Family Affair Friday(ish): Season 2, Episode 19, “The Fish Watchers,” 1/22/1968

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Written by: Ted Sherdeman and Jane Klove. Directed by: Charles Barton.

At breakfast in the Davis apartment, the kids ask how long Uncle Bill will be “living at his office.” Cissy explains that he’s not actually living there, and French reassures the kids that Bill’s time away from home doesn’t reflect a lack of affection for them.

We cut to the office where Bill is wearing his Denim Shirt of Manual Labor and Occasional Ass-Kicking.

We cut to the office where Bill is wearing his Denim Shirt of Manual Labor.

We learn that a serious problem is keeping Bill away from home. A thief has been plundering one of his company’s construction sites, getting away with 10,000 feet electric conduit and 100 gross of outlet boxes. (That’s an oddly specific bit of scripting.)

Bill has a plan, though–he’s posing as one of his own workers to catch the thief red-handed. Why this is a better plan than involving the police, he doesn’t say.

Calling home to let French know he’ll be working late again, Bill seems distressed to learn that all the children are out for the evening. Jody and Cissy are each visiting a friend, and Buffy is helping a neighbor with domestic tasks.

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Bill heads to the construction site, where he makes a new friend–a welder who would rather be a draftsman.

They eat together, which Bill probably regrets since this welder likes to announce each food item as he removes it from his lunchbox.

Bill feels inadequate because his main course is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Bill feels inadequate because his main course is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (French must have decided it was easiest to pack Bill the same lunch the kids get.)

When Bill returns home late that night, he frets to French about the way the family is disintegrating in his absence.

He also asks French to make tomorrow's lunch "fancier." Poor French sets his alarm for 4:30 a.m. so he can fry chicken.

He also asks French to make tomorrow’s lunch “fancier.” Poor French sets his alarm for 4:30 a.m. so he can fry chicken.

The next day, Bill learns that Welder Guy is also a parenting expert. Hearing Bill complain about spending so much time away from the kids, he suggests that a shared project would bring the family together. Welder guy’s idea of a suitable project? Tropical fish.

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Bill takes this advice to heart. When he returns home, he presents the twins with a couple of fish in a jar.”

Jody calls the “live sardines,” but Bill explains that they are guppies and they originated in Trinidad.

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Jody gets a cute line here: “Just like our teacher said…everybody but the Indians came from someplace else.”

Bill also tells them that one of the guppies will soon give birth to 60 or 70 babies.

In preparation for the blessed event, they buy an aquarium and Bill dumps the fish in. (I don't think that's how you're supposed to transfer fish, is it?)

In preparation for the blessed event, they buy an aquarium and Bill dumps the fish in. (I don’t think that’s how you’re supposed to transfer fish, is it?)

They also head to the pet store to get a few more occupants for the aquarium.

The pet store clerk lets them pick out various species, based solely on looks, without offering any advice.

The Davis family must have chosen this pet store for its Family Affair green walls rather than for its customer service.  The clerk lets them pick out various species, based solely on looks, without offering any guidance.

The kids find their aquarium entertaining–for a little while. Soon, they want to start spending time with friends again, although they feel an obligation to “watch Uncle Bill’s fish for him.”

The downside of fish ownership soon becomes clear.

For one thing, the twins can only look on in horror as other fish devour the newborn guppy babies.

For one thing, the twins can only look on in horror as other fish devour the newborn guppy babies.

(I love this scene. It sums up my childhood experience with fish perfectly.)

Then Jody discovers a sick goldfish in the middle of the night and has to wake up Uncle Bill for help.

Then Jody discovers a sick goldfish in the middle of the night and has to wake up Uncle Bill for help. (Random note: I like Bill’s bedding.)

Bill remembers that his mother used to put sick goldfish in saltwater, so he gives it a try and averts disaster.

The next day on the job site, Bill’s know-it-all welder friend says the fish would be healthier if they got to eat some live food, like mosquito larvae.

This results in an implausible late-night attack by mosquitoes on every Davis family member.

This only results in an implausible late-night attack by mosquitoes on every Davis family member.

Fortunately, Bill’s work problems are coming to an end.

He finally catches the thieves in action and gives them a good beat-down.

He finally catches the thieves in action and gives them a good beat-down.

Revealing his identity, he offers his welder friend a drafting position, complete with on-the-job training.

At home, the kids are relieved that they don't have to babysit Bill's fish anymore.

At home, the kids are relieved that they don’t have to babysit Bill’s fish anymore.

He explains that he got the fish for all of them because families should do things together. Buffy suggests that the whole family learn to sew, as she’s doing, and Jody thinks the whole family should play toy soldiers with him.

"We never realized we should be interested in the same things," a puzzled Cissy says.

“We never realized we should be interested in the same things,” a puzzled Cissy says.

Bill admits that they can pursue their individual interests without sacrificing family closeness.

Everyone seems relieved to hear that Bill's giving the fish to the welder guy.

Everyone seems relieved to hear that Bill’s giving the fish to the welder guy.

Normally, I would worry about the Davis tendency to acquire and relinquish pets at a furious rate, but I think the welder guy is getting what’s coming to him.

Commentary

This episode’s writers must have had experience with fish and kids. They did a good job portraying the gruesome learning opportunities an aquarium can provide.

It was nice to see Bill so active in this episode; for the past several weeks, he’s mostly been reacting to the kids.

Guest Cast

Scott Norvell: Ray Baxter. Bookkeeper: Gene Tyburn. Salesman: Gene Barton. Guard: Howard Culver. Driver: Jack Lilley. Helper: Guy Way.

Baxter was in The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! with Brian Keith and Johnnie Whitaker.

Uncle Bill's bookkeeper has a certain geeky charm.

Gene Tyburn as Uncle Bill’s bookkeeper has a certain geeky charm.

Lilley, who plays a driver here, appeared in many episodes of Little House on the Prairie as a stagecoach driver. He also worked as a stuntman and an animal wrangler.

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6 thoughts on “Family Affair Friday(ish): Season 2, Episode 19, “The Fish Watchers,” 1/22/1968

  1. Whew! For a moment there, I was worried that the welder guy was going to be one of the robbers. That would probably make Uncle Bill cry into his giant diamond-patterned pillows.

    • Amy says:

      Lol about the pillows! It did seem like the Welder Guy would be guilty, especially since he talked about money troubles in his first scene. I guess it was intentional misdirection on the writers’ part.

  2. Orschel52 says:

    Very sweet how Uncle Bill sits up with a worried Jody all night in that uncomfortable chair.

    • Amy says:

      That was a sweet scene. It seems he would be more likely to carry a sleeping Jody back to bed, but he was probably so tired from working overtime that he conked out himself. Brian Keith does a good job looking increasingly weary as the episode progresses.

  3. Welder Guy looks remarkably like Larry Hooper in that top snapshot, but then Hoopy wouldn’t have had time off from Lawrence Welk to make a guest appearance so I guess that’s not him. Another episode I have not seen, but will do after this review. :-)

    • Amy says:

      No, Welder Guy is Scott Norvell, who had a very short and undistinguished career in television. I looked up images of Larry Hooper, and I can definitely see a resemblance.

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