6 February 2003 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Second-greatest theme tune ever!
'The Jimmy Stewart Show' was an extremely well-produced series that fell between two stools: it wasn't funny enough to be a comedy, and it wasn't gripping enough to be a drama. It was just an 'Aw, shucks' show which tried to make viewers feel good without stirring them much. Veteran actor James Stewart gave an ingratiating, folksy performance that didn't seem to involve much effort.
This show had one of the very best theme tunes I've ever heard, only a notch below 'Hennesey', which is the greatest tv theme tune ever written. In the opening credits, Stewart rides a bicycle along a country road while the soundtrack plays a gentle leisurely instrumental theme with one triumphant crescendo during the bridge. It's the perfect music for bicycle-riding; to this day, whenever I ride my bicycle through the hill roads of North Wales, I whistle Jimmy Stewart's theme tune.
An American tv producer gave me some old reels of this tv series. Every episode begins with the announcer intoning: "sor of the week] PROUDLY presents ... Mister JAMES Stewart". So why is this series called 'The JIMMY Stewart Show'?
Stewart plays a science teacher at a community college, approaching retirement age. Despite their age, Jim's wife gave birth to their second son, Teddy, only about 10 years ago. Recently, Jim's older son has moved back home (with his wife Wendy and their own son, also about 10 years old). So there are two annoyingly cute little boys under the same roof, and one boy is the other boy's uncle! The uncle had a more dominant personality, and he was usually able to pressure Teddy into committing mischief by saying: 'I'm your uncle, so you have to do what I tell you.' Much comic byplay was hung from this slender hook, but very little of it succeeded. Actress Ellen Geer, as Jim's daughter-in-law Wendy, was cross-eyed and had a bizarre semi-Latina accent: I could never figure out whether or not her character was meant to be Mexican.
So far my review has been negative, but this series really had some strong merits. I especially savour one episode guest-starring Cesar Romero as a local businessman whose builders had just dug a foundation for his new business property. Before Romero pours the building's foundation, Professor Jim got permission for his archaeology class to go fossicking in the work pit, just to get some experience and maybe find a few arrowheads. To everyone's surprise, they discovered some genuinely significant relics of prehistoric man, and now Jim had to forestall the construction work until the entire site could be searched for artefacts. Romero's character was all business, and he didn't understand why these archaeologists couldn't just dig somewhere else and let him pour his foundation. The scriptwriters came up with an intelligent and believable ending for this episode, which is also one of the very few times I've seen scientific fieldwork depicted accurately in fiction.
Another episode featured a very Capra-esque running gag, in which Jimmy Stewart kept balancing pencils on the edge of his desk and then using one finger to flick them across the room. This doesn't sound funny, but Stewart performed it in a very endearing way.
The opening credits bill actor John McGiver as appearing 'very often' in the role of Luther Quince. (Great name!) McGiver played a recurring role (in most but not all episodes) as one of Jimmy Stewart's fellow professors. McGiver was an actor of narrow range but he was brilliant within that range, and he's excellent here (with poor material) with his cantankerous delivery.
All in all, I'll rate 'The Jimmy Stewart Show' 8 points out of 10. I enjoyed watching it and it gave me a good feeling, and I suppose that this was the producers' original intention.