There are periods of time when a particular joke will be considered so funny or so true that you just hear it everywhere. I remember back a few decades that the following joke was considered very funny, “I just watched that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island but then Gilligan screws it up.” It sounds like the kind of joke that came from a stand-up comedian. And it is supposed to be funny because it’s so true: that was the plot of every episode of the show.
The problem is that that was not the plot of every episode. You see, I just happened to have been given the complete series. And I’ve been really depressed. So I’ve watched a handful of episodes from each season. And I have yet to come upon a single episode where they would get off the island if not for Gilligan’s incompetence. Certainly most of the comedy revolves around Gilligan being an idiot. But destroying their rescue opportunities? Not so much.
What’s been most interesting watching Gilligan’s Island is how few of the plots are about them trying to get off the island at all. It is mostly a show of the adventures of a group of unlikely people trying to “make the best of things” — which, as the song tells us, is an uphill climb. This is a case where I hate the way Frankly Curious is run these days. When I first started the blog, I could have spent a week researching this article. But I only have an hour or so to write this article and go through the whole show. But here are the first six episodes of the second season:
- Gilligan’s Mother-in-Law: in this episode, Gilligan has the opportunity to be the best man at a wedding of a local tribesman. It holds the potential to get the word about the group’s predicament. But when Gilligan finds out that to be the best man he must survive “poison darts at six paces” he refuses. His decision is quite rational, and one that all the other men would have made.
- Beauty Is as Beauty Does: this episode is about the crew holding a beauty pageant to crown Miss Castaway. There is nothing whatsoever about getting off the island. It’s a silly episode even by the standards of Gilligan’s Island.
- The Little Dictator: an exiled South American dictator comes to the Island. He returns to take his country over, promising to rescue the castaways. He succeeds at regaining control, but then is institutionalized when he tells his countrymen about Gilligan’s Island. Yes, they don’t get off the island, but it has nothing to do with Gilligan.
- Smile, You’re on Mars Camera: okay, this one might be counted as an episode where Gillian screws up a rescue. I’ll grant it. But it isn’t technically his fault. He allows a pot of glue to explode, coating everyone in it. But that would have been fine. What destroys the rescue is the overreaction of everyone else, causing them all to be covered with feathers, making it look like the Mars probe was seeing chicken people on Mars
- The Sweepstakes: in this episode, Gilligan finds that a sweepstakes ticket he bought before the “three hour tour” has won and he is a millionaire. Nothing in the episode is about getting off Gillian’s Island.
- Quick Before It Sinks: this episode is all about the Professor thinking that the island is sinking. This is Gilligan’s fault, of course, but it doesn’t have anything to do with getting off the island.
So that’s 50% of the episodes having anything to do with getting off the island, and only 17% that might be considered Gillian’s fault. I don’t suppose it matters all that much. But remembering the show in such a formulaic manner is a great insult to it. That’s not to say that it is a great show. I don’t think I’ve laughed once in the 10 episodes I’ve watched. But that might say more about my depression than the show.