I Netflixified disk 1 of season 1 of Mr. Peepers recently. This was an early TV sitcom that I always wanted to check out, as it starred Wally Cox. I’d seen Cox pop up quite effectively in the role of a mild-mannered but intelligent soul a number of places (he’s the guy who Robert Petrie is running against in a two-part Dick Van Dyke Show, for example; he’s also the voice of Tennesee Tuxedo.) I’d also read Cox’s book My Life as a Young Boy at some point, a used bookstore find in Alaska, although I found it a disappointing read.
Cox is truly funny in this show about a new schoolteacher, but I found the show hard to watch simply because it’s old kinescopes. Most vitally, Cox’s light, high-pitched voice seem to disappear in the audio mix. I’d probably watch more of it if I could pay closer attention to it, but much of my TV time these days is multitasking – either paying attention to young Allison or getting work done. Yes, that makes me a poor reviewer.
Some of the early TVishness of it was funny. On the first episode, as Peepers approaches the school for the first time, the “town” in the background is clearly painted on the backdrop. It’s not that the painting is bad (you’d be surprised at how much painted backdrop you see and don’t notice in TV), it’s that the backdrop is being blown about a bit by something backstage, and to make matters worse it’s not just on one sheet, but on several, so that cracks appear in the town.
The disk does include the original, presumably unaired pilot for the series on the special features. There’s always some interest in seeing how they changed the first attempt into what you see (if you’ve ever seen the original Dick Van Dyke Show pilot with Carl Reiner in the lead role, for example, you see that they took a show of good ideas that didn’t work on the screen and reworked it into one that worked). In this case, the most eye-catching change is who they got to play the gym teacher – in the original pilot, it was an uncredited Walter Matthau.
Tony Randall eventually shows up in the series, although to be frank I didn’t watch enough episodes to catch him. (I operate under a loose rule with my Netflix disks – they go back after a while even if I’ve not finished watching them. It does me little good to have a bunch of disks around that I mean to get around to watching; I can always rent ‘em again later.)
Mr. Peepers is worth checking out if you’re a TV history buff, or if the name Wally Cox has some positive association for you. (He was Tennesee Tuxedo, folks!) Netflixable, or purchasable.