This year I tried to pick some shows I was not at all interested in watching for the 12 Days of Christmas Episodes. I was hoping to find a surprise favorite. Let’s see if I can find a new appreciation for…. Gilligan’s Island?
Gilligan’s Island – “Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk”
Original airdate: December 19, 1964
When I was a child and TVs had big dials, Gilligan’s Island came on right after Wonder Woman in the local syndication lineup. I loved Wonder Woman but as soon as that Gilligan theme started up, I would yell and cry until somebody with adult hands changed the channel. I think it was the black and white that terrified me, but it also might have been my future TV snob self briefly communicating with me as a four-year-old.
I went through this phase in middle school where I was very into classic TV – My Three Sons, Donna Reed, and the whole Nick at Nite family. But Gilligan’s Island is not a show I can enjoy on any level. And I was prepared to be furious at this episode because I had to buy it on iTunes with real human money that I could have spent on legitimate goods and services and then it’s presented as a clip show. In fact, it’s a look back at their first day on the island, which would seem to me that it’s all clips from the pilot.
BUT. The original pilot didn’t air until 1993. This is a reworking of the unaired episode using some of that original footage, including clear shots of the characters who were cut from the series. The Professor and Mary Ann were different people, which may be why they’re not named in the original theme song. Ginger is the same actress but is a brunette. They all appear sleeping on the boat and a later scene alternates between the Russell Johnson Professor and another actor playing a teacher. So they reshot some footage but cut corners by reusing some existing shots even if they featured people who are not on the show. It’s very weird, but I can’t ding it for being a clip show. That doesn’t mean it’s good, you understand. And keep this in mind, they shot the pilot on November 22, 1963. So they heard about the assassination of JFK, took a moment, and then had Gilligan drop coconuts on the Skipper’s head. It’s a little like how the Dana Carvey bomb Master of Disguise shot the Turtle Club sequence on September 11 and famously took a moment of silence before resuming shooting.
The episode begins with the castaways decorating a makeshift tree and making their Christmas wishes. Nobody but Gilligan thinks to wish for rescue. Also, a lot of TV shows have people making Christmas wishes and I’m fairly certain that’s not really a thing. Sure enough, no sooner does he make a wish than the radio reports that people believed to be survivors of the S.S. Minnow and there’s been a ship dispatched to rescue them.
Gilligan and the Skipper build a fire to help the ship find them and Gilligan inexplicably puts the binoculars in the fire. This leads to reminiscing about their first day on the island. After long stretches, they cut back to the present to show the castaways waiting for rescue and listening to a radio station that is constantly updating the progress of the ship sent to rescue them because this is a radio station aimed only at these seven people. It’s very limited interest.
So there’s a scene with Gilligan actually dropping coconuts on the Skipper’s head which is usually used as a hack reference about how bad TV was and it actually happens four times in under three minutes. The point is that Gilligan climbs a tree to check out the island and sees a boat, so they head in that direction and it is, of course, their boat. Then, he tries to fish while the Professor and Skipper try to fix the radio and transmitter and Gilligan inadvertently hooks both items and throws them into the ocean. It’s exceedingly dumb.
Then they try to start a fire and Gilligan keeps blowing out the match because stupid characters used to be too stupid to live. But then he gets good at fishing and he collects, frankly, too many fish. They’re going to spoil before they can be eaten. He hears a voice coming from a fish and discovers that it swallowed the radio which still works despite being submerged in the water. So all of the castaways talk into the other fish to see if one swallowed the transmitter. The chances of this are remote at best, especially since every fish is smaller than the transmitter. But somehow, they recover it and the Professor gets it working. And then Gilligan destroys it by dropping a load of firewood on top of it because he doesn’t know the difference between putting something on the ground safely and dropping it on valuable electronic equipment. This is so dumb.
This establishes that Gilligan is solely responsible for their plight and yet suffers no consequence.
In the present, it turns out that the ship spotted a different group of castaways on another island and rescued them. So that’s it. That night, the Skipper in a Santa Claus costume (just wait) tells the other castaways that it could be works and they could have ended up in a place where they didn’t have food or maybe never find land and be lost at sea. But the second Santa leaves, the Skipper enters the scene and it turns out that was the real Santa Claus who showed up to bolster their spirits but not to rescue them on his infinite capacity sleigh. Santa can’t have the world know he exists, you see. If they were to return to the world with their true accounts of his sleigh, he’d be ruined. He has to leave them to die on the island. Santa has no choice!
I hate this.
Best Line: “When we get back, I’m having the entire navy demoted.” — Thurston Howell III getting in the episode’s one good joke
Trimming the Tree – They decorate what is describes as a “bamboo tree”, though it clearly isn’t that, with decorations made of seashells.
Santa Claus – The big man appears in person, though they think he’s the Skipper in a costume that he could not possibly have fashioned on the island. These people are too dumb to exist in society.
Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – This was miserable to watch and the message is “Hey, it could be worse. Also, I’m not going to help you.” It’s a Zero.