Friday, March 6, 2009

SWATCHmen Part II – A Look Back at 1985 on Television

When Michael Ferrari (of Cinema Du Meep fame) invited me along on his journey back to 1985 to celebrate the new Watchmen flick (the graphic novel takes place in 1985), I was overjoyed. 1985 was all kinds of awesome… well, awesome as far as TV and movies went! I couldn’t believe how many unbelievably cool things burned their way across the screen and/or boob tube. I was in cinematic heaven and going back to the old days of wine and roses (or rather popcorn and Aqua Net) brought back a little of that magic. Sure the magic is pastel and has shoulder pads, but I’m alright with that!

Check out our lists of films Michael and I coveted in 1985 at ">SWATCHmen: A Look Back at 1985 on Film, and simply read on for our favorite television shows!

Small Wonder and More... by Amanda Reyes

It was the decade of loafers without socks, hairspray, Jo Polniaczek and neon, but nothing and I mean nothing was stranger than Vicki the Robot on Small Wonder. Vicki was essentially A.I. with hucks. Cute little Tiffany Brissette played a robot created by her “father” Ted Lawson (Dick Christie), a scientist who somehow made her look not only human but figured out a way for her to grow as if she was a normal girl! Sure she had to have the battery pack in back futzed with (that just sounds so dirty!) and spoke in an odd and annoying monotone voice, but she got the family into all kinds of mischievous activities, and we as the 1985 audience ate it up!

Small Wonder was one of the first shows that I remember being produced strictly for syndication. Like She’s the Sheriff, Marblehead Manor (gawd, remember that one?), Check it Out and the underrated Out of this World, Small Wonder ushered in a new market for low budget and peculiar sitcoms , therefore making it a kind of pioneer. Yeah, that’s right… a trailblazer! Put that in your pipe and smoke it! And smoke it hard because Small Wonder is like some kind of drug induced hallucination anyway. It’s not really very funny… it’s quirky; I’ll give you that, but certainly not the kind of laugh-out-loud show that the whole family would gather around to watch. In other words, it’s no Uncle Milty. However, it is inventive, unusual and remains of the more unique television shows in history. Those who stumbled across Vicki’s path were sure to never be the same afterwards.

One of the greatest enigmas to arise from the show was the actor Jerry Supiran who played little Jamie Lawson, the wise cracking “brother,” who went to school with Vicki and was lusted after by the comic relief Harriet Brindle (Emily Schulman, aka the Mrs. Kravitz character). Rumors about this kid have been going around the ether for almost two decades with stories ranging from an untimely demise to speculation that he went on to become Billy Corrigan of the Smashing Pumpkins! Both are (thankfully) untrue and chances are Jerry’s hung up the old oil can for greener pastures.

The fact that Small Wonder has remained an enigma and has endured over two decades since its incarnation in 1985 is a testament to the human spirit. Namely, how frickin’ weird we are! And how we love to look back at a time that seemed so innocent to us. A time when we were so un-jaded that a strange little robot girl who grew and spoke funny could get inside our subconscious and live on. It’s bizarre I know, but oh-so-true, and that’s the way I like it!

Ten More Totally Awesome Shows that Premiered in 1985!

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (NBC): Like the Twilight Zone revival (which also premiered in 1985), this was an excellent genre anthology program with lots of wonderfully dark and imaginative episodes. I would kill for a DVD release of this oft-forgotten suspense show.

Code Name: Foxfire (NBC): I had not heard of this series until recently when I was researching television series from 1985. This sounds like an attempt to reinvent the Charlie’s Angeles phenomenon with Joanna Cassidy! Looks the pilot was released as a made for television movie and is available on vhs. Well, lucky me!

The Colbys (ABC): Originally called Dynasty 2: The Colbys. Need I say more? Oh wait, I will say one more thing – Charleton Heston. Done!

Golden Girls (NBC): One of the best shows that ever aired, Golden Girls proved you could hire four “over the hill” actresses and feature them talking about sex and life in funny, candid ways and have a hit show! For whatever reason, despite the shows enormous popularity (GG only ended because Bea Arthur left, not because of low ratings), the only concept that seemed to rub off was the “craggly but funny” older relative character. What a shame that 29 years have passed and we still don’t understand what audiences want.

Hail to the Chief (ABC): Patty Duke is President and Ted Bessel is her astronaut hubby. I never saw this, but some of the IMDb comments refer to this show as a good companion to SOAP (which shared some of the same directors and writers). It would be great to see this show now. With Obama in office, a woman might not be far behind…

Hollywood Beat (ABC): Another show I never saw, this was supposedly a more comedic but still gritty take on the popular Miami Vice theme. It starred honey-pie Jack Scalia and featured lots of nifty new wave music. I must find this show!!!

The Insiders (ABC): Stoney Jackson = Me-ow! If Crockett and Tubbs were reporters, they’d be The Insiders, although I remember this show much better. I really liked the leads and it was fun and glitzy stuff indeed. The mousse alone must put the show way over budget!

Lady Blue (ABC): The short-lived series featured a female Dirty Harry, played by Jamie Rose (Just Before Dawn). Fans enjoyed the show immensely, but there were simply not enough of them to keep this gritty police procedural around for the entire season. The pilot was a made for TV movie.

Moonlighting (ABC): Remember when Bruce Willis was actually cute and funny? So. Long. Ago. Then-newcomer Willis showed oodles of talent and charisma as the goofy private eye who made a perfect foil/companion for the stylish Cybill Shepherd. Featuring an amazing theme song sung by the great Al Jarreau, this elegantly smart and funny detective series was untouchable (well, mostly) and ran for five seasons.

What’s Happening Now! (Syndication): So. Good. Maybe not quite as good as the original What’s Happening, the entire original gang (minus the awesome Mabel King) return for lots more silly humor. Even what shouldn’t work does because this group made comedy feel sweet and effortless. A true pick me up.

**Sniff Sniff**: We also said goodbye to the Duke boys and the Jeffersons, so 1985 wasn’t exactly perfect, but it was pretty dang close!

Read more about Hollywood Beat and the Insiders here

More Totally Awesome TV as Remembered by Michael Ferrari

When I think about 1985, I think back on a year that was so full of everything that is awesome. Is it possible that so many memorable shows were on at the same time? I know it was impossible to have watched them all, but I gave it my best - Watching a lot of them in reruns, eventually.

I remember 1985 being the first year where I found myself watching all kinds of stuff. My tastes were changing along with my body, and I had a lot of ground to cover. This was especially challenging for me as I was also becoming very obsessed with films back then. Still, I made the time for many a show - Even as wacky as The Wacky World of Sports.

Let’s see, they include: Situation Comedies (Charles in Charge, What’s Happening Now!, Mr. Belvedere), Dramas (Cagney & Lacey, St. Elsewhere, Dynasty), Crime Solving Duos (Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Remington Steele, Simon & Simon), Cop Shows (Hunter, Hill Street Blues, T.J. Hooker), Action Dudes (The A-Team, MacGyver, Knight Rider), Creepy TV (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ray Bradbury Theater, Tales From The Darkside), Dance Shows (Fame, Solid Gold), Cartoons (G.I. Joe, Jem, She-Ra, Gummi Bears, Rainbow Brite, Thundercats and Robotech all premiered in 1985!), Game Shows ($100, 000 Pyramid, Scrabble, and Press Your Luck were all new in '85)! And I can't forget the ABC Weekend Specials, CBS Schoolbreak Special & Storybreaks, TV'S Bloopers & Practical Jokes, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, Circus of the Stars, Battle of the Network Stars and Anne of Green Gables. And then there of course was The Cosby Show, The number one show of the decade.... I myself preferred his pudding pops, but that's just me.

1985 was so cool even George Orwell was tuning into Knight Rider and hoping that weird Max Headroom would make more appearances on the fun box while wondering if Maddie & David were going to get it on between all the bickering on Moonlighting. Cough, Trapper John.

That's a lot of burning picture tube love. Still, here are my 10 most favorite of that year, in no particular order:

The Equalizer (CBS): Was there anyone as cool in the 80's as Edward Woodward was in The Equalizer? This guy owned Magnum and MacGyver combined (Bite your tongue! Magnum Forever! - AR). His shtick was righting all the things once wronged and it entertained the hell out of me. And how can I forget the story arc with his son Scott as played by William Zabka?!? The Equalizer was a pretty adult show, but this kid couldn't get enough of it.

The Facts of Life (NBC): You take the good, you take the bad, you take them all and there you have.... a show STILL ON in 1985... And I was still watching. I think by the time '85 rolled around Mrs. Garrett's character was on her last legs, and it was probably the last good season. The show ended 3 years later and there was some doings with Cloris Leachman and what not, but my heart always belonged to Mrs. Garrett and her girls....

Family Ties (NBC): This was my absolute favorite show of the entire decade. I pride myself for watching all 176 episodes, from the pilot to "Alex Doesn't Live Here Anymore...Part II," Family Ties essentially became my family, and I cannot and will never say a bad word about them. Okay, the blonde haired moppet boy annoyed the hell out of me. He may have been the "jump the shark" moment, but still the comedy around him was always great. Michael J. Fox was the 1980's.

Highway to Heaven (NBC): Michael Landon managed to top Little House on the Prairie in my 1985 world as I always found myself moved by this show, which by structure reminded me of The Incredible Hulk. He moves from place to place, touching people's lives in unexpected ways. It rarely ever felt schmaltzy, just more heartfelt. It's the kind of TV that will never exist again, as people are far too removed these days...

Hotel (ABC): Why the hell was this kid into Hotel? I still have absolutely no clue... There was an elegance about the show, something very adult about it that drew me in. Maybe I just had the hots for Connie Selleca.... Either way I was hooked. Thank you once again, Mr. Spelling.

Miami Vice (NBC): Crockett & Tubbs set the bar pretty high in the 80's. Everyone I knew was addicted to this show... It's the single most stylish and most moody program TV ever produced. And it also raised the bar in storytelling and atmosphere. Without Miami, TV shows would continue to be just pretty standard and by the numbers. This show broke the mold and entertained a generation. And Michael Mann's film from 2006 is pretty great, too.

Silver Spoons (NBC): Who didn't watch Silver Spoons in the 80's? EVERYBODY I knew wanted to be Ricky Schroeder. Everyone wanted a huge train set... Everyone had a friend you would talk smack to, and a rival who got away with murder. But not everyone had a hot stepmom-to-be like Erin Gray... If she wasn't reason enough to tune in, I don't know why you bothered watching TV in the first place.

Small Wonder (Syndication): Premiered in 1985 and was one of the creepiest concoctions to ever come out of the 80s... A man created a robot to clean the house and live in a cabinet in her "brother's” bedroom. She also was regularly plugged in via a socket under her arm. I get chills when thinking about this show sometimes, mostly because it's so friggin' disturbing and utterly awesome.

Too Close for Comfort (ABC): This show was on for several years by 1985 and I was still catching up in reruns. It was like total crack to me. I can't remember a single episode of this show but I know I loved it with all of my heart back then. Something about a cartoonist in San Francisco, right? The actors were all great and played really well off each other Ted Knight was god. Who was your favorite daughter, the dumb blonde or the smart brunette?

The Twilight Zone (CBS): The reboot of The Twilight Zone in '85 was something I didn't really expect to enjoy, but from the opening credits onward I was glued to the T.V. Some episodes were a lot better than others, but I still tuned in, finding a gem here and there. Especially memorable was the episode about a man waking up and realizing time had been frozen, and that little blue men were recreating every second in time. That totally blew my mind.

My word! The dad was hawt!

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