Television as the glass teat is a notion not lost on me philosophically, practically or, as you’d expect, some better-left-unexplained turn-on.
My obsessive/compulsive association with “boob” and “tube” likely commenced in utero and it flourishes to this very keystroke, albeit not in the guise it took most deeply in my formative years: that of the half-hour situation comedy.
Aside from the Sunday night Fox cartoons (and, if I’m around, The Office), I presently view no primetime network funny fare except by happenstance.
This just sort of occurred over the past decade or so ago. And if you’d known me up to say, the Seinfeld finale, you’d recognize this as an apocalyptic change of habit.
As for my favorite sitcoms, meaning the ones I think are genuinely good and funny, there are few surprises: the aforementioned Seinfeld, The Abbot & Costello Show (from which Seinfeld was conceived), All in the Family, Bosom Buddies, Bewitched, Addams Family, Munsters, The Partridge Family, Hogan’s Heroes, Green Acres—all your expected answers.
For much of my life I had a complicated relationship with The Brady Bunch.
As a kid, I genuinely thought the show was stupid and unfunny, but I could not NOT watch it twice every day, three times if I was home sick from school (as the Bunch aired at 9am, 5pm and 6pm on channel 5 on weekdays throughout the 70s, and then for a solid hour on Saturday afternoons).
The lowest-profile sitcom that I will forever champion is It’s Your Move, which pitted Jason Bateman against the future next-door-neighbor from Married With Children (who was dating Jason’s mom, played by Caren Kaye of My Tutor) in a stunningly inventive battle to ruin one another’s entire universes week in and week out.
It ran one season, 1984-85, and I’m often nicely surprised by how many people remember it, in particular the brilliant “Dregs of Humanity” episode (and no, no, nooooo, I ain’t no Arrested Development fan).
Small Wonder, of course, is a meisterwürk of genius in a league by itself that would require a hundred doctoral dissertations to properly begin to analytically appreciate.
One severely obscure show that I’d love to see now is No Soap Radio, an attempt at Monty Python-style surrealism that aired for a few weeks after Bosom Buddies in 1982. Clips exist online. They’re pretty dopey, but No Soap was, and remains, one of the goddamndest things ever broadcast when everybody only had about six channels from which to choose.
Today, though, I come to … not quite celebrate, but rather illuminate a dire near-dozen sitcoms to which I have been and, to varying degrees remain, profoundly attached.
None of them are good. Each of them is perfect. And their presence in my skull, and soul, is great. And deep.
Let the countdown commence:
10. MALIBU, CA
All I ever called this show was “The Kids on the Beach.” It’s a perfect summation and, had they gone with my utilitarian title, instead of a mere two seasons, Malibu, CA might have run as long as perhaps three, maybe even three-and-a-half. But probably not.
Modeled on the TNBC prototypes (Saved by the Bell, California Dreams and the forgotten plea for racial homogeny, City Guys), Malibu crashed the morning-programming bash about a half-decade past the party getting called on account of everyone growing their final pubic hair.
The premise was teenage fraternal twin brothers move from New York City to the titular coastline to help run their pop’s surfside malt shop.
There was also, notably, balloon-bosomed beach bunny Traycee, played by child pageant queen turned Playboy centerfold Priscilla Taylor. It’s really easy to find pictures of her boobies (I especially like the look of genuine distress in her faux-lesbo pose at right).
“The Kids on the Beach” aired early Sunday mornings in New York and mine were the only eyes ever laid upon it. I was in my 30s by then. And sober.
I don’t suppose I could have in any way been more opposite at that point than a “Kid on the Beach”, but somebody, somewhere would have to someday pay proper homage to Murray’s guy-liner.
9. THE UGILY FAMILY
One of the profound annual joys of my childhood was when TV networks used their summer schedules to air pilot episodes of series on which they had passed.
NBC sporadically assembled four sitcom episodes into anthology “movies”, while ABC normally had regular slots for pilots throughout the swelter season. One-hour pilots aired on Mondays as “specials” while half-hour editions typically followed reruns of hit shows or, in 1982, on Saturday nights. That was where I came across The Ugily Family.
Actually, I first “came across” TUF the previous Sunday, while flipping through the Daily News’s weekly TV supplement and being struck by a photo of Al Molinaro surrounded by a wife and kids that made him look like — (let’s see… who’s a good circa-82 gorge-o to invoke here?… ah!)—Susan Anton by comparison. Being as kind as possible, one might describe these peoples’ appearance as “ethnic.”
Compounding the shock of the image was the title of the show, which I plainly read (as it was no doubt intended) to be “THE UGLY FAMILY.”
Happy Days was still going strong in ’80, so it seemed odd that Al might attempt a spin-off. Had he learned nothing (like the rest of us) from Mr. T & Tina, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita’s legendary 1976 Hindenburg for which he walked away from Arnold’s?
And it was not likely that there’d be a “Mr. Miyagi”-style big-screen role for the once-and-forever Murray the Cop several years hence, either.
More than that though, the prospect floored me that this group of actors was volunteering to be labeled, perhaps forever if the show took off, as THE UGLY FAMILY.
So I wanted no part of announcing my own hideousness to humanity any more than I had to by merely facing the world every day.
Alas, as I settled in front of the tube on hazy July Saturday at 8pm, like all the cool kids do, I learned that “You-JEE-Lee” was the correct pronunciation: “The You-JEE-Lee Family.”
Like the aforementioned Malibu, CA, the Ugily premise was standard fish-out-of-water—or more specifically, baccala-out-of-New-Brunswick—with our oily, kinky-haired heroes relocating from New Jersey to Southern California.
Kids today will never know the pleasures of such third-tier TV celebrities like those titans: too faded to be asked back for another Love Boat shot, just right to sit it on The Match Game (albeit most likely the daytime edition). That’s their loss—the stars and the kids alike.
Daughter Susan Ugily (Susan Elliot) physically brought to mind Rhea Perlman, but crossed with diarrhea. She fretted about how she’d fare in an upcoming “disco sand-dancing” competition. This being a sitcom, Susan won the contest. And another disco sand-dancing lie was perpetuated upon the public.
The Ugily Family aired just that once and I’ve never met anyone else who saw it. I’ve asked. Believe me.
My desperation to experience life beyond what was limited to kids initially manifested itself in my refusing to sleep at night. Ever. As a result, I grew up intimately knowledgeable of Tom Snyder, David Susskind and, best of all, Joe Franklin.
My favorites, of course, were the countless movies of every stripe that ran across the dial until the near-dawn “Star Spangled Banner” sign-off. Channel 9, for one, ran a horror movie every night at 3am and, perhaps not coincidentally, was also New York’s lone TV outlet that broadcast 24 hours straight under the banner “9 All Night.”
For a while, in the wake of the brief Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman phenomenon (a show I watched religiously, frantically trying to understand—and failing, as an eight-year-old should have), oddball “sophisticated” sitcoms ran in late-night syndication.
None was odder—nor could conceivably have blown harder—than All That Glitters, a semi-sci-fi satire from Marty Hartman creator Norman Lear.
The show looked and played like a standard five-nights-a-week soap opera centered on a corporation, but its gimmick was that the gender roles were reversed: women moved and shook society while menfolk did household stuff and got that masters’ snatches wet.
Linda Gray, just prior to being Sue Ellen on Dallas, played TV’s first shemale on All That Glitters. I think the title was even a reference to her cock.
Now you’re picturing Linda Gray’s cock, aren’t you? Yes. You are. Is it nice? Did you give Linda Gray a nice cock in your mind? What about her balls? If not, make it a nice cock-and-balls. Why not? Shemale Linda Gray is your mental image, so give her a huge, succulent plantain-and-apple-sack now. Go ahead. She’s yours forever!
I hated All That Glitters. I still hate it. Yet I loved it. It felt like … mine.
The fact is that I forced myself to watch All That Glitters in the hope that its “sexually subversive” premise would result in something actually sexual on-screen.
That quixotic drive—to somehow, someway be there when, for some reason, TV went berserk and presented bona fide nudity—fueled, without exaggerating, 40-percent of my childhood undertakings.
I just realized that my dream came true, of course, with Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl, but we were all decades past Skinemax at the point, so … feh.
All That Glitters only served to further harden a cynical little boy into a man who didn’t even drop his chicken wing when a tit finally popped out on regular TV.
For shame, Norman Lear.
Ah, well. At least we got Linda Gray’s cock-and-balls out the deal.
TUNE IN NEXT TIME!
- « Mr. Skin’s 12th Annual Anatomy Award Nominudes
- » The 10 Shittiest TV Sitcoms I Love More Than TV Itself: DELTA HOUSE