Written by: Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson. Directed by: Charles Barton.
Welcome to a new year, Family Affair fans. In the real world, the weather may be brutal and the news may be grim, but we can always escape for a few minutes into the Davis family’s sunny environs. After an epic Spanish adventure, the family has settled back into its routine and must only deal with a small domestic crisis (or, as French puts it, “one of life’s little tragedies”).
Why are they meeting in Bill’s den instead of in his office? Probably so that the twins can interrupt them when they return from school with their report cards.
Why Jody’s so eager to show off his mediocre grades is not clear. “Buffy’s the smart one,” Bill bluntly informs Miss Saunders out of the twins’ hearing. He and French make a big fuss over Jody’s grades, he adds, so that they boy doesn’t feel bad.
Random question: When did schools stop using the term arithmetic? I started school around 1973, and we always referred to that subject as math. (Although I didn’t know it before researching for this post, arithmetic refers to the branch of mathematics dealing with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.)
Passing over Buffy’s grades quickly, Bill finds something to praise on Jody’s report card.
That ought to take him far.
After Bill showers Jody with praise, French prepares to take the kids to the park.
Buffy is hoping Peter will be there, too, although Jody tells her she can’t play marbles with them.
(Random fashion observation: It’s about time for the wardrobe department to retire Buffy’s plaid pants, which are rapidly approaching high-water territory. And the girl currently hopping must have bought her dress from the rummage sale in “Fat, Fat the Water Rat.”)
Buffy’s mind isn’t on the game, however. She’s too busy mooning over Peter. When one of her friends teases her about her “boyfriend,” Buffy doesn’t deny her interest.
The feeling isn’t mutual. When Peter passes the hopscotch group on his way to the marble game, Buffy’s friends ask him if he wants to hear a secret.
Then Buffy asks him if he wants to join the hopscotch game.
This, it seems, is his catchphrase–“Nah,” pronounced in an obnoxiously flat, nasal manner. I’m not sure what Buffy sees in him (but he will look pretty good in his teenage years.)
She wonders whether a boy saying only “Hi” and “Nah” to her is a sign that the boy hates her. French responds to her question with unexpected sensitivity, telling her that a young man might not wish to speak to a young lady with other young ladies about. He suggests that Peter might be friendlier when he is in Jody’s company.
Jody takes a surprisingly strong stand against girls playing marbles, arguing that “girls are only good at arithmetic and junk.” (That’s a novel form of gender stereotyping.)
Buffy offers to help Peter with his math, but it only earns her another “Nah.”
Cissy’s got weightier matters on her mind, though–or at least on her head. She’s drying her hair in preparation for a night out with Sharon and some guy named Doug.
“Boys don’t like girls who are smarter than they are,” Sharon pronounces.
Sharon adds that she lost a football player boyfriend for that very reason. (He must have really been dumb.)
(They really caked on Sharon’s pancake makeup this week, didn’t they?)
Buffy’s strictly a one-boy girl, however. All she can do is try to dumb herself down, and she’s successful enough to earn a note home from Miss Cummings the next day.
“So what if we’re dumb–we’re happy,” she chirps to an unresponsive Peter.
At home, Bill’s puzzled by Buffy’s D- and even more puzzled when he sees she missed simple words like walk, jump, and nose.
He and French agree that Buffy could spell those and harder words before she even started school. French suggests contacting the teacher, but Bill puts his parental instincts to work instead: He decides that Buffy lacks motivation because he praises Jody so much and ignores her outstanding work.
It doesn’t work–Peter says the party is for boys only.
Sure that he has gotten to the heart of the problem, he misses Buffy’s cues that his praising Jody doesn’t bother her.
The next day, however, finds Buffy purposely messing up her multiplication problems.
This allows her to ask Peter if he will help her with arithmetic. (You can guess his answer.)
She’s also thanking him for a lovely time at dinner the night before. (You didn’t think Bill could have a purely professional relationship with an attractive woman, did you?)
His bubble bursts when French arrives to tell him that Buffy has failed her day’s arithmetic assignment.
When Cissy passes through, he seeks her advice on the situation.
Miss Cummings even told her that Buffy was due to be skipped ahead a grade.
Clearly, she doesn’t want to advance a grade and leave Jody behind.
When she tries to present them, though, Peter won’t accept.
(Peter’s extremely rude, but you have to admit he’s scrupulous about reciprocal gift-giving.)
Peter will deign to accept a cookie if Buffy agrees it’s not a birthday gift.
Back at home, Buffy informs French that she has homework to do–and that she can’t stand Peter anymore.
She will still see Jody at recess and lunch, so she shouldn’t try to get bad grades on purpose, he says.
Bill’s fog finally clears when Buffy blurts out, “Even when I’m dumb like he is, he doesn’t like me.”
Why, his colleague Miss Saunders is actually Dr. Saunders, an accomplished engineer, and he still found her worthy of his amorous attentions.
Buffy promises that she will always do her best from now on.
Oh–and Victor Simmons, a new boy who just moved in upstairs.
I’m always prepared to do a lot of cringing when gender issues crop up on classic sitcoms. This episode’s message is pleasantly surprising, though. Only Sharon comes off looking silly, and we’ve come to expect that from her.
I’m also glad that Bill told Buffy he was proud of her grades, even if she didn’t seem to need his reassurance. Maybe I’m oversensitive about this issue because I grew up with a brother whose C’s were cause for a party, while my A’s were taken for granted.
It’s interesting how blase Bill is about Jody’s average grades–these days, a parent from Bill’s social strata would probably be getting his straight-C child evaluated for learning disorders.
An added plus for this episode: The fun of seeing familiar faces such as Sharon and Miss Cummings.
“We do not say ‘Nah'”–Mr. French
Sharon James: Sherry Alberoni. Miss Cummings: Joan Vohs. Peter: Gary Tubin. Joyce: Elaine Devry. Linda: Emma Tyson. May: Lisa Gerritsen.
Lisa Gerritsen was one of the most familiar child actors on television in the 1960s and 1970s. She’s best remembered, of course, for her recurring role as Bess on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff Phyllis. Her grandfather was screenwriter True Boardman. This is the first of three Family Affair appearances for Gerritsen–the second one comes in the very next episode.
Gary Dubin, making his second Family Affair appearance here, also stayed busy. He was Punky Lazaar on The Partridge Family, voiced Toulouse in Disney’s The Aristocats, and became shark food in Jaws 2.
Elaine Devry made guest appearances on such shows as Perry Mason, Dragnet 1967, and Marcus Welby, M.D. She had a small role in the 1968 Brian Keith-Doris Day movie With Six You Get Eggroll. She was also once married to Mickey Rooney…but then again, who wasn’t?
I always come away from the Family Affair post impressed as a horse. They are always fun to read.
Thanks–I’m glad you enjoy them! Your Vic and Sade blog is great. I would encourage all my readers who like old-time radio to check it out.
Of course – Diana Rigg and ‘The Avengers’! Miss Saunders’ face always seemed familiar – now I know why! Thanks for pointing that out. I loved Diana Rigg in ‘The Avengers’. In Germany, the series originally aired in the mid-60s, starting not before season 4 (and Diana Rigg), though! The previous seasons and other missing episodes were shown only a couple of years back (as was standard procedure at the time, only parts of series from abroad were obtained and dubbed). ‘The Avengers’ counts among the first series I watched on TV, and I was rather sad when it ended!
Honestly: Words like wall, jump, nose, apple and cow in a spelling test for third graders? Uncle Bill’s question about what is wrong with the school system seems very justified, though not in the sense he meant!
This episode really is abundant with gender discrimination: girls can’t play marbles with boys, are only good at arithmetic and junk. Jody has to practice stickball for HIS (and Peter’s) great game – what about Buffy, who is an important member of the team? And Uncle Bill hints in on Buffy that being smart is just useful for being taken out for dinner and dancing.
That’s interesting about the arithmetic/math subject because the same difference is (was?) made in Germany, too. In the 4 years of elementary school, the subject is called ‘Rechnen’, (calculate or compute), i.e. an easy-to-understand term with Germanic instead of Greek or Latin origin. Interestingly, the noun ‘Rechnung’ means bill or invoice and the term ‘Rechner’ was used for computers for many years. In secondary school forms, the subject is referred to as ‘Mathe(matik)’. By the way: Buffy and Jody had to struggle with ‘new math’ in first grade in the first season!?
Wish you a great new year!
Oh, I love Diana Rigg and The Avengers, too! Since I was too young to see it when it originally aired on American TV (which would have been just the Diana Rigg seasons and the Linda Thorson season), I didn’t discover the show until a cable network started running it when I was in college. My husband likes it, too, and we all have all the Diana Rigg episodes and many of the earlier episodes on DVD. I can’t stand the Linda Thorson episodes, but I think that’s just because I can’t accept anyone replacing Emma Peel!
(Incidentally, that’s the only show I can think of that was imported from abroad and shown on one of the three big commercial networks in the U.S. Normally, if they think a foreign show has potential, the networks produce an American version, often diluting the charm of the original program.)
That’s interesting about the German mathematical terminology. “Rechnen” must be related to our word “reckon,” which does refer to calculating or computing, but is not commonly used in reference to math these days. Maybe it was around the introduction of the “new math” that U.S. schools dropped the term arithmetic and just started using math as a catch-all term.
There’s certainly some sexism in this episode, but my standards are so low for the treatment of women in older TV comedies that this episode doesn’t seem too bad. I consider it a breakthrough that Buffy learned trying to dumb herself down was wrong!
There are a lot of things I liked about this post:
– the difference between arithmetic and math (who knew?)
– Mr French’s quaint but sweet advice about boys not wanting to speak to a certain girl when other girls are around
– Buffy’s indifference to Jody being praised when she clearly outshines him in the school department
It sounds like Sharon’s character is a bit annoying, but I know women who STILL DO THIS KIND OF THING. Arrrgh! Drives me crazy. Why be with a man who wants you to be more stupid than he? But is it because there are fewer & fewer men who appreciate smart women?
The scene with Mr. French was really sweet–it was nice to see him reacting to Buffy with understanding instead of the impatience that he sometimes displays.
I’m thinking now that I might have been a little unfair to Sharon. She is silly, but she didn’t actually encourage Buffy to dumb herself down–Buffy came up with that idea on her own after reflecting on what Sharon said.
I always appreciate your comments!
When I watched this as a kid, I thought it would be cool to walk around with an umbrella like Mr. French, but now that I’m older it just seems weird