A year before Joel Higgins found himself the very wealthy dad of the wealthiest kid in America on Silver Spoons, he must have thought his ship had already come in during the fall of 1981. More accurately, he must have thought his horse had come home, because Higgins was the star of NBC’s 1981 period situation comedy, Best of the West.
Like the short-lived series Quark, Best of the West functioned primarily as a parody of a genre. Only instead of parodying science-fiction, Best of the West lampooned the Westerns that had been so popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
Higgins played Sam Best, a Civil War veteran who moved his wife Elvira and son Daniel out west to Copper Creek intending to cash in on the fruits of the frontier. Although Best wasn’t much of a gunslinger he accidentally became the town sheriff much to the displeasure of evil saloon owner and dictatorial town boss, Parker Tillman and his dimwitted sidekick Frog (uhh, that’s pronounced “frogue”) played by character actor, Tracey Walter.
Still fresh from his standout role in the series Taxi, Christopher Lloyd made a regular appearance on Best of the West as The Calico Kid, a crazy gun slinging outlaw.
The series had a very accomplished cast and made perfect fun of the western genre- but still had comedy broad enough to appeal to children that never really experienced the boom in westerns on television. Some of the plots, particularly those revolving around Lloyd’s Calico Kid character, were simply hilarious- including one in which the Kid decideed to give up the life of an outlaw to become a cook.
Sam Best’s family was also funny as bitter fish-out-of-water types who have no interest in roughing it out west after living a decidedly more comfortable life in Philadelphia. In the first episode, Best’s son Daniel stated to his father “I want you to understand Dad, I’m never going outside.” Or Best’s wife who complained that she couldn’t seem to get the dirt off the floor of their new home, to which Best replied flatly “It’s a dirt floor.”
In spite of its clever writing and colorful characters, Best of the West never really caught on and fell victim to generally poor ratings throughout the first season. And one season was enough for NBC, which cancelled the show in 1982.
Perhaps Best of the West suffered from bad timing as much as low ratings. It would have made more sense to parody westerns in their heyday instead of at a time when the genre was almost non-existent in popular culture. Higgins probably didn’t fight too hard either as he was set to star in Silver Spoons the following season, which quickly became a hit.
USA / ABC – Paramount – Weinberger – Daniels / 22×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 10 September 1981 – 23 August 1982
Creator: Earl Pomerantz / Theme Vocal: Best of the West by Rex Allen
Joel Higgins as Marshal Sam Best
Carlene Watkins as Elvira Best
Meeno Peluce as Daniel Best
Leonard Frey as Parker Tillman
Tom Ewell as Jerome “Doc” Kullens
Valri Bromfield as Laney Gibbs
Tracey Walter as Frog Rothchild, Jr.
Pat Ast as Rudy
Dave Rogers as Harlee
Christopher Lloyd as The Calico Kid
Andy Griffith as Lamont Devereaux, Elvira’s father
Eve Brent Ashe as Lily Devereaux, Elvira’s mother
Malcolm McClaman as Town Mayor