long since deceased, as is creator Paul Henning, it’s a pleasant surprise that we have any special features at all, but CBS/Paramount has gathered quite a lot of contributions from Pat Woodell and Linda Kaye, who played Bobbie Jo Bradley and Betty Jo Bradley, respectively. The pair sat down for interviews, as well as to film episodic introductions and intros for the cast’s original sponsor spots for Ivory Soap and Tide, the photo gallery, and a 1990 interview with Henning. The intros are nice, but it’s the interviews that prove the most enlightening overall, particularly their tales of Adam West and Dennis Hopper working on the show, their revelation that Sharon Tate auditioned for the role of Bobbie Jo, and learning about JFK’s assassination while on the set. The fact that they actually used to have to call out the National Guard to protect these ladies when they did public appearances is a reminder of just how popular “Petticoat Junction” once was.