Long before shows such as PICKET FENCES or DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES turned their eye toward small-town life, the entire nation was titillated by the shocking events which unfolded in a tiny New England town known as Peyton Place, first brought to life in the 1956 novel by Grace Metalious. And when the fledling ABC network was looking for a show on which to build it’s reputation in 1964, they decided to bring the book-turned-film to life via a primetime serial which aired twice (and eventually three times) a week, captivating the nation with its tales of unwed teens, abusive husbands and all matter of family dysfunction.
Now, the folks at Shout Factory have released the first 31 episodes of the primetime drama (with a second 31-episode set due to be released on July 14). So how does the show hold up some 45 years later? Better than it’s modern-day counterparts. For where today’s soaps tend to focus on splashy tales about tornadoes (ALL MY CHILDREN), Mob wars (GENERAL HOSPITAL) and psychos-du-jour (AS THE WORLD TURNS), PEYTON PLACE takes us back to a time when plots were character-driven as opposed to event-driven.
As the black-and-white episodes unfold, we are introduced to young, innocent Allison MacKenzie (played by an impossibly young Mia Farrow), who is being wooed by rich bad boy Rodney Harrington (Ryan O’Neal). Of course, a two-person love story is rather bland, so thrown into the mix is Rodney’s ex, troubled Betty Anderson (Barbara Parkins), whom we actually get to watch evolve from a selfish child into a budding vixen thanks to the cruel fates and the pressures of living in a town where everybody knows everyone else’s dirty little secrets.
The romance is swoon-worthy as Allison falls in love for the very first time and viewers, privy to what’s going on with rival Betty, anticipate the heartache to come. Meanwhile, Allison’s mother, Constance MacKenzie (Dorothy Malone) has both a secret and a romance of her own… if she can get handsome new town doc Michael Rossi (Ed Nelson) to stop spending so much time with Laura Brooks (Patricia Breslin). Meanwhile, Betty’smom, Julie (Kasey Rogers), divides her time between avoiding the fists of her abusive husband, George (Henry Beckman), and the not-entirely-unwanted kisses of her boss, Leslie Harrington (Paul Langton), who happens to be Rodney’s pop. When Rodney catches his dad kissing Betty’s mom, a chain of events is set in motion that impacts all their lives.
This is classic soap opera, complete with cliffhangers and overwrought musical cues, scandalous secrets and romantic rivalries, and it’s a must-have for any fan of the genre (or any viewer who misses “the good old days” of soaps). But one word of warning: Don’t start this five-disc collection unless you have several hours to kill, because anyone with even the slightest tendency toward addictive behavior will find themselves saying, “Okay, just one more episode” until they’ve raced through the entire collection.
PEYTON PLACE is available on Amazon.com