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

Reading Rainbow

If you ever watched Reading Rainbow growing up, either in school or on your own, you probably remember the basic idea. In each episode, the host, LeVar Burton, presents a children’s book.

As an educational show, the first episode, which aired in 1983, isn’t a pilot in the typical sense; it doesn’t need to introduce characters or a story, just a format. But if think back to your childhood (depending on your age) you might wonder what book was the first that LeVar shared with us. Continue reading

100th Post: It All Started with a Big Bang

It wasn’t really The Big Bang Theory that inspired me to start this blog; it was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. But for my 100th post I wanted to write about a show that I really, really love but for some reason hadn’t written about yet.

Actually there is a reason. I’ve been holding out hope that I would someday get to see the unaired pilot and blog about that, but Chuck Lorre isn’t letting that particular Schroedinger’s cat out of the bag/box. In our minds it will remain simultaneously great and terrible.

…except for the cold open, available on YouTube here: (No embed code, for some reason.)

Like the opening scene of the aired pilot, it’s set in a high I.Q. sperm bank, and the dialogue is similar. The main difference is that here, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) have already made their “deposits,” while in the aired pilot they have a change of heart and leave. Personally, thinking that they couldn’t go through with it makes me like them a little better.

Even in the aired version, this scene feels tacked on, and a few things don’t quite fit with what we now know of the characters. Leonard makes a masturbation joke to Sheldon: “You’re a semi-pro.” (Sheldon? Really?) And donating sperm just isn’t the sort of thing Sheldon and Leonard would do. They never seem to lack for money and Sheldon seems incapable of anything remotely sexual. And Leonard just acts like a jerk telling the receptionist the answers to her crossword puzzle–sure, he’s smart but he’s not a jerk. (Weird trivia: both Parson’s and Galecki’s fathers died in accidents.) 

Once you get past that scene, however, the show comes to life. As the guys trudge up the three flights of stairs past the forever broken elevator in their apartment building, they get a glimpse of the beautiful, tan blonde (Kaley Cuoco, previously the jump-the-shark character addition on Charmed) unpacking in the unit across the hall. A lesser show would have had them do something like trip and fall or stutter when they talk to her. Instead, Leonard extends a heartfelt but off-kilter greeting.

In the original the guys meet a girl on the street—rather than a new neighbor— and let her stay with them. I can’t see them sustaining that plotline for very long. Perhaps the plan was to have the girl eventually take the apartment across the hall.

And who doesn’t love the theme song? It was almost “She Blinded Me with Science,” but the Bare Naked Ladies’ recitiation of the formation of the universe is infinitely more satisfying.

Many of the show’s recurring elements are introduced in the pilot: Sheldon’s spot on the couch, the broken elevator, Leonard’s previous relationship with Joyce Kim (who we later learn was a North Korean spy), and Raj’s inability to talk to women. Also, Sheldon wears a Flash T-shirt, the first in a collection.

One of the great things about TBBT is Penny isn’t just an empty-headed blonde bimbo, though unfortunately this is how she comes across in the pilot. Her reference to astrology acts as short-hand for “she’s a ditz” while her bangs give her a little girl look that she outgrows as the character develops. She even seems to talk in a higher voice than normal. Sheldon, on the other hand, is a little too astute about sexual proclivities. He knows Leonard’s intentions almost before Leonard does.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) are introduced about midway. Their characters are fairly one-dimensional and would remain so for at least a season. That goodness they’ve come so far! In hindsight it’s kind of hard to believe that Chuck Lorre, the creator of such douchebags as the Harper brothers also created such loveable characters.

Though Sheldon and Leonard are introduced with equal weight, it’s suggested that Leonard is the one most desiring to sleep with Penny and is thus assumed to be the protagonist. As the show has progressed, it could be argued which one of the guys is actually the star. Sheldon continues to grow as a person, in the meantime garnering Emmy nominations for Jim Parsons, while Leonard has a followed a typical boy-pines-for-girl-gets-girl-then-loses-girl trajectory. Sheldon makes the show. Even on their Comic-Con panels, Parsons tends to grab the spotlight.

Throughout the episode the geek jokes abound, ranging from Klingon Boggle and Luke Sykwalker shampoo to complex equations worked out on a whiteboard just for fun, complete with jokes that no one without a Ph.D. would get. This stuff is just the icing on the cake, though. Although a good portion of us fans are no doubt geeks, the truth is most of us are somewhere in between the guys and Penny on the genius spectrum. We might have Lukeskywalker shampoo (or want some – do they have that at Rite Aid?) but we probably didn’t build anything that’s currently orbiting a moon of Jupiter. If you did, mad props.

…math, science, history, unraveling the mystery that all started with a big bang. (Bang!)