Hazel: The Complete Second Season

DVD Review: Hazel – The Complete Second Season

In DVD's by Rory L. AronskyLeave a Comment

Like the single-panel Saturday Evening Post comic strips on which it’s based, Hazel traffics only in small amusements, never steady, hearty laughter. The times when big laughter comes are dishearteningly brief and then more time is spent waiting for that again, only to find that the series is satisfied simply with telling mostly frustratingly drawn-out stories that show that the sitcom format has not been grasped by the writers tasked with this adaptation. In “Rosie’s Contract,” the second episode of this second season set released by Shout! Factory, which gets large applause for at least continuing to keep pop culture history wondrously alive, George Baxter (Don DeFore), lawyer and family man, does not want to give big-hearted, boisterous and blunt family maid Hazel (the inimitable Shirley Booth) a contract, after she learns that fellow maid Rosie, who works for a doctor, has gotten a five-year contract. This naturally leads to Hazel wanting one, but knowing that Mr. B will not agree to it, and yet George sees the benefit of it, and then all involved see how disastrous it could be by way of far too many nightmare sequences in one episode, experienced by George and Hazel. At best in amusement, the episode features a cameo by Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet in one of Hazel’s nightmares, but at worst, it’s still a long episode to slog through, despite it only being 23 minutes. It may be an unfair comparison, but I Love Lucy, when it was building up to the big laughs, gave enough in smaller laughs to make one want to know what would happen next.

Hazel: The Complete Second SeasonAnd yet, those small amusements sometimes make certain episodes worth watching, most especially “Hazel’s Day Off,” in which George is forced to work on a children’s playground contract demanded by  Arden, a rich big shot who has no time to be nice, no time to understand that other people might have things they want to do, no time to just slow down and take time to realize all this. After delivering lunch to Mr. B at his office, Hazel bumps into Arden and falls down, breaking a heel. Arden begrudgingly agrees to drive her over to a shoe repair shop, and then she takes over the day, setting out to show Arden that to just take time to enjoy life makes life even more worth living. The casting of actor James Westerfield as Arden is what makes this the most enjoyable episode of the second season. Obviously, Arden has to be a grump and look like one too. Westerfield gets that down perfectly. But after spending the day with banana splits, meeting a man who sells puppets, and taking a walk in a park, it looks like Arden smiled once in his life before he became such a busy man, and now he smiles. He remembers fishing at a lake, and he was once a plumber, so Hazel asks him to come to the house to fix a broken water heater and he happily agrees. Never on any other TV show will you see a man so happy with plumbing.

Sitcoms today don’t take as much time to focus on one story. There’s an “A” story, and a “B” story, and it’s of benefit for those shows with multiple characters, but Hazel reminds us that sitcoms in the ‘60s and before used to focus entirely on one story, and if there was a separate thread, it tied into the main story. Case in point is the episode “The Natural Athlete,” which may be the first sitcom episode at a bowling alley that’s actually about bowling! We learn that Hazel is the local bowing center’s tournament champion, and Baxter son Harold (Bobby Buntrock) admires Hazel for it, which disappoints George, who hoped to have his son’s admiration for his golf game. George decides to take up bowling again after giving it up after college, taking lessons at that bowling center under the name Willard Armbruster so as not for Hazel to find out that he eventually wants to play in the tournament and win, hoping to impress Harold. The one thing that can be said about Hazel without reservation is that actors in guest roles were always accurately cast. The man at the counter who informs George about what he needs again to get back into bowling looks like he’s worked at that bowling alley for years, and Jack (William Zuckert), George’s bowling teacher (second only to Hazel, who taught him), looks like he’s been at it for years as well. In fact, besides being responsible for most of the rare laughs during the second season, Booth herself successfully makes Hazel look like she’s been bowling for so long, and has undoubtedly loved it all this time. Same with gin rummy. Same with running the Baxter household and the intimacy she shares with them. There is no class separation here. She’s one of the family, calling Dorothy Baxter (Whitney Blake) “Missy,” a nickname, and flummoxing George many times over, but ultimately, what she sets out to do is right. It’s nice when it works, such as in “Hazel’s Day Off,” and may very well have been a comfort to those who watched the series when it originally aired from 1961 to 1966, regularity in a world beginning to seismically change, but today, it offers too little compared to what came before and what has come after.

It’s appropriate that this four-disc set has no extras. It should stand on its own, a time capsule of what once was, a reminder of the fine performer Shirley Booth was. Not a fine sitcom, but with Booth, it’s tolerable. However, only “tolerable” is not good for a sitcom. Curiosity about it is soon eliminated after two or three episodes. But Booth tried, no matter what. You have to admire that kind of dedication.