Critic Confessions: Life Lessons from ‘Gilligan’s Island’

Introducing an eight-year-old to “Gilligan’s Island” is harder than you think.

The ‘60s sitcom isn’t entrenched in pop culture like it once was. Plans for a movie version of the beloved show have cooled considerably. Actor Josh Gad told an interviewer two years ago he’s working on the screenplay.

We haven’t heard much about it since then.

Yet the moment my son saw an episode from the show’s second season he was hooked. Then I had some explaining to do.

Meet First Mate Gilligan

For those who haven’t been on Planet Earth very long, “Gilligan’s Island” follows the exploits of seven stranded souls on a deserted Pacific island. Wacky, G-rated antics followed.

It’s all catnip for my son. He fell hard for the catchy theme song and those primary colors against the tropical backdrop (Gilligan’s red shirt, the Skipper’s blue top). The show also brought up discussions I never expected to have with my children about a ‘60s sitcom.


For starters, Gilligan’s chronic fear over everything from another Skipper hat smack to that “ghost” who once haunted the island. Didn’t Gilligan’s yellow streak disprove a critical line from the theme song?

“If not for the courage of the fearless crew the Minnow would be lost…”

The show’s writers probably didn’t give much thought to theme song fidelity. I still explained to my son that, in times of crisis, people can push past their fears to save the lives of others. Even cowardly Gilligan could be a hero given the chance.

And then there’s the running gag that the Professor can build just about anything from palm trees and coconut shells – even a bamboo-laced car – but not a decent boat.


Still, explaining how people can push past expectations under extraordinary circumstances gave him a short lesson on capitalism 101. Or, to resuscitate an old saw, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Thurston Howell III inspired plenty of chatter all on his own. The millionaire cares more about money than anything else (including Lovey Howell!).  Yet when an imposter pretends he’s the real Thurston Howell III and starts liquidating the millionaire’s assets, it opened up a discussion on stocks, bonds and Wall Street.

It’s still hard to explain why he brought that chest full of cash on a “three-hour tour.”

Eat Your Vitamins, Son

One of the wackier episodes, and that’s saying something, involved a vitamin deficiency among the shipwreck survivors. The Professor worried his friends needed more Vitamin C in their diet. And, when he tasked Gilligan with keeping some rare citrus seeds warm overnight, he didn’t mince words.

“If those seeds die, we die,” the Professor warned.

That let me remind my son why good nutrition isn’t just an annoying parental lecture. It matters.

RELATED: How Jim Belushi Fought to Keep His Show Family Friendly

The Gilligan-Skipper relationship played out like Laurel and Hardy — on steroids — for three seasons. So why did they bicker so much? I told my son that relationships can be deceiving. What looks like frustration and anger can be an expression of friendship, even love.

Skipper didn’t call Gilligan his “little buddy” for nothing. He meant it.


His Little Buddy may have saved the Minnow’s passengers according to the theme song. He still botched rescue attempt after rescue attempt. Remember how Gilligan single-handedly crushed their dreams when a NASA satellite landed on the island? He ended up getting everyone covered in sap and bird feathers, convincing NASA the satellite had found a strange planet with bird-like creatures.

Shouldn’t they have given Gilligan the heave ho at some point?

Actually, friends don’t write each other off after a simple mistake. Or a half dozen. Friends have each other’s backs, and they remember what matters most over a temporary frustration. I’ve seen my sons grow angry with their own friends over a perceived slight. I always tell them to look to the bigger picture.

Just like the castaways did with hapless Gilligan.

FAST FACT: Jerry Van Dyke of “Coach” fame was the first choice to play Gilligan, but the actor chose “My Mother the Car” instead.

My son wasn’t the only one enjoying the reruns. I laughed right along with him. Turns out I missed it after all these years. Today’s TV is smarter, funnier and certainly edgier than anything Gilligan and friends had to offer. So was I just being nostalgic?

Russell Johnson, who played the Professor, explained the show’s appeal during a 2004 interview.

“Parents are happy to have their children watch it,” he said. “No one gets hurt. No murders. No car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun – that’s the charm.”

Who knows if “Gilligan’s Island” will ever grace the big screen. If it does, it might mimic more recent TV show adaptations like “CHIPS” and “Baywatch.” Both embraced a hard-R rating … and flopped.

“Gilligan’s Island” should be forever G, if only so a new generation can enjoy its “charm.”

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