Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Comfort TV To Five Annoying Sitcom Kids: Get Off My Lawn


I’m in the midst of watching a new DVD release of an old TV show I’ve never seen before – a “Purchase or Pass” review about that series will appear in the blog next week. I mention it here because, as I started viewing the first couple of episodes, I took an instant dislike to one of the kids in the cast.

Does that sound awful?

It happens sometimes, with characters of all ages. It’s certainly not an aversion to TV children in general – most have made indelible contributions to their respective series. Even at my advanced age I wish I were as cool as Jeff Stone (Paul Petersen) on The Donna Reed Show.

If the task at hand is to single out five annoying kids, there is an easy way to do it -  focus on characters that were cast in the waning seasons of a series headed toward cancellation, such as Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch, Quinn Cummings on Family and Brian Bonsall on Family Ties. These actors faced the daunting task of bringing new viewers into a sagging series, while disrupting an on-screen family dynamic that was working fine before they got there. 



But that would be cheating. Instead, here are five choices that were part of their shows from the very first episode.  They all still get on my nerves.

Kathy (Kitten) Anderson
Father Knows Best
Anyone who thinks the children on 1950s sitcoms were all perfectly behaved automatons has never watched Lauren Chapin as the Andersons’ youngest daughter. She was TV’s first spoiled brat, prone to whining and temper tantrums when she didn’t get her way. 



Chapin barreled into nearly every scene she was in, projecting her lines at extra high-volume, and in episodes like “The Promised Playhouse” her character shows an utter disregard for the feelings of her parents and her siblings. 



Father Knows Best aired for six seasons, enough time for Kitten to outgrow some of her less appealing traits. And she did have some moving moments in “Kathy’s Big Chance,” which featured a memorable guest appearance by the ever-graceful and elegant Greer Garson. But generally, when I feel like revisiting this series, any episode with Kathy’s name in the title is likely going to be skipped.  

Ross Lane
The Patty Duke Show
It’s hard to figure out what purpose Ross served on this series, or even if he had one. He seems like an afterthought even among members of his own family.

Just six of the show’s 106 episodes focus on Ross. That’s a sign that the writers realized the character wasn’t working. He’s still in most of the shows, but usually turns up only to deliver a cheap shot at his sister. To be fair, she doesn’t seem to care much for him either. 



What made this show special was the remarkable performance of Patty Duke as cousins Patty and Cathy Lane. She received able support from William Schallert and Jean Byron in the parent roles. And then there’s Paul O’Keefe as Ross, who…was also there. I’ll give him this much though: he was the only member of this Brooklyn Heights family who actually had a New York accent.


Richie Petrie
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Richie, played by Larry Matthews, is the least annoying character on this list, though I could do without his tendency to run yelling out of a room. But like Ross Lane he is rarely featured, and even when a story revolved around Richie, it focused more on how his parents reacted to the situation. 



In “Washington vs. The Bunny,” Rob is torn between a business trip for his boss and attending a school play in which Richie plays a bunny. In “Where Did I Come From?” Richie asks that provocative question to his parents. In “A Word a Day” the Petries get a call from Richie’s principal, reporting that their son used a curse word in school. In “What’s In a Middle Name?” Richie wonders why his middle name is Rosebud.

All of these episodes are classics because the kid kicks off the plot and then fades into the background amidst hilarious dream sequences, flashbacks, and parental debates.

When he is featured more, such as a show like “Never Name a Duck,” the results are not as favorable. And his shaky, off-key performance of “The Little Drummer Boy” is the only part of the series’ Christmas episode you’ll want to skip.  



Julie Cooper
One Day At a Time
Oh, good lord, the yelling. Somebody please make it stop. Julie was a drama queen who never missed an opportunity to make her mother’s life more stressful.

Ann Romano already had enough challenges with starting over after a divorce, getting a job, and raising two daughters on her own. Julie was old enough to be sympathetic to her struggles, yet she couldn’t get past her own issues – and there were lots of them: jealousy, self-centeredness, terrible taste in boyfriends, truancy, gullibility, and more teenage angst than all six Bradys and all eight Bradfords put together. 



My favorite Julie moment happened in “The Runaways” – a four-episode story that follows Julie and latest loser boyfriend Chuck, as they set out to make it on their own. When Ann pleads with Julie to stay, her defiant daughter quotes a list of unreasonable terms before she’ll agree to do so. “Okay, Julie,” Ann responds. “Go.” Both Bonnie Franklin and Mackenzie Phillips play the moment beautifully, and the audience applause reveals which side they’re on. 



Wesley Crusher
Star Trek: The Next Generation
There’s a reason why “Shut up, Wesley” may be the most famous quote from this series in seven seasons.

It’s become cliché to bash Wesley so there’s not much I can add to this topic. And to be fair Wil Wheaton plays the character well and does figure prominently in several great episodes, including “Final Mission” and “The First Duty.” He’s also featured in a couple of the show’s worst installments: “The Dauphin” and “Evolution.”

The annoyance with Wesley emerges mostly from stories that have him discovering solutions to life-or-death perils ahead of seasoned officers, including Data, an android with a total linear computational speed of 60 trillion operations per second. That just shouldn't happen - and certainly not more than once.  

And if that wasn’t enough, he is recruited by a superior alien race because he is “special” to ascend to a higher form a life. I quote a contributor to IMDB: “In light of what an annoying idiot he’s become, there is no way ANYONE could believe this!!”



No wonder there are fans who, when Wesley was sentenced to death in the first season episode “Justice,” still wish that sentence was carried out. Beverly would have gotten over it eventually.


P.S. Since I limited myself to Comfort TV era characters, I could not also call out Dawn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Maddie on Nashville, and Connor on Angel. But they are all just as awful. 

 

10 comments:

  1. This was a hugely entertaining read and I found myself nodding my head vigorously at your choices! (Jesus, Julie Cooper on 'One Day at a Time" just made the show unbearable to watch sometimes!) I have one that springs to mind--Wayne Arnold of "The Wonder Years". I wasn't a particularly big fan of the show (only watched it new, never repeats or syndicated episodes) but I mainly recall thinking Kevin Arnold's older brother was just--too--mean.

    Anyway, this was great--thanks David!

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    1. Thanks Doug - yes, Wayne was an awful one-note character.

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  2. * No mention of * Michael James Wixted on THE SMITH FAMILY was most annoying to me. No matter the situation he always sounded like he was fighting back tears. The lad couldn't act his way out of a paper bag.

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    1. Well done, Dan - you guessed the identity of the kid I referenced at the start of this piece. But I won't reveal yet how much he impacted my overall review of the show.

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  3. Great topic! Here are my contributions:

    Chester Anderson "Leave it to Beaver"
    Even more than Lumpy or Eddie (R.I.P.!), he just seemed like the biggest a-hole of all of Wally's buddies. Can't really explain why, but I've had a negative response to him since my single-digit years. Someone in the production offices must have agreed with me - He only appeared in twelve episodes.

    Sally Simms "The Paul Lynde Show"
    My most despised child actor and voice-over artist (Worst. Lucy Van Pelt. Ever.) is Pamelyn Ferdin. That combination of smart-assed precociousness and her overly-chirpy inflection is grating as hell.

    Dee Thomas "What's Happening!!"
    Come on, someone was going to bring her up! This one is the whole package: caustic, insulting, rude, a snitch and a blackmailer. Even my father once remarked during a episode, "I'd really like to beat the s*** outta that kid".

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    1. Pamelyn Ferdin was one of the busiest and respected child actresses in the 60s and 70s, before she left showbiz to study nursing.
      As a huge Peanuts fan, I think she was actually the best Lucy!
      Many of the actors she worked with- like Paul Lynde and Jack Klugman- saw her as a true pro and praised her abilities to act and be focused- even at her young age.
      I understand it's all opinion, but I wanted to balance it with another post of view.

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  4. There's nothing wrong with Chester Anderson on 'Leave It to Beaver'. If you want someone annoying on that show, how about Gilbert?

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  5. Betty Anderson on Father Knows Best was a spoiled snob. She was horrible to Bud.

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  6. I guess the topic of kids on shows from Day One won't let me include the obnoxious Ricky Stevens from Season 4 of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. Mercifully for the audience, his character was dropped after 10 episodes.

    I despised Wayne Arnold of THE WONDER YEARS too. I can say though he was much worse than my own brother EVER was.

    I didn't like Gilbert Gates/Harrison/Bates of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER too much either. He was yet another friend to lead the gullible Beaver astray.

    I didn't care much for Nicholas Bradford, the youngest of EIGHT IS ENOUGH. Adam Rich, who played Nicholas, himself said although Nicholas was supposed to be 10, he acted 6 a lot. My mom particularly hated his bad shaggy 70s haircut.

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  7. More about Ritchie Petrie: I noticed that as THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW got older, Ritchie appeared less and less. I have an old book including episode guide from the series that lists characters only when they appear, and I noticed that Ritchie went from appearing in 27 out of 30 episodes in Season 1 to only appearing in 7 out of 32 episodes in Season 5. Larry Mathews was credited weekly, but he didn't appear very often as the show went on. I heard Mr. Mathews saying in a DVD commentary (for an episode in which he didn't appear) that he was always welcome on set whether he was appearing or not, but I don't know if he was paid for those episodes where he didn't appear. As you said, he was mainly there in support of the other characters, and later only when they needed him. An expert on the show stated that many of the show's writers, including Garry Marshall, didn't like writing for Ritchie, mainly because they didn't know what to do with him.

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