Who’s the Boss

WTB_pilotI’ve been curious to dig up this pilot for a long time, so I decided that Alyssa Milano‘s 40th birthday would be an auspicious day for it. She’s 40. Yeah. You know what that means, if you grew up watching the show: You’re old.

The show’s simple premise show is dispatched before the opening credits; a single dad (Tony Danza) is moving from the big city to the suburbs so that his young daughter can experience the protection of a white picket fence. It’s a concept resurrected recently with Suburgatory, but Samantha Micelli is much younger, and the impetus for the move is a black eye rather than condoms.

On the other side of the Connecticut border waits single mother Angela (Judith Light) and her young, reptile-loving son, Jonathan (Danny Pintauro). One of Angela’s first lines, to Jonathan, is, “I’m warning you, Joan Crawford is my idol.” I found that kind of a weird, creepy reference with which to introduce a maternal character, but then the writers are subverting gender stereotypes at every turn. Angela breaks glass ceilings while Tony cleans them.

The first hurdle is convincing Angela to accept a man as her live-in housekeeper. Angela has put out an ad and her mother, Mona (Katherine Helmond), has handled the interview process. We’re given no indication that Tony is either qualified or not to keep house in the suburbs, and Mona’s criteria have more to do with masculine good looks than any resemblance to Martha Stewart.

Possibly the whole pilot could have been built just on Tony convincing Angela to let him stay. At this point, his whole life is packed into a van and he has no other prospects. We don’t get much sense of his desperation, though. We move right into a plot about Angela being up for a promotion at work.

She’s a high-powered business woman portrayed as shrewd and smart, yet is on the verge of sleeping with the boss. The question is whether sleeping with him is the key to a promotion, or if she can be name president of the company on her own merits. It’s a valid premise for working through the issues the show wants to raise. But here’s where it gets weird. Tony is way too interested in the moral choices of a woman he has just met. On the one hand, positioning him as someone with strict sexual mores reassures us as that he poses no threat to Angela. On the other, WTF? If your new employee starting questioning you about your sex life less than 24 hours after you’ve met him, would you keep him around? It’s downright uncomfortable.

The kids, in this episode, are bit players at best. I remember the show being mostly about Samantha, but that may be the direction it took as she went through puberty and undoubtedly pulled her weight in earning ratings. I also remember that Samantha was a popular kid in school, which was contrasted with Angela’s history as a nerd. It was a nice dynamic, but probably wasn’t intended from the start.

It worked out well for Alyssa Milano, at any rate. She’s been on TV pretty much non-stop ever since and meanwhile… Danny who?

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