Considering the last TV show ticked off of the 1001 list was Keeping Up With The Kardashians… well you would be hard-pressed to find a better contrast on the list. A reality show about a family who are famous for being famous vs. a western series about a sheriff delivering the law to a frontier town.
In a nutshell, Gunsmoke is a TV show about a sheriff (played by James Arness) who enforces the law in a town called Dodge. Whilst the tone is mostly serious and deals with a crime-of-the-week, it does allow itself to do a more comedic episode every now and then.
Since Gunsmoke ran for 20 years it is hard to get a substantial cross-section of what this show was, but I think I managed to see enough in 20 episodes to get to grips with it. I ended up watching a mix of episodes from both the half-hour and the full hour series (after several seasons the episode run time doubled, which allowed for some more in depth storytelling).
There was also an attempt to watch episodes dealing with topics that make it very much of it’s time… such as the way they talk about Native Americans. One episode that I watched was about the homecoming of a boy to his white mother having been kidnapped by Native Americans. With the twist that the Gunsmoke writers employ they were probably fairly forward thinking, but they still use words like ‘savages’ and that just feels wrong to watch.
Then again, it could be argued that the show was trying, in its own way, to be historically accurate in their depiction live in a town like Dodge. The extreme poverty, acts of spousal abuse and superstitions about medical men would have been commonplace at the time. Also, this is a show that started before the Civil Rights Movement and the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. So some consideration needs to be paid to that.
In the 20 episodes there is one that really stuck out to me; a 12th season episode titled ‘The Whispering Tree’. It’s fairly light on appearances from the sheriff and instead focuses on a man (who has just been released from jail) and his family. The man robbed a substantial amount of money and buried it on a plot of land.
The problem? Firstly, his family lives on this land and they have drastically altered its appearance in his absence. Also, there had been a large flood that removed many of the terrain markers that pointed out where he hid the money was. It’s probably the episode that most held my attention.
Honestly, this is not a show I will be continuing to watch. I am, however, glad that I got to see such a big piece of American television history. It’ll be interesting how I feel about Gunsmoke once I start watching Bonanza.