The Jimmy Stewart Show is one of those forgotten oddities that I can thank the Warner Archive for rediscovering. The half-hour domestic sitcom ran from 1971-1972, and this set contains all 24 episodes.
Jimmy Stewart is an actor that it takes some maturity to appreciate, since he’s not flashy in his performance, but he’s always worth the attention. I enjoy seeing him wherever he appears — from a young man in a Thin Man movie to romantic rival in The Philadelphia Story or Hitchcock lead in Vertigo or anchor of a holiday classic in It’s a Wonderful Life — although the period societal and generation gap references here took some getting used to.
The audience for this is likely those looking for good, old-fashioned, family-safe television just like they watched when they were kids. It’s not many shows these days where you’ll see a father saying grace with his family around the dinner table. On the other hand, Stewart talking to the camera at the beginning of each episode, to introduce the characters and premises, is reminiscent of the modern fake-docu-comedy style. Particularly when he does it from the studio or holding a script. The pacing here, though, is remarkably subdued. This was made long before short scenes and quick cuts and abbreviated attention spans became the norm. The show doesn’t produce laughs so much as quiet smiles.
Stewart is a college professor, which accounts for the “changing times” references as he interacts with his students. (Very odd to hear the older Mr. Stewart talking about a young woman needing to put on a bra.) The woman playing Stewart’s wife, Julie Adams, is almost 20 years younger than Stewart, and it shows. Combined with the long-ago tendency to patronizing gender and family relations, sometimes their interaction seems more like father/daughter than couple, although affection for each other is thoughtfully written into the episodes.
The family structure is also a bit odd — Stewart and wife have an eight-year-old, and Stewart’s oldest son does too. So there are two little boys running around, one of whom is actually uncle to the other. (And why did Stewart have two kids 20 years apart?) The elder son Peter (James Daly) and his wife Wendy (Ellen Geer) wind up having to move in with dad when their house burns down in the first episode, to allow for more family togetherness.
Still, Stewart rides a bike and plays accordion and wears a cowboy hat and does other charming on-screen things, while trying to cope with everyone wanting the bathroom or taking his child fishing or encountering a pushy co-ed or trying to lay down the law at the dinner table. Every so often, there’s a distinct sign of different times, such as when the professors, old men in sport coats, go to lunch at a nearby joint where they play chess, smoke cigars, and drink beer. Or when visitors smoke in the guest room, or parking tickets cost $4.
Another fun thing is spotting the occasional guest star, including both early appearances from people who’d later be more famous (Kate Jackson) and those from the glory days of Hollywood (Cesar Romero, Vincent Price). (The studio provided a review copy.)