There's probably a doctoral thesis waiting to be written on the sociological ramifications of the changes in the mythical town of Springfield between the 1950s' Father Knows Best and its more recent incarnation (albeit animated) as the home of The Simpsons. It's also equally fascinating to see this early bulwark of network idyllic family life positing the father and mother (despite the series' title) as equally intellectually capable and non-scheming, with strong moral centers. Father Knows Best paved the way for the relatively realistic (how relatively may depend on your own personal familial dysfunctions) depiction of American family life, without the scatterbrained antics of a manic wife or the dunderheaded buffoonery of a clueless husband. For that, we can all be grateful.
Though Father Knows Best suffers from the common gloss of "fifties-ness," with a father always in a suit and a wife always perfectly coiffed and dressed beautifully (usually with a nicely pressed apron wrapped around her skirt), it nonetheless has a surprising realism and equally surprising contemporary humor at times. Robert Young as insurance salesman Jim Anderson, Jane Wyatt as his homemaker wife Margaret, and Elinor Donihue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin as their three children even here in the first season of this long-running series have a beautifully realized interplay that is at once natural and more than a little schmaltzy.
The series, which was executive produced by Young and his partner Eugene Rodney, features typical 50's dilemmas, such as son Bud having to learn to dance for a school prom, or eldest daughter Betty ("Princess") developing such a strong crush on a beau that Jim is convinced she's about to elope. Where the series shines is in its heartfelt treatment of these admittedly trivial set-ups, with some nicely understated humor along the way. "Bud's been acting so strangely lately," states Wyatt in the dancing episode. "He's been acting that way since the day he was born," counters Young.
There's also no dearth of civic lessons imparted throughout the first season which some may find a bit on the preachy side, but which are always delivered with such a consistent honesty and sincerity that it's hard to find fault with them. There are some nice twists in these morality plays from time to time, as in the episode where youngest daughter Kathy ("Kitten") breaks a window and Jim attempts to teach her personal responsibility. That is, until Jim himself gets a parking ticket he thinks is undeserved and attempts to shirk his responsbility, only to end up arguing his case before "judge for a day" high school student Bud.
Father Knows Best may seem like a relic of a bygone age, and in some ways it obviously is. But what's really wrong with that? In its loving depiction of a strong family unit that weathers the ups and downs of everyday living, it teaches lessons that are timeless and could well be learned by some of today's disintegrating family units.