Friday, July 31, 2020

No Fall TV Season This Year? Rerun the 1970 Fall Season Instead

In the Comfort TV era, this was the time of year when television networks began to ramp up the promotion of their September fall schedules. 

For television lovers it was always a late summer full of hope and promise. TV Guide’s voluminous Fall Preview issue would be arriving soon, and CBS, NBC and ABC would roll out musical extravaganzas featuring the stars from our favorite shows urging us to not miss a minute of all the excitement on the way.

We’re a long way from that era now, and this year will be worse than most – just as it has been in many other aspects of our lives. Many new and returning programs this fall will at best be delayed months because COVID is determined to not allow any of us to enjoy ourselves ever again. 

What should the networks do until these programs are ready? I have an idea.

It wasn’t that long ago that CBS aired an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show in prime time, as a way to honor Carl Reiner. The episode easily won its time slot. Previous revivals of shows like I Love Lucy also scored well in the ratings. So if these isolated exercises in nostalgia found an audience, why not go all the way?

Let’s replace the 2020 fall season with the 1970 fall season, just as originally broadcast 50 years ago. Why 1970? Why not? Fifty years is a nice round number, and then as now audiences were excited about what a new decade might bring, and hopeful that it would be more peaceful and calm than the turbulence of recent years.

What was television like then? If networks were to rebroadcast their 1970 programming slate, here are some of the shows you could look forward to this fall.

CBS had the best overall schedule, with the stalwart Gunsmoke leading off the night, followed by Here’s Lucy, the underrated Mayberry R.F.D., The Doris Day Show and The Carol Burnett Show

Not a loser in the bunch, though watching Carol Burnett on Monday might seem odd to those of us who recall watching her for years on Saturdays. Her variety series would not anchor that network lineup until 1973.

Great as that evening was it may have struggled back in 1970, as part of it was up against ABC’s Monday Night Football. Who knows if that will be back this year?

If you like your comedies country-fied, you’ll be sticking with CBS for a second night, and enjoying The Beverly Hillbillies, followed by Green Acres and Hee Haw. This was the last season for these shows, which the Tiffany Network canceled en masse after deciding they wanted to attract a more sophisticated urban audience.

One show they thought that audience would like is To Rome With Love, which followed Hee Haw and starred John Forsythe as a college professor who moves his family to Rome to take a teaching position. That show bombed while Hee Haw went into syndication and ran 25 years.

ABC offered up The Mod Squad and Marcus Welby, M.D. that night, with a movie of the week in between. NBC also featured a movie, along with its groundbreaking sitcom Julia, starring Diahann Carroll. When was the last time in recent years that the three networks gave you that many tempting program options?

I’d probably favor ABC this night, and enjoy The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, followed by Make Room for Granddaddy (Danny Thomas’s revival of his popular 1950s show), the outstanding Room 222, The Johnny Cash Show and Dan August, a police drama starring Burt Reynolds.

The getTV network is running Cash’s variety series now, and if the Man in Black isn’t enough of a draw it’s worth watching just for the stellar lineups of guest artists he featured over the years. 

Over on CBS, viewers could watch Medical Center, followed by Hawaii Five-O. And NBC gave viewers an even bigger quandary in the pre-VCR era by airing the Kraft Music Hall opposite Cash on ABC and Medical Center on NBC.

This time you’re going to have to do some flipping around for a full evening of great TV. I’d start with Family Affair at 7:30 on CBS, then flip over to the second half of The Flip Wilson Show on NBC. At 8:30 you take your pick – Bewitched on ABC or Ironside on NBC. But when the clock strikes ten, it’s back to NBC for The Dean Martin Show

I love the ABC Friday night lineup – The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, The Partridge Family, That Girl and Love, American Style. If you’d rather opt for more serious fare, NBC offers a great western in The High Chaparral, followed by The Name of the Game, one of television’s more unique anthology series and a show that really should have been released on DVD by now. 

While 1970 was a couple of years before CBS locked in one of the best programming lineups in TV history, they were already outclassing the competition here with Mission: Impossible, followed by My Three Sons, Arnie, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Mannix. Only one show in that group has not stood the test of time, and if you’d rather not check it out you could always switch over to ABC for a half-hour of champagne music with Lawrence Welk. 

There are a number of great options here. With NBC you can start the night with Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom, followed by what would likely be an enjoyable family feature from The Wonderful World of Disney. Next, you could watch The Bill Cosby Show, though I’d understand if you chose otherwise. After that, NBC wraps up the night with Bonanza and The Bold Ones.

Or you’ve got CBS, which starts with Lassie, then Hogan’s Heroes and The Ed Sullivan Show. Over on ABC The Young Rebels never found an audience, but how many prime-time shows have been set during the Revolutionary War? I’d certainly watch it, especially as the cast included Lou Gossett and Hilaire Thompson. And then I’d stay tuned for Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s iconic portrayal of federal agent Lewis Erskine on The F.B.I.


Of course I don’t expect any network to take this proposal seriously. But isn’t it amazing to look back and see how many of these shows from 50 years ago are still airing on television now, and are still remembered fondly by those who watched them over the decades. Will we be able to say the same 50 years from now? Television ain’t what it used to be.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Playing Classic TV Board Games

I have a friend who has collected several board games based on classic TV shows. 

As with most collectors, he bought them for the aesthetic quality of the boxes and game board designs, and because they are colorful reminders of a fondly remembered series. Setting them up on a kitchen table and playing them was never part of the motivation.

But that’s what we started doing. For the last couple of years, every time I’d visit him he would have one set up, ready to play. 

And now that we’ve tried several of them, we have both reached the same conclusion – the reason to buy these vintage games is definitely not for the hours of fun they provide. Cause there ain’t much fun to be had.

First up – the Laverne & Shirley Game. It was not a good choice. 

Since he provided the game, it was my task to review the instructions, which on these games are almost always printed on the inside of the box cover. I have two college degrees, and it took me an hour to decipher the rules. That might seem like an embarrassing admission, but we were two 50+ men playing a children’s game whose object is to “make all your dreams come true by collecting the most hours spent out on dates in a week.” The only thing more embarrassing is if we had followed it up with Mystery Date.

We didn’t. Instead, we set up the I Dream of Jeannie game. The visual appeal here is obvious, even if the Jeannie shown doesn’t look that much like Barbara Eden. 

This time, at least, the game play was simple – move a set of colored disks up the board, advancing the appropriate number of rows based on each throw of the dice. The first player to have a disk on each of the letter spots at the top that spell “Jeannie” wins the game.

What’s the twist? There’s a Jeannie figure that stands in a bottle space in one corner of the board. If one of your opponents is getting close to a win, you can call out “Jeannie” and roll the dice. Any opponent pieces that are in the row that corresponds to the number on each die have to go back to the bottom and start over.  The danger is throwing a number that corresponds to where your disks are – in that case, you have to retreat as well, and Jeannie has screwed up your best-laid plans. Something that happened often to Major Nelson.

Next, Mork and Mindy. Box photo is nice, but you’d think they could have found something better. I’m not sure that’s the way Pam Dawber wanted to be immortalized. The game board design is very ‘70s, with clashing colors and mod oval shapes. The illustrations of Dawber and Robin Williams are quite good. 

Your task here is to collect coins from Ork, Mork’s home planet. These are called grebbles, just one of many Orkan words on the board. You do this and win the game by lying to your fellow players – I’m sure parents appreciated that lesson for their kids.

How you do that is too complicated to explain here, but one facet of the game involves a landing space called Mork’s Splink Blinker, which sounds vaguely dirty. 

That, plus the requirement to say “Shazbot” at regular intervals, was deemed too silly to pursue. So we never got to place our grebbles in the Grebble Up row, make contact with Orson, and taste the sweet flavor of victory.

Enough of these childish sitcom games – time for a challenge more fitting for manly men. So let’s lift the lid off the box of the S.W.A.T game. I could already hear the strains of the stirring theme song as we set up the board for game play.

The object, not surprisingly, is to capture the bad guy, dubbed “the culprit.” Each player starts with a truck and two pawns that can ride inside. Movement is determined by dice roll, and special spots on the board allow players to advance faster or take a shorter path. When your pawns have reached the culprit’s hideout, you win. As does our civil society. 

The problem with this game is that the board is so generic it could have been used for anything. Outside of a few series photos around the border, it doesn’t connect well enough to the show and its cast.

Last but not least, a game that puts the fun back into the Great Depression, featuring The Waltons.

Unlike S.W.A.T, this game board is awash in series imagery. In fact, the whole point of the game is to complete scenes from the show, which have been divided into four sections in the cards that each player draws. 

Special cards featuring John-Boy, in his jaunty cap, act like the Joker in a joker’s wild game of poker. You can drop him anywhere to secure a victory. One way this game might be more enjoyable is if you take a swig of the Baldwin sisters’ “recipe” every time you complete a picture.

As my friend acquires more of these games, I may offer additional reviews in the future. I'm still curious about what the Apple's Way game is all about, as well as shocked that the series lasted long enough to inspire a game.

Or maybe not. Based on these first attempts, I fear all of them may be about as much fun as a trip to the Splink Blinker.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ten More Forgotten Shows I’d Like to Watch

Three years ago in this space I listed ten shows long out of circulation that I’d like to watch. In the time since that blog only one of those shows – The Smith Family – has become available.

Not one to be deterred by that dismal track record, I’m going to try again. Here are ten more series that, from the small sample size I’ve experienced, looked intriguing enough to merit further investigation.

The Nurses (1962)
With 98 episodes and a handful of Emmy nominations, this is the most successful series on the list. It was what they used to call a prestige drama, with high caliber talent on both sides of the camera. The couple of episodes that can be found online put you convincingly into the lives of nurses at a big city hospital, the way Naked City incases you in the crime-ridden streets of New York. But the two stars that went the distance with The Nurses, Shirl Conway and Zina Bethune, never became household names, which is just one of many reasons it will likely remain out of circulation. 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1962)
After he played Davy Crockett for Disney, and before he starred in Daniel Boone, Fess Parker starred in this adaptation of the classic Frank Capra film with Jimmy Stewart as a young, idealistic Senator. As the theme song tells us, “He’s just a country boy, but he gets a lot of joy, finding ways of fixin’ things that need a helping hand.” The result is perhaps a bit too light and sitcom-my, but Parker fits the part well and they had writers of the caliber of Earl Hamner on some of the scripts. I’m not even sure all 25 episodes still exist, but I’d be curious to take a look.

Mickey (1964)
For more than 50 years, Mickey Rooney may have been the hardest-working man in show business. IMDB lists 340 credits for him, and this sitcom may be among the least heralded. He played a Coast Guard recruiter based in Nebraska (yes, that’s the first joke) who moves his family to California to run a struggling beachfront hotel. The show earned Rooney the Golden Globe as Best TV Star – Male in 1964, but given the dubious history of the Hollywood Foreign Press, that just means the check cleared. I’d like it because I always think he’s interesting to watch, and because his wife was played by Emmaline Henry, best known as Amanda Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1965)
From Mr. Novak to The Man From UNCLE to The Love Boat, Pat Crowley is someone I’m always happy to see turn up in a guest spot on a favorite show. She was a TV star in search of the right series to affirm that status, and this one is as close as she got. 

Based on a film starring Doris Day, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies was a family sitcom in the tradition of The Brady Bunch, but with a subversive streak in that wife and mother Joan Nash (Crowley) was a bit of a nonconformist. That freshened up the mix a bit, and despite some bad time slots the show survived for more than 50 episodes over two seasons. It didn’t disappear completely after that – I’ve caught a few episodes over the years in various afternoon timeslots, and I enjoyed them as much as the shows that have played nonstop all over TV for 50 years. 

The Little People (1972)
The two top-billed starts of this short-lived sitcom, created by Garry Marshall, were Brian Keith and Shelley Fabares. And that’s really all I need to know. I’ve never seen a full episode but a few scenes have turned up online, so I know Keith plays a pediatrician in Hawaii, and Fabares plays his daughter, who works with him in his office. As he did in Family Affair, Keith comes across as a guy who is really good with kids, though he didn’t always look like he wanted to be around them. And I really don’t care what Shelley does cause I’d watch her in anything – except Highcliffe Manor (1979). I tried, though. I really did.  

Animals, Animals, Animals (1976)
This was a pleasant show in which Hal Linden taught kids about different kinds of animals. It had no higher aspirations than that.

Its executive producer was Lester Cooper, who previously served as head writer for the brilliant Make a Wish. I assume that’s the main reason why the show was smarter than it had to be. If you can’t remember much about it, that may change if you hear the theme song again. 

All That Glitters (1977)
“One morning the Lord, She woke up to say, "I feel like I want to be creative today"

Given Norman Lear’s TV titan status, as well as the ongoing focus on equality and inclusion that dominates our national conversation, it’s surprising that someone hasn’t put out this soap opera parody, which featured the same quirky tone as the more successful Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. The gimmick was in its reversal of traditional roles, as on this show all the women worked in executive positions, and all their husbands stayed home to take care of the cleaning and the kids. The cast included Eileen Brennan, Lois Nettleton, Anita Gillette, Linda Gray, Gary Sandy, Tim Thomerson and Jessica Walter.

The Fitzpatricks (1977)
Here’s how I pictured the pitch meeting at CBS: “Hey, ABC is doing really well with that Family series – let’s get one of those over here. And since Kristy McNichol is the most popular character on that show, we’ll get her brother Jimmy to star in ours.” I could be completely wrong about all of that, but either way the result was The Fitzpatricks, about a working-class family in Michigan. Might have worked – probably should have worked, but they scheduled it opposite Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and ABC quickly wiped out this homage to one of its crown jewels. 

Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine (1977)
Someone called this “the original YouTube” on IMDB.  The set-up is that computer genius Marlo Higgins works for the L. Dullo Corporation by day, but when his shift is over he ducks into a secret room in the basement where he has created a colorful talking super-computer. That machine shows videos that are fun and educational, and can also transport Marlo to places all around the world. I confess that as a kid, the credit identifying Marlo as being played by Laurie Faso confused the heck out of me. Was that really a woman with an unusually deep voice in a wig and mustache? No – it was just a guy named Laurie.

The 1960s and ‘70s were a time when computers were becoming more prevalent, and everyone assumed that the more powerful they got, the bigger they would have to be. Even Marlo could not have imagined that everything his machine could do would now fit on a hand-held device in someone’s pocket.

Anyone else still remember the theme song? 

Jack and Mike (1986)
Shelley Hack did not get great notices for her acting on Charlie’s Angels, but she had picked up her game toward the end of her one season, and carried those talents into better (though sadly not more successful) projects. Jack and Mike was ABC’s hope that the audience who loved Moonlighting would stick around for another hour with another smart and attractive couple. The show had a more serious edge than its predecessor – Hack played Jackie, a newspaper columnist whose stories sometimes got dangerous, and Tom Mason played her husband, a successful restaurateur with an equally demanding career. 

I have the vaguest of vague memories of watching it first-run – and thinking that it had a good cast in search of better stories. And I liked that it was filmed in Chicago, which is always a plus for this Chicago area native.

Let’s see if we can get at least two of these shows out on DVD in the next three years.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Classic TV Statues: Leave Them Alone

We are either in the midst of a cultural revolution or a crime wave, depending on your perspective. And while the damage to real people and property embodies the most regrettable aspect of these uprisings, there have been other victims as well.

Statues. Lots of statues.

I know – this isn’t the place for politics. “Save it for your book!” Okay – I will. And that book will be out next year. Details to follow in another month or two.

But as this is Comfort TV let’s talk about the statues that have been erected to honor performers and characters from many of television’s most memorable series. Thus far they have escaped the carnage. But who knows what tomorrow might bring? This could be a good time to plan a road trip to visit some of these monuments before they meet their fate.

Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden
New York City
Erected: 2000

This was the first statue commissioned by TV Land – hard to believe it’s already 20 years old. And what better place to honor Ralph Kramden than at New York’s bustling Port Authority Bus Terminal? It’s a wonderful likeness of Ralph, with lunch box in hand, chest out proudly, ready to start another shift. Or as Alice would say, “That’s not his chest, that’s his stomach, and it’s always out!”

Could it Come Down?
No statue in New York appears to be off limits at the moment. Fortunately, Its Port Authority location means it will be seen primarily by those traveling to or from work – and most rioters have an aversion to honest employment.

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards
Erected: 2001

Few classic TV freeze frames are as famous as the one at the end of the opening credits to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. A jubilant Mary flings her cap into the air, while a sourpuss woman in the background scowls in contempt. 

That was the moment the sculptor attempted to recreate, with a statue located near the place where that scene was shot – the corner of 7th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. On the base is written, “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” 

Sadly, the artist who created the bronze statue, Gwendolyn Gillen, died just two days after Mary Tyler Moore passed away in January of 2017.

Could it Come Down?
Minneapolis was the epicenter for the ongoing national protests, so anything is possible.

Andy Griffith and Ronny Howard as Andy and Opie Taylor
Erected: 2003

There are two statues depicting the same famous moment of Andy and Opie going fishing, as shown in the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show. After TV Land erected the original in Raleigh’s Pullen Park, residents of Mount Airy protested the location. They had a point – Mount Airy was Griffith’s hometown and the city that inspired Mayberry. So a second version went up there, in front of the Andy Griffith Playhouse. I think they did a wonderful job with this one. 

Could it Come Down?
Let’s see – which side did North Carolina support in the Civil War? Uh-oh. Maybe this should be the first stop on your tour.

Bob Newhart as Bob Hartley
Erected: 2004

This subject always struck me as an odd choice, though I have always loved The Bob Newhart Show. Certainly the interactive quality is fun – how many thousands of people have taken a seat on the couch next to Dr. Hartley and shared their problems? After it first appeared on Michigan Ave. it was moved to Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s most popular spots for tourists and locals.  

Could it Come Down?
I doubt it will get torn down. But it might get shot.

Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens
Erected: 2005

From a distance, this nine-foot, 3,000-pound bronze of Samantha astride her broom looks pretty amazing. 

But it loses a little something up close. Still, we should be happy it’s still there in Lappin Park, as some local residents thought it was a disrespectful reminder of those who were persecuted at the actual Salem witch trials. See? People who don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality are nothing new. 

Could it Come Down?
Salem survives on tourism, and even the grumblers have noticed how many visitors enjoy taking selfies with Sam. She should be safe.

James Garner as Bret Maverick
Erected: 2006

This may be the biggest statue on the list, standing more than 10 feet tall. Norman, Oklahoma was James Garner’s hometown, and this was an appealing tribute to both a favorite son and a classic TV character. 

Could it Come Down?
The Old West? Do we really need to honor another intolerant historic era? Thankfully, very few professional agitators live in Oklahoma.

Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli
Erected: 2008

The Fonz in bronze! TV Land was going to move forward on this but changed its mind, probably around the same time they stopped airing any TV shows worth watching. So the city’s tourism board stepped in, raised $85,000, found a local artist that knew cool when he saw it, and the rest is history. I’m still not sure if the coloring on the leather jacket and jeans was a nice touch or an overreach. 

Thankfully, despite the Riverwalk location, he’s not wearing water skis.

Could it Come Down?
Does he represent the oppressive 1950s? Those weren’t happy days for everyone, you know.

Noel Neill as Lois Lane
Erected: 2010

Yes, Metropolis, as in Metropolis, Illinois. The statue immortalizes The Daily Planet’s ace reporter, as played by Noel Neill on The Adventures of Superman. Neill was pushing 90 when it was unveiled, but she was there to see it. That’s awesome. 


Could it Come Down?
Try it and you’ll have to answer to you-know-who.

Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo
Erected: It’s Complicated

At last, a statue that disappeared and no one, regardless of race, creed or political affiliation, ever missed it. The original Lucille Ball statue by Dave Poulin was so hideous it was dubbed “Scary Lucy,” and even the rioters and the pigeons wouldn’t go near it. 

Poulin died at the too-young age of 58, and it’s sad that this became his best-known work, as he really was quite talented.

Still, that version had to go, and a much more flattering bronze sculpted by Carolyn Palmer was unveiled on August 6, 2016, Lucy’s 105th birthday. 

Could it Come Down?
I Love Lucy may be the most iconic situation comedy ever created, but one of its running gags was having Lucy mock Ricky’s Cuban accent. People now lose their jobs for doing that.

Who needs a statue next? My nominees:

Maxwell Smart
How many times does a man have to save the world from the forces of KAOS to get a little respect? Besides, Washington D.C. is going to need something to fill all those empty pedestals.

Emma Peel
London loves its statues. They’re everywhere – from Sir Thomas More to Sherlock Holmes, Prince Albert to Paddington Bear. So why not honor the English rose that has been described as the ultimate ‘60s style icon? Diana Rigg would look great in bronze, because she looked great in everything. 

Captain James T. Kirk
Max saved America – Kirk saved the whole galaxy, and slept with half of it too. There’s probably a statue of him already on Rigel II, aka the “pleasure planet,” but we need one on earth as well.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Purchase or Pass: Head of the Class

Just two months ago, in a piece about retro TV program lineups, I mentioned how Head of the Class was the lone holdout for those wishing to recreate a Wednesday in 1986 on ABC.

And now it’s here. You’re welcome.

I wish I could take credit for it. If this blog had that kind of clout we’d have the rest of The Defenders on DVD by now, and season sets for The Farmer’s Daughter and My World and Welcome To It.

But let’s get back to Head of the Class, which I was delighted to start watching again. I was a fan in its first run and was curious how well it would hold up more than 30 years later.

For the uninitiated, the series is set primarily at New York’s Fillmore High School. The twist is that the students were the anti-Sweathogs: geniuses and super-achievers who were often ostracized for their intelligence. Into this classroom of high-maintenance kids ambled Charlie Moore (Howard Hesseman), the ultimate laid-back history professor who was not intimidated by the fact that his students were already smarter than he was.

Good premise? Sure. Did they hit a home run with it? I thought so in 1986. Now – I’d pull that back to a solid double. I think the show got better in the next couple of seasons, so we’ll revisit that box score if and when they are released.

The students are well-cast and none of them are annoying (at least until Rain Pryor shows up), but they’re one-note types instead of nuanced characters: class clown Dennis (Dan Schneider), nerdy Arvid (Dan Frischman, who was 27(!) when the show started), poetry-loving romantic Simone (Khrystyne Haje, be still my heart), preppy Alan (Tony O’Dell), pampered rich girl Darlene (Robin Givens), tough kid Eric (Brian Robbins), etc. When an episode revolves around one of them they might dig an inch or two below that surface, just enough to get to the “Gee, I really learned something today, Mr. Moore” denouement, and then it’s back to business as usual.

The stories are superficial as well, with plots you’ve seen on many other shows – Charlie meets up with an old flame; jokester Dennis discovers that humor can be hurtful sometimes; Maria (Leslie Bega) gets asked out by a rival school’s Academic Olympics team captain, and her classmates wonder if she’s being set up.

Such repetition is inevitable in television, I know. But when a story is told cleverly and well it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it somewhere else. Head of the Class rarely puts its own spin on these warhorse plots. This is blunt force comedy – which doesn’t mean it can’t sometimes be funny. But as a viewer I often found myself hoping they’d try something more imaginative with the situations they introduced.

Case in point: in “You’ve Got a Friend,” Arvid and Sarah (Kimberly Russell) collaborate on a science project and develop feelings for each other. So far, so good. But from all the directions open to that scenario, the series opted for a lazy Rashomon rehash in which they both share different memories of their disastrous first date.

But there are positives here as well. I said the show rarely finds a new take on an old trope, but they did so in “Love at First Byte,” in which Charlie starts getting romantic notes in his school mailbox, and tries to deduce which of his students is sending them. The ‘byte’ in the title refers to computers at a time when they were about to change the world, and it’s fun to see how they are viewed at this nascent stage.

In “The Way We Weren’t” Darlene discovers that she may be a descendant of Sally Hemmings. That’s not the focal point of the episode, but in the classroom scene that touches on the topic of slavery, intelligent opinions are exchanged in a way that was more constructive and understanding of the context of earlier historical eras than anything I heard from the media in the last few weeks.

“Ode to Simone” introduces the attraction between Eric and Simone, which is developed well over the course of the series. It also offered the revelation that many of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas.” That may have been known in poetry circles at the time but it was new to me. I’ve also since learned that “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” scans perfectly to the Gilligan’s Island theme.

“Past Imperfect” is the kind of episode that should have appeared more often: Charlie needs to pass a tough economics course to keep his teaching credentials, and his students help him prepare because they already know this stuff cold. Here at last was a story unique to the series premise that couldn’t just be pulled from another school show. It’s the only first-season script from Jerry Rannow, who also wrote for Room 222. He also wrote a Small Wonder episode, but nobody’s perfect.

“The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” features the only scene in which the honors class competes against a rival school, It’s another episode I liked as much as I did when I first saw it back in college.

But the season highlight for most viewers may be “Video Activity,” in which the class is asked to contribute something to a time capsule that will be opened in the year 2100. The principal wants a stuffy dissertation on the Individual Honors Program, but instead the kids shoot a music video to “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” 

The esprit de corps that emerges in this group of different students with different backgrounds, united by superior IQs, is a consistent series strength. I still wish they would have let some of the classroom scenes breathe a little more, but I get the challenge of balancing screen time (and actor egos) with such a large cast.

So close call, but it merits the purchase recommendation. How can I give students this smart a bad grade?

Plus, it’s got to be better than the remake now shooting for HBO Max. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Most Important Lesson Taught By The Brady Bunch

I believe we can learn a lot from the classic shows of the past. Granted, many of the lessons they teach are pretty basic – honesty, courtesy, good citizenship; perhaps back then viewers wondered why such obvious positive character traits even had to be imparted – didn’t everyone already know how to behave themselves?

Welcome to 2020, when it’s obvious some folks need a refresher course. Especially in the one message that, by accident or design, The Brady Bunch conveyed most frequently. 

Don’t play ball in the house? 
No, but that’s still good advice.

Don’t pick up small carved totems from Hawaiian construction sites?
I doubt anyone has tempted fate like that for decades.

Don’t bring a frog to a drive-in movie?
Now you’re not even trying.

If there is one tenet The Brady Bunch wanted all of its young viewers to understand, it was the danger inherent in developing a sense of entitlement.

That lesson was taught six times in six different episodes, each featuring a different Brady kid. For such a well-adjusted family, it’s surprising they had to keep learning it.

Peter was the first Brady to fall into this trap, in a first season episode entitled “The Hero.” It begins at Driscoll’s Toy Shop, where he pulls a little girl out of the path of a falling shelf.

Had this been a more recent series, the girl’s mother would have sued Driscoll’s into bankruptcy, and no one would ever get to buy toys there again. But this was a different time, and instead the mother was grateful to Peter and made sure he received the accolades he deserved for his heroism. 

The story makes the front page of the newspaper (slow news day!) and that’s when Peter begins to believe that his heroic act affords him special status within the family. “He doesn’t think heroes should put the garbage out,” says Bobby, on why Peter’s chores are now his. Then Peter wins a citizenship award with a $50 prize, and uses the money to – get this - throw a party to honor himself. Most Un-Brady-like. He finally gets the message when none of his friends show up.

Cindy’s brush with entitlement occurs in “You Can’t Win ‘Em All” when she is selected to represent her school on the television quiz show ‘Question the Kids.” From the moment that happens, she starts referring to herself as a television star: “Would you boys like to be the first to get my autograph?” she asks her incredulous brothers.

Throughout this episode Cindy expresses the belief that, when you are on television, everything you say or do is automatically more important. Sadly, many of the people who work in TV still believe that as well, as do many of their viewers. But Cindy’s brush with fame does not end well – when the quiz show begins she goes catatonic, with the worst case of freezing on camera until Admiral James Stockdale participated in the 1992 Vice-Presidential debate. 

Unlike Cindy, Bobby never sought any special recognition, but had it thrust upon him. In “Law and Disorder” he is appointed to the post of school safety monitor. At first he is appalled at the prospect of finking on his friends. But that hesitation doesn’t last long. Not only does Bobby come to embrace his man-with-a-badge status, he decides to start writing up his siblings at home for rules violations. Even Alice ends up on report. 

Of course, this episode is best remembered for the scene where Bobby floods the laundry room with soap suds. That happens because Bobby is put in a position where he has to break a rule with good reason. Lesson learned.

Certainly, the Brady most susceptible to entitlement is Marcia. “Every time she turns around they hand her another award!” Jan once said, and it seemed to be true. Still, Marcia maintained a level head through all of her various achievements until she was cast in the lead in her school’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Reluctant at first to accept the part, she rapidly turns into a Fillmore Junior High version of Katherine Heigl. She berates her costars, changes stage direction, and even rewrites Shakespeare to suit her preference. And she plays the diva at home as well, especially when reminded of how she is expected to help Peter clean out the garage: “Do I have to remind you that I am the star of our school play? Juliet wouldn’t do such menial labor.” 

Result? She gets fired from the play on the day of the performance. That does the trick.

Jan, of course, never amassed the same accolades as her older sister, and frequently suffered from low self-esteem as a result. But in “Miss Popularity” she finally does something right, and still manages to screw it up. Nominated for “Most Popular Girl,” she wins the title by making campaign promises she has no intention of keeping: “The election’s over now, and I won. That’s the important thing.” 

Spoken like a true politician.

In the first draft of her victory speech, she accepts the title by acknowledging how this honor confirms she has more “charm and personality” than any other girl in school.

“We’ve got five other kids – can we put her up for adoption?” Peter asks. 

Thankfully it doesn’t come to that – like all of Jan’s other meltdowns and misadventures, this one also ends with a return to normalcy – or as close as she gets.

Last but not least, we have Greg deciding he no longer needs college and may not even bother with finishing high school. In “The Dropout,” Dodger great Don Drysdale compliments Greg’s slider, and from that moment nothing else matters to him but baseball: “I’m going to be a baseball player – they don’t have to know anything.” 

That life-plan proves short-lived after he gets clobbered in a Pony League game, leading to the best father-son scene of the series.

Say this in the Brady kids’ defense – all of them snapped out of their entitlement attitude pretty quickly. And at least they all achieved something first before their collective heads swelled.  Today, we have too many people that trumpet their entitlement without accomplishing anything to deserve it.

Sometimes I think this whole country should take a seat in the family room and listen to a stern talking-to from Mike Brady.