Ten Surprising Facts About the ‘Blossom’ Pilot

How have I not blogged about this show by now? What finally prompted me was Mayim Bialik’s appearance on The Howard Stern Show, and a blog post she wrote about it. She’s awesome. During her hour-long interview, she talked about how new acting was to her when she was cast as the star of a sit-com at age 14. She and her parents lived in a rented house in L.A. with one bathroom, and she swears she was still a normal, nerdy kid at the same time she played the eponymous Blossom Russo. I believe her.

BlossompilotWhen you recall Blossom you probably think of something like, “Tonight on a very special Blossom… Joey says ‘whoa’.” (That quote is from something. Anybody know what?) And hats. Lots of stupid, floppy hats. Usually dismissed as a bit of 90s fluff, this show actually holds up, at least as demonstrated by the pilot. Here are some things about it that may surprise you:

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Married… with Children

Fox ran the pilot of Married… with Children in honor of its 25th anniversary, and the broadcast may have led some people to wonder what anyone ever saw in this show — which ran for eleven seasons. That’s ten seasons longer than Firefly.

The pilot takes place over the course of a single day. (Is this a sit-com pilot trope? I’ll have to think about that.) It starts as many family sit-com pilots do, with the morning routine. Before heading off to school, the pint-size son harasses his teenaged sister, while their mother delivers a flaccid reprimand. As they head out, the husband, Al enters from upstairs dressed for work with a bandage on his hand. He’s injured and, in what will become an incessant theme, his problem is his wife Peg’s fault. She’s not accepting any blame, however, ferociously defending her right to do whatever the hell she wants. Continue reading

Will & Grace

Getting engaged seems like a good event around which to build a pilot (How I Met Your Mother, Alias), as does leaving one’s betrothed at the altar (Friends, Happy Endings). Grace (Debra Messing), in the pilot episode of Will & Grace, does both. The plot revolves around her engagement and aborted nuptials with the unseen Danny, and her best friend Will’s (Eric McCormack) discomfort with telling her he thinks she’s making a mistake. As we know, it all works out for the best, and the two chums go on to spend eight hilarious seasons dating their way around New York City. Continue reading

I Hate My Teenage Daughter

I Hate My Teenage DaughterThe pilot of I Hate My Teenage Daughter, which aired November 30, opens with a mini-twist. Two women sit in a coffee shop dissing two other, very bitchy-sounding women. Any prior hint about the show’s subject matter–or, for that matter, its title–gives away that they are talking about their daughters. The two moms, Annie (Jaime Pressly, My Name is Earl) and Nikki (Katie Finneran, Wonderfalls), talk about little else, it seems. Their gorgeous daughters, Sophie and Mackenzie flounce in, and we can kinda see what they’re talking about. They’re pretty bitchy, all right.

Teenagers hating their parents is nothing new, and it’s not hard to believe that a lot of parents secretly “hate” thier children, in turn. The show doesn’t leave us thinking that anyone really hates anyone, mind you, but we can understand the need for parents to vent their frustrations. Certainly raising a teenager, in a world filled with privilege and instant gratification can be no picnic. The challenge of the show however, is that if we are to laugh along with the moms, we need to like them. And they’re pretty horrible people. Continue reading

The Munsters

Growing up, I’m sure I caught reruns of The Munsters now and then but they didn’t make much of an impression. I basically thought of them as the other Addams Family. The two shows actually ran during the same two seasons (1964-1966). Guess they were the Once Upon a Time and Grimm of their day.

The show was produced by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, creators of Leave it to Beaver. They seem to have drawn on their background with that show, preserving the familial love, but hightening and spoofing it.

The premise for The Munsters doesn’t need much explanation; it’s about a family of old horror movie-esqe monsters. As the pilot opens, we first meet Marilyn (Beverly Owen), a normal, pretty blonde young woman, kissing her date goodnight on the front porch. Marilyn explains that the couple she lives with are her aunt and uncle, with whom she has lived since she was a baby. She frets about introducing her date, Tom, to her family, and Tom invites all of them to a party his parents are throwing. Continue reading

New Girl

Just in case you’re not one of the reported 10 million people who tuned in for the much-ballyhooed premiere of New Girl last week, here’s the deal. It’s terrible. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but as someone who loves most of Zooey Deschanel‘s work going back to Almost Famous, I found this show to be a huge disappointment. You can pick apart whether the jokes are cliche or the characters are likeable, but I don’t generally expect much from network sit-coms in that regard.

My main problem: Why Dirty Dancing? What is the fascination with that movie? And is Zooey’s character Jess even old enough to remember it?? It came out in 1987, and she’s probably supposed to be 30, tops, so what exactly is her attachment to a trite film about a skeevy old guy (no disrespect to the late Patrick Swayze, who played said skeevy old guy) preying upon an idealistic teenager wearing Keds? Continue reading

Traffic Light

Traffic Light on HuluMaybe it’s just me, but Traffic Light seemed to slip in under the radar in early February. There was little fanfare for this comedy that airs on Fox after Raising Hope, but it had some funny moments, so checking out the pilot was in order.

The show takes full advantage of hands-free telephone technology now widely available in newer cars. The pilot opens with all three of the main characters talking to one another as they drive, and gets really funny when one of them gets pulled over. This turns out to be more than just a one-off bit. This angle allows the writers a fresh, modern take on friendly conversation—does the world need another sit-com where everyone hangs out in a bar? It also underscores an element of the zeitgeist; we’re all connected, all the time, even when we’re ‘alone.’

The three main characters are introduced as they speak, with subtitles giving their names and relationship statuses; these are completely unnecessary, as the dialogue does a perfectly fine job of filling us in.

Mike (David Denman, The Office) is married with a baby. Adam (Nelson Franklin, also The Office) is just moving in with his girlfriend. Ethan (Kris Marshall)’s only significant relationship is with his dog. Three different guys are in three different stages of life, giving the writers ample opportunity to riff on singlehood and relationships alike. One other piece of information is worked into the conversation. The 27th (of whatever month we’re in) is “Ben’s day.” There are a few more brief mentions of Ben throughout, but we have to wait until the end of the episode for payoff.

The two women rounding out the cast are Mike’s wife, Lisa (Liza Lapira, Dollhouse) and Adam’s girlfriend, Callie (Aya Cash). Lisa gets a great introduction. Mike is hiding out in his car, parked a block from his house, in order to sneak in alone time from his family. He explains this to his friends on the phone in such a way that we, the audience, don’t see him as an irresponsible jerk but rather as just a guy who wants to watch Ironman in peace. Lisa surprises us—and him—by showing up at the car to nonchalantly hand off the baby. She then heads off for a jog, shouting, “love you!”

It’s refreshing that Lisa’s not a stereotype; either a nagging wife who beats her husband into service or a hysterical prima donna who cries when he bails. So far, so good. Then, however, things start to spiral into sit-com 101. Of course, one of the characters has to be a lawyer and one has to be a journalist. Lisa starts nagging Mike to go to some work function with her, and even if she lacks in nagging capacity, Callie more than makes up for it. Nagging leads to lying and manipulating when Adam has to get out from under her thumb to hang out with the guys.

The plot devolves further with some nonsense about Mike having to dress as a wrestling clown for Adam’s boss’s son’s bar mitzvah. Finally, we get to a resolution that reveals who Ben is, or rather was, and thus the bond shared by the three guys. It’s a nice, sensitive moment, ala How I Met Your Mother, albeit with a strained metaphor for the “traffic light of the title.” Once can only hope that the attempted tear jerker won’t become the hallmark of each episode.

Modern Family

I’ve been feeling like I missed the boat on Modern Family, having pretty much ignored it last season. But since it made such a great showing at the Emmy’s and sounds like it’s here to stay, I figure I check out this pilot. If you haven’t watched it yet, maybe this will help fill you in, too.

The show opens in sit-com 101 mode, with a family starting their day with breakfast in the kitchen. It hits you with a good guffaw right at the top. The dad is yelling for the kids, and the daughter enters with, “Why are you guys yelling at us when we’re way upstairs? Why don’t you just text us?” After that there’s a bit about the daughter’s skirt being too short and the parents having baby oil on the bedside table. These may not be the most original jokes we’ve ever heard about offspring and ‘rents, but they’re delivered pretty fast and furious. This show isn’t going to waste our time. Continue reading

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.