Great Episodes #51: Honey West, “An Eerie, Airy Thing” (April 8, 1966)
May 4, 2011
When I launched the Classic TV History website three years and change ago, one of the exclusive pieces that debuted there was my personal, subjective, opinonated list of the one hundred greatest American television episodes of all time. Immodestly, I thought the article included some pretty good short-form writing, and it certainly inspired some lively discussion in the comments here.
But there was one problem: I only wrote about fifty television episodes. The idea was that this would be a list to grow on, one to which I would add over my, and the website’s, lifetime. I explained that in the introduction but I guess it didn’t register, or else people really want the whole hundred when they’re promised a hundred of something, because occasionally I still get e-mails asking, “Where’s the rest?” (Or, “Hey dumbass, your list only has fifty shows on it.”) In truth, I had another ten or so episodes that I had planned to add to that page at some point, but I never got around to it. For the rest, readers would to have to wait until I got around to seeing, well, every television show ever made. Not that I have a life or anything, but that’s still going to take awhile.
Then it hit me that the solution to this problem was the solution to more or less everything these days: blogify it. So from now on, as I discover new episodes that belong in the canon, I’ll write about them here first, and eventually archive them on the 100 Episodes page. Without further ado, number fifty-one in a series.
Gordon Forbes steps out onto a window ledge and threatens suicide unless his wife is brought to him. Only one problem: when private eye Honey West goes to pick her up, she finds that Mrs. Forbes has been shot dead. This episode represents a wistful choice, because Honey West is one of those “classic” television shows that was never very good. Most of the scripts were written by journeymen, and the stories and characters are cartoonish and silly. The producer, Aaron Spelling, liked to leer at the ladies when the gaze, and the violence, was directed against them; see Burke’s Law (from which Honey West was a spin-off) and Charlie’s Angels. But when he was handed a female protagonist, Spelling turned prude and made the show a live-action cartoon that would have fit in just fine on Saturday morning. Only in the series’ pilot, written by Columbo creators William Link and Richard Levinson and directed by Walter Grauman, do we get a glimpse of Honey as she was meant to be: dangerous, sexy, chic. Link and Levinson returned twice – fittingly, for the final episode – and arguably topped themselves with their final script, despite the punctuation error in the title. The dialogue in “Eerie, Airy” is sophisticated, the pace fast, the stakes life-or-death, and the twist ending devilishly clever. If U.N.C.L.E. fans pine for an alternate history where Batman kept the camp to itself, then I’ll take a Honey West led by L & L.