Remember how, for a while in the 80s, the 50s were super cool? I guess it was brought about by Back to the Future, possibly Grease 2, and most definitely Nick at Nite. I was all about that trend, dressing as a “50s girl” for Halloween complete with saddle shoes, and I wanted to be Mary (Shelly Fabares) on The Donna Reed Show.
Some pilot traditions remain unchanged for decades. This one opens with the getting-ready- in-the-morning sequence. The teen daughter, Mary, and younger brother, Jeff, are complaining to their mother over breakfast about how little they see of their pediatrician father. The tone seems pretty naturalistic. In fact, the dialogue is a little rambly by today’s standards. But I can imagine a viewer in the 1950s thinking “Gee whiz, this is a regular family like mine.”
Mr. (Dr.) Donna Reed practices medicine out of his home. In this episode, Donna (whose last name in the show is Stone) wants Dr. Stone’s colleague, Bo, to cover his practice for the weekend so that the family can take a much-needed holiday. Bo and Donna are a little flirty, and if this were on the air today, we would swear they were destined for a hook-up.
Dr. Stone has to cancel the vacation so he can testify for a friend in traffic court. Right away, Donna is off to see the friend in question and solve that one. A pattern is staring to form; Donna is a meddling wife. The men around her tend to fall for her charms. Next, the joke is on Donna when it turns out she is supposed to host a luncheon over the weekend in question, once again putting the family plans in jeopardy. Her husband forgot to give her a phone message, a deed she punishes by making him fix his own dinner. They solve that conundrum, only to run into another one in the form of a sick patient. Donna meddles some more, and that’s solved. Finally, their weekend is cancelled once and for all when Jeff comes down with Chicken Pox. The moral is that all the meddling in the world can’t stop the everyday challenges life throws at parents.
The pilot gives broad brushstrokes of the family and their lifestyle. Through it all, Donna is never wrong, never admits a mistake. It doesn’t look as if the problems of the Stone family are going to be serious ones. While the show is filled with corny jokes and laugh tracks, it’s not all that funny, either. The main characters are so sweet and charming, we can anticipate that the conflicts will arise from other families doing bad stuff. Really, the Stones aren’t much different from the Huxtables or the Seavers. Donna Reed wasn’t breaking new ground at the time, either. Leave it to Beaver and several other family sitcoms were already on the air. That being said, there is obviously something timeless about this show, or we wouldn’t still be watching it.