Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

With its penchant for dream and fantasy sequences, it shouldn't have surprised anyone when Gilligan's Island had a mock trial, of sorts, which was the basis for the episode that premiered 50 years ago tonight, "Not Guilty," but the story writers really had to do some stretching worthy of Rose Mary Woods to connect all the dots.

While fishing, Gilligan (Bob Denver) and the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) landed a crate filled with coconuts. Now, I know the fishing line that's used for deep–sea fishing is much stronger than the somewhat flimsy lines I used to use when I went fishing in the lakes and ponds of Arkansas and Texas, but I never could understand how even the much–stronger line could bring in a crate filled with coconuts.

What a worthless trophy that was, too. For what could the castaways possibly have less use than a crate filled with coconuts? All the trees on the island seemed to have coconuts growing from them. They had shortages of everything else on the island — but not coconuts. They were overstocked on coconuts.

But the crate also contained newspapers that had been used to wrap the coconuts. (Why wrap them? I have always wondered. Coconuts won't break.) That gave the castaways some fresh reading material — but one article threatened to disrupt their little friendly, trusting community. It speculated that someone aboard the Minnow had been responsible for the murder of an unsavory fellow back in Hawaii — and everyone on board seemed to have a good motive for wanting him dead.

Everyone, that is, except for Gilligan and the Skipper, who never met the man — but they were still mentioned as plausible suspects in the article. Go figure.

At first, only Gilligan and the Skipper had seen the article, and they launched an investigation to see if they could solve the mystery — and, in the context of their investigation, they encountered some pretty suspicious behavior. They came across Ginger (Tina Louise) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) boiling plants to make a poison to kill rats that had been seen near the castaways' food locker, and they found the Professor (Russell Johnson) in his hut working on a guillotine that he said would be used to chop coconuts — and only coconuts — but Gilligan and the Skipper had their doubts.

All the castaways eventually became aware of the article's existence, and they decided that the only way to solve the crime was to re–enact it so they made a replica of the victim's shop and each castaway came in to confront the victim (played by Gilligan).

The Howells (Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer) were concerned about the victim's handling of a business that apparently belonged to the Howells; it had been losing money, and the Howells had confronted him about it before the famed "three–hour cruise." The victim had jilted Ginger, stolen an article the Professor had written for an academic journal and claimed it as his own and ruined Mary Ann's father financially; all three had confronted him. But no one revealed himself or herself to be guilty. That meant they would have to re–enact the crime all over again.

Gilligan didn't want to do that and slammed the door of the shop replica, causing a speargun on the other side of the room to fall and fire in Gilligan's direction, missing him by an inch or two. As it was a speargun that had been the murder weapon, the castaways believed they had solved the crime.

Which, of course, they had. Radio reports confirmed it.

But that was just random luck. The castaways had no floor plans to use in re–creating the store and no knowledge of where each product would be displayed or how.

See? The underpinnings of the story were tenuous at best. It was a nice idea for a story, but making it hold up was like playing a game of Twister — although I have to admit that Gilligan's reference to Perry Mason prior to suggesting that they re–enact the crime was a nice touch.

Perry Mason was, like Gilligan's Island, a CBS program. It had been on the air for eight years and had enjoyed a four–year run of being ranked in the Top 20, rising to #5 one year, but it was sputtering in the 1965–66 season.

Getting a shout–out from Gilligan's Island didn't help, either. That 1965–66 season turned out to be Perry Mason's last.