Monday, August 27, 2012

'Wings' - An Appreciation

 It has been 15 years since the last new episode of Wings aired on NBC – and probably about 15 seconds since the last Wings rerun aired somewhere on cable. 

During an eight-season run, the series anchored several NBC lineups that popularized the tag line “must-see TV.” But unlike The Cosby Show and Cheers, it is rarely afforded the same respect.  I don’t think that’s fair. We can debate about whether it qualifies as classic TV – I say it does – but it certainly deserves recognition as Comfort TV, and here are ten reasons why.

1. A classic(al) theme song
Before it was phased out halfway into the third season, Schubert’s Sonata in A set the delightful tone for a lovely 60-second opening credit sequence featuring picturesque aerial shots of Nantucket, where the series is set. Thanks to Wings, if you’re ever with some friends and this piece starts playing on a classical radio station, you can casually observe, “Ah, Schubert’s Sonata in A – one of my favorites” and everyone will think you have culture. 

2. The pilot
A show about pilots should have a great pilot, and Wings delivers. The first appearance of Joe Hackett’s ne’er do well brother Brian is one of the series’ best moments. The black sheep hits Tom Nevers Field like an insult comic propelled by a tornado, immediately setting the tone for the sibling rivalry that would play out over the next eight years.

3. Holiday episodes
Holiday shows have fallen out of favor in today’s TV landscape (don’t get me started on that topic), but even in the classic TV era most shows managed only one or two Christmas episodes no matter how many seasons they aired. Wings did six of them, all of which deserve a spot in your next holiday TV marathon. My favorite is “The Customer’s Usually Right” from season four, in which Joe’s refusal to pay a 50-cent rewind fee on a rented videocassette (it was 1992) gets a sweet little old lady fired on Christmas Eve. His attempts to make amends lead to unexpectedly hilarious complications. 

4. William Hickey as Carlton Blanchard
William Hickey was an Oscar-nominated actor and one of the most distinguished acting teachers of his generation (his students included Steve McQueen and Barbra Streisand). But for classic TV fans, he will always be best remembered as Carlton Blanchard, the most annoying man ever born. Hickey appears in just three episodes, but they’re all gems.

5. “Joe Blows”
Two-part episodes are difficult to pull off for the average sitcom. “Joe Blows” from season five overcomes the odds and became one of the show’s best stories. On the surface it’s basic role reversal – irresponsible Brian is forced to take over the day-to-day operations of Sandpiper Air, while button-down brother Joe becomes a Caribbean beachcomber. But it's also the best exploration of their always complicated relationship.

6. It could pull off a touching moment
Some of the most memorable scenes in any comedy are the ones bereft of laughs, when the writers dropped the punch lines and created dramatic moments that made the characters seem more authentic. Wings had its share, beginning with the standout season two episode “It’s Not the Thought, It’s the Gift.” The story is an escalating game of amusing one-upmanship between brothers Joe and Brian to find the best birthday present for Helen, but the poignant final scene is unexpectedly moving. And in the season six opener “Whose Wife Is it Anyway?” Joe proposes to Helen in the emotional high point of the series. 

7. The Frasier crossover
I don’t care if it was shameless network cross-promotion, the season three arrival of Drs. Frasier and Lilith Crane to Nantucket inspired several classic moments, including Joe’s reference to Lilith as “Morticia,” and Helen demanding her money back after one of Frasier’s vacuous self-esteem seminars. 

8. The Trivial Pursuit game
It’s hard to single out any one scene as the funniest out of 172 Wings episodes, but many fans point to the Trivial Pursuit game in the season two show “Sports and Leisure” as the series’ comedic pinnacle. 

9. The classic TV salutes
For a TV fan, some of Wings’ best scenes featured the cast acknowledging its classic sitcom ancestors. After Helen and Joe came into some money, Helen loses control at a memorabilia auction and outbids guest star Peter Tork for the Monkeemobile (“She’s Gotta Have It”); in “A House to Die For,” there’s a dream sequence in which Helen plays Marcia Brady opposite the cast of 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie. 

10. A satisfying finale
“Final Approach” provides a fitting send-off that may not quite reach the heights of the last Mary Tyler Moore Show or Newhart episodes, but surpasses the finales of Cheers, Seinfeld and many other, more celebrated classics.


  1. I am also very fond of this series, and was appalled by it's shabby treatment on DVD. The episodes were compressed way too much. It really deserves a remastered re-release, on Blu Ray if necessary.