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Route 66 (Box Set)

Classic drama explores the promise of the open road

By Patricia Ingold

Route 66 (Season 1)
Created by Stirling Silliphant,
starring Martin Milner and George Maharis

The first American TV show to be filmed entirely on location, Route 66 travelled to 25 states — and the city of Toronto — during its four-year run. Nearly 50 years later, the 1960s hit series remains surprisingly sophisticated and contemporary.

Each episode explores the promise of the open road through the journey of best friends Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis). The two young men hope to find meaning and a place to put down roots, someday, somewhere. Although their names suggest their preferred mode of transportation might be surfboards, the vehicle of choice is a 1960 Corvette convertible willed to Tod by his late father.

As they travel from town to town, taking short-term jobs, Tod and Buz discover an American landscape populated with unsettled, disconnected characters. The two help to save a family ranch, counsel maladjusted teens and protect an abused wife, but the best episodes position them as psychiatrists, watching and listening as the locals struggle with their personal issues.

The result is a view of America far removed from the domestic archetypes of Leave it to Beaver and the frontier mythology of Bonanza. Happy endings aren’t guaranteed, and with women’s rights, racial tensions and the threat of nuclear annihilation in its field of vision, Route 66 senses the turbulence of the coming decade.

Viewers of a certain age will enjoy seeing the youthful faces of actors such as Robert Duvall, Robert Redford and Leslie Nielsen. But Route 66 is about more than nostalgia. It is a fascinating time capsule of America at a time of brash confidence. It is occasionally brooding but never downbeat.

At the end of each episode, Tod and Buz are on the move again, armed with a greater understanding of the human condition and propelled forward by an optimism that seems to know no limit. As long as they have four wheels and a road ahead, there’s hope.

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