Sitcom: Just the Ten of Us
Approval rating: Thumbs down + yawn
Rationale: Just the Ten of Us was a spin-off of Growing Pains. The series began when Coach Graham Lubbock lost his sweet job at Mike Seaver’s high school. Refusing to be crushed in spirit by district budget cuts, Coach Lubbock sets out for places unknown with his ridiculously large family and voila! Another 1980s sitcom is born! Sitcom spin-offs seem to be like so many breeding rabbits.
Like prototype Duggars, the Lubbock family was close-knit and pathologically boring. One of their daughters might have been a little loose, but that was it.
Sitcom: The Facts of Life
Approval rating: Meh
Rationale: While conducting intensive research in the form of a Google search for this piece, I learned two facts of life I was heretofore unaware of:
1. Facts of Life was a spin-off of Diff’rent Strokes
2. The all-pervasive George Clooney was a regular on the show for a couple of years. I totally don’t remember that.
The show is about four girls in a boarding school, ano their housemother, Mrs. Edna Garrett. The main characters conveniently fit four stereotypes:
- Beautiful, spoiled, and rich girl (Blair)
- Tomboy, who falsely believes she’s in the closet (Jo)
- Quirky, bright, and black (Tutti)
- Slightly overweight and wise-cracking! (Natalie)
As usual with 1980s sitcoms, one episode burned itself into my memory, which is what is known as trauma. For Facts of Life, it was an early-ish episode where someone’s grandmother came to visit. The grandmother tells Blair, “You remind me of me.” Blair’s face pinches and she says, “Excuse me?” in a really high-pitched voice.
At another point in the same episode, Jo tells the girl to stop being rude to her grandmother, because “all grandmas want to do is love you”, which causes the audience to applaud wildly and hoot to show their support.
This brings us to an important point. Why are sitcom audiences so stupid? Look at the example with Jo. Why applaud her for making such an asinine statement? It isn’t like there’s anyone who would argue you should be rude to your grandmother. There’s no powerful anti-grandmother lobby in Washington, D.C., is there? And applauding her for making dumb statements will only encourage her to greater flights of foolishness.
1980s Sitcom Audience Sins
- Applauding people for making self-righteous speeches
- Applauding whenever a main character walks in (I’m looking at you, Who’s the Boss?)
- A low-pitched Ooooh! when something underhanded happens
- Hooting whenever a hot guy or girl kisses someone (I use the word hot loosely)
There could be some reasonable explanation. Maybe the producers locked people in the studio and told them the only way they’re getting out alive is if they play along and pretend to be having a great time.
Or maybe political prisoners were bussed in to watch each episode as part of their punishment and “reeducation”. They know what happens when you don’t play along with the government!
Whatever the audience’s problem is, each instance highlights why the Facts of Life girls’ families have seen fit to pay someone else to raise them, far, far away.
Sitcom: The Golden Girls
Approval rating: N/A. I’ve never been able to sit through an entire episode. However, I’ve been in enough waiting rooms where the show is playing to have a general idea of its premise.
Golden Girls is about four older women living in a Florida home, furnished entirely with wicker. With four distinct personalities and one common love of wise-cracking, zany mishaps will ensue!
Redeeming factor: Betty White is always funny.
Unrelated but intriguing fact: Want to know something interesting about Bea Arthur? (Like there’s anything uninteresting about Bea Arthur!) Back in the 1940’s, she was a Marine! Check it out:
Not-exactly-a-Sitcom: The Dukes of Hazzard
Approval rating: Two thumbs up
Premise: The Duke cousins live with their Uncle Jesse, an ex-moonshiner in Hazzard County, Georgia. Bo and Luke are plagued by the law, and often involve their cousin Daisy and Uncle Jesse in their scrapes.
Rationale: The Dukes of Hazzard holds a special place in my heart. Bo Duke was my boyfriend, though he was probably unaware of it.
On to character analysis!
Luke Duke was a quiet fella who harbored a deep devotion to a blue plaid shirt, a pathology attributable to a deep sense of shame that his first and last names rhymed. He does things in the background or rides in the passenger seat of the General Lee, an orange Dodge Charger with a Confederate flag on the roof.
Bo Duke lights up the screen with his brilliant acting, mad driving skills, clever schemes, and devil-may-care good looks. Bo also had an addiction to one shirt (his was yellow), though in his case, it is less a flaw and more a lovable quirk. Bo was popular with the ladies, who were evidently unaware he was spoken for.
Daisy Duke was so addicted to short shorts that they are actually named after her. The remainder of Daisy’s identity consisted of wearing a bikini in unlikely places and driving a white Jeep Wrangler. Relationship to Bo: uncomfortably familiar.
The law is represented by Boss Hogg, Roscoe P. Coltrane, Roscoe’s dog Flash, and Enos. Boss Hogg is a corrupt force in Hazzard. He wears all white, drives a big Cadillac with bullhorns, and enjoys greasy food. Boss was great, but his sidekick Deputy Roscoe P. Coltrane is way the best person on the show. Roscoe can usually be found in hot pursuit of the Dukes or doing Boss’s evil bidding. Roscoe says, “Kuw, kuw, kuw” when he’s happy. Relationship to Bo: persecutory.
Couter is an important though minor character. He works at the local garage. Cooter is a friend of the Dukes and apparently Vince Neil’s body double. Relationship to Bo: occasional helper.
Sitcom: Happy Days
Approval rating: One thumb up, unenthusiastically.
Rationale:Happy Days originally revolved around the adventures of Richie Cunningham, of Milwaukee. Richie is the personification of 1950s middle America, down to his letterman cardigans. His father Howard owns a hardware store, and his mother Marian makes lovely dinners. He has a little sister Joanie and an older brother Chuck – who was “Judy Winslowed”, as Billy Superstar of Full House Reviewed would say. In other words, he was removed from the cast without explanation, since the producers figured he wouldn’t be missed.
Fun fact: Chuck Cunningham was played by two actors.
Richie has three friends: Ralph, Potsy, and Fonzie.
Later the show became less about Richie and more about Fonzie.
Fun Fact 2: Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees tried out for the role of Fonzie. Can you imagine?
The Fonz had peculiar talents, like hitting a jukebox to make it play or snapping his fingers to make two girls (no particular girls) respond like Pavlovian dogs by hanging on his shoulders. He may have derived his powers from his omni-present leather jacket.
Fonzie is notable for a key moment in television history. He was the original guy who jumped the sharks… in his leather jacket and cut off jean shorts, no less. Jumping the Sharks is a term still used to mean the beginning of the end of a good thing.
After Fonzie jumped the sharks in one episode, the show went markedly downhill, suspiciously coinciding with the introduction of Scott Baio to the cast.
Interesting but Unrelated: Erin Moran, who was Joanie on the series, has fallen on hard times in recent years. She was recently in the news for getting kicked out of a trailer by the mother of her common-law husband. What happened, Erin? Time to reassess and regroup. Jumping the Sharks in real life is not pretty.