Diff’rent Strokes

diffrent-strokes-cast-photoIt may seem that the cast of Diff’rent Strokes is competing with the cast of The Golden Girls to see which beloved sitcom can have the last actor standing. (Of the four central characters from each, three are no longer with us; Rue McClanahan, The Golden Girls‘ Blanche and Gary Coleman, Diff’rent Strokes‘ Arnold, left 80s television fans mourning in the very same week in 2010.) They’re tied, as of this past week, when Conrad Bain, who played Philip Drummond, passed away at age 89.

Bain was known to the world well before Diff’rent Strokes, having co-starred on the long-running series Maude (along with Golden Girl Bea Arthur, which gives me an idea for a new game, Six Degrees of Golden), among numerous other screen and stage credits. But he is probably well-remembered to many who were children during the time he was playing the most generous millionaire dad on the small screen. Continue reading

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Family Ties

The fall television season in 1982 brought us a slew of what went on to become hit sit-coms. This fall marks the 30th anniversary of Cheers, Silver Spoons, Newhart, and Family Ties… as well as Square Pegs, less successful but still cherished in the hearts of  80s girls. Did viewers know that Shelley Long, Ted Danson, Ricky Shroeder, Michael J. Fox, and Sarah Jessica Parker would become icons of an era? Probably not. But in the wake of The New Normal, The Mindy Project, and The Neighbors in recent weeks, I can’t help but feel nostalgic. (What’s the obsession with definite articles?) Continue reading

Charles in Charge

In honor of today’s rumors that Scott Baio has died, something that happens now with some regularity, and with #RIPScottBaio trending on Twitter worldwide, it seemed like a good time to blog about the pilot of a beloved ’80s sitcom, Charles in Charge. Just the title conjurs the tinkly sound of the theme song in your head, doesn’t it?

This pilot is one that I almost didn’t need to rewatch to write about it, but it is free on Hulu if you want to check it out. The show is about Charles, a preppy college student working as a babysitter and housekeeper to an upper middle class family with three kids. Apparently 1984 was the year for mannies. (See also Who’s the Boss, debuting the same year.) Continue reading

Deaths of 80s TV Stars

With the recent passing of Gary Coleman and now, Rue McClanahan, I have been hoping to locate the pilot episodes of Diff’rent Strokes or The Golden Girls. (I haven’t come across them online, so I may have to go old school and drive over to Blockbuster.) And, who can forget that Andrew “Boner” Koenig from Growing Pains took his own life not long ago? It gets you thinking about how a character can make such an impression. It is as if we all knew Arnold Jackson, Blanche Devereaux and Boner personally. When you’re a kid, especially (as I was when these shows aired) the folks you hang out with for half an hour a week can seem as real as your neighbors. We laughed with them through their daily mishaps, and cried with them in the “very special” episodes.

So without rewatching the pilot of Diff’rent Strokes, I can still share this part from memory. When the kids arrive at Philip’s house, Arnold brings along his pet fish, which is black, and which he introduces as his goldfish. Philip says, “I’ve never seen a black goldfish before.” Arnold replies, “That’s okay, he’s never seen a rich white man before.”

Okay it’s not brilliant, but it sticks with me 30 years later. Thanks, Gary, Rue, and Andrew for the memories.

Silver Spoons

Yes, Silver Spoons, the sit-com from the 80s. We Gen X-ers tend to have fond memories of this show, up there with Diff’rent Strokes and Gimme A Break. But do we remember how it all began?

It’s just another day in the life of millionaire Edward Stratton III (Joel Higgins)—riding a toy train, playing the full-size arcade version of Pac-Man—until his accountant shows up to inform him that he’s squandered all his riches. Not five minutes later, a tow-headed military school student (Ricky Schroeder) shows up to announce that he’s Stratton’s son. Stratton reacts to these two pieces of life-changing news with uncanny calm. And, man, it’s amazing they didn’t wear out the laugh track.

Computers were new and exciting in 1982. When little Ricky Schroeder tossed of the phrase “random access memory,” most viewers probably had no clue what that was. Computers run everything in the Stratton mansion from the drapes to the bank accounts, and we understand that the kids is going to have a better understanding of the technology than the father.

Ricky plays dumb with the accountant, who demonstrates how to use the big, mysterious computer with the clunky telephone modem, to view Stratton’s finances. This leads to the revelation that the accountant is a big, fat crook.

Stratton sends Ricky back to school, then regrets it, and—dressed a swamp thing—asks him to return and live in Chateau de Pac-Man.

Two-thirds of the way through we get a brief introduction the freaking adorable Jason Bateman as Ricky’s classmate. (We have to wait two years for Alfonso Ribeiro.)

It’s kind of amazing now the way emotional life decisions are glossed over like deciding what to order at Jack-in-the-Box. I guess that’s why, back then, “very special” episodes stood out as shark-jumpers. The very mention of sadness warranted a character speaking to the camera at the end, telling us the number of the national suicide hotline.

I think that today, even on sitcoms, crises are treated with a little more seriousness. Maybe in the carefree, big-hair 80s we just weren’t ready.