Tag Archives: Growing Pains

15 Spin-Offs That Never Existed That Were Cancelled Too Soon

Coach Ioki

Last month we took a look at 15 shows that never existed that were cancelled too soon, and with today’s news that a Married With…Children spin-off focusing on Grandmaster B Bud Bundy is a (germ of an idea of a plea of a) reality, it seems right to shift perspective and now look at some forgotten spin-offs from television history. There are some dramas, some comedies, some animated series; some won several awards, some were roundly ignored; some were praised by critics, and some just adored by fans. But these spin-offs all have one thing in common: they never got the chance they deserved (because they never existed).

Ioki’s Place (FOX, 1990): After misfiring with Booker Fox attempted another 21 Jump Street spin-off, this time with Sergeant Harry Truman Ioki leaving the force to open a neighborhood bar and banh mi shop. But Ioki gets more than he bargains for when his father/head chef (the legendary Pat Morita) can’t help but meddle with his leadership style, and sparks begin to fly with his new manager, Samantha (Ellen DeGeneres). Most notable for featuring a pre-teen Seth Rogen as neighborhood kid and prankster Billy Goldstein. Peter DeLuise appears uncredited in every episode.

AIDS (TNBC, 1992-1993): An obvious ploy to capitalize on the success of Saved by the Bell, AIDS focused on a group of hall monitors and office assistants at Manhattan Beach Preparatory High School. Despite much fanfare, a plum time-slot, a young Michelle Rodriguez and a sweeps week visit from Screech and Mr. Belding, the show inexplicably failed to catch on with viewers and was soon replaced by a second helping of California Dreams. 

Knight Rider Knights (Syndicated, 1986-1987): When Glen A. Larson and NBC agreed that 44 minutes of David Hasselhoff per week was not sufficient, they expanded the franchise with this short-lived look at how Michael Knight and his sentient car-best friend KITT spend their nights when they’re not fighting crime and chasing bad guys. Loosely based on the provocative 1980 Al Pacino thriller Cruising, the majority of episodes featured Knight and KITT hopping from drive-in movie theaters to Dairy Queens to mall parking lots to drug-fueled sex parties. The rambling, ramshackle nature of the show – there was clearly no script and some scenes were obviously just Hasselhoff’s home movies shot on a cheap VHS camera – quickly turned off loyal fans of the brand, and even a cross-over event with the original series, dubbed “The KITT Stays in the Picture” failed to bring viewers back. Delved into the supernatural towards the end of its run, and most remembered for the penultimate episode in which a jealous Wiccan transforms KITT into a 60-year-old man, portrayed by KITT voice William Daniels, sporting the same wardrobe and mannerisms he’d later incorporate into his iconic role of Mr. Feeny. Not to be confused with the animated series Knight Rider Knights (1988), in which a lightning storm sends KITT back in time to Camelot where he serves in King Arthur’s Court, or Team Knight Rider (1997-1998), which was a real show.

The Urkels (ABC, 1993): With the white-hot heat emanating from Family Matters resident nerd-in-love Steve Urkel, ABC quickly green-lit this spin-off – a drama focused on Steve’s parents and his autistic brother Stewart – for the fall ’93 slate. Unfortunately, even with an advantageous TGIF slot following Full House and a gushing review from Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker, the series struggled in the ratings and ended with an unresolved cliff-hanger in which Mrs. Urkel (Wanda Sykes) files for divorce. Young son Stewart was initially played by an aging Emmanuel Lewis, but was replaced with Wild & Crazy Kids‘ Omar Gooding after the pilot.

The Cosby Mysteries: Sex Files (NBC, 1996): An ill-advised attempt by Bill Cosby and then-NBC head of programming Warren Littlefield to revive the Cosby Mysteries, this time moving away from the wholesome, family-friendly storylines of the original series towards the more graphic and explicit fare that has become the hallmark of NBC’s later primetime hit Law & Order: SVU. The six produced episodes were never aired and quickly destroyed, and all cast and crew involved were paid off to never talk about it.

Mail Bonding (NBC, 1989): Quietly falling between The Tortellis and Frasier, this short-lived and quickly forgotten Cheers spin-off swapped out the bar for the post office. Unfortunately, Cheers producers Glen & Les Charles forgot to bring over the sharp wit and clever writing of its progenitor, and the talented cast – which featured Gordon Jump, Brian-Doyle Murray, Ellen DeGeneres, former NFL great Bubba Smith, a young Marc Maron and Tom Bosley as Postmaster General Charlie O’Flaherty – never quite found the chemistry that was the trademark of Sam, Norm, Woody and the gang. By the time Cliff Clavin stopped by the Beacon Hill Post Office in episode nine, the bad news of cancellation had already been delivered.

Designing Men (CBS, 1991-1992): After leaving Sugarbaker Designs, Anthony Bouvier (the late Meshach Taylor), heads to New York to open up his own interior design firm and get a taste of the big city. Partnering with his former prison cellmate, Fuzzy Mendez (Luis Guzman), and moving in with old college friends Eli and Paris (David Paymer and Harvey Firestein), Anthony is ready to bring a little southern peach to the Big Apple. The series’ final episode, “Bullies Over Broadway” was heralded for its brave depiction of ageism in theatre, winning an AARP award and snaring Firestein a BAFTA nomination for his performance. Despite lasting only one season, the show was a phenomenon in Germany, where it was titled Girly Männer and can still be found in reruns on the country’s RTL II network.

Private Boner (ABC, 1990): After a vocal (and sometimes openly hostile) write-in campaign persuaded ABC brass to bring back Growing Pains‘ Richard “Boner” Stabone (the late Andrew Koenig), this short-lived midseason replacement found Mike Seaver’s best buddy on the ground in Kuwait, trying to mine laughs from minefields. Hoping to combine the pedantic and sanctimonious tone of Growing Pains with the poignant authenticity of M*A*S*H, the series was, ironically, preempted for a special report on Operation Desert Shield and never returned to air. A later effort to return Boner to Growing Pains was, in fact, aborted by the now Born-Again Kirk Cameron, who objected to Koenig’s staunch belief in the right to choose.

MonsterMASH (CBS, 1987): A poorly conceived collaboration between M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbhart and the Brady Bunch’s Sherwood Schwartz, this variety show was the first (and only) program to blend elements of comedy, drama, musical numbers, and the Korean War. Adam Arkin stepped into Alan Alda’s boots as Hawkeye Pierce, reimagined now as an exceedingly neurotic and easily frightened Brooklyn Jew, and Jamie Farr reprised his role as cross-dresser Max Klinger. The pilot aired as a Halloween special, but, like many pilots in Korea, it crashed and burned, as some viewers were offended by the portrayal of Koreans as werewolves, vampires, Yetis, Frankensteins and other figures of the occult. Airing up against ABC’s Mr. Belvedere, the series never really had a shot, and was DOA.

Just Close Enough for Comfort (Syndicated, 1987): After retooling Too Close for Comfort into The Ted Knight Show to middling returns, executive producer Earl Barret decided to take the opposite tack, dropping the show’s star, the eponymous Knight, and bringing back original cast members Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lydia Cornell, and Audrey Meadows, along with new additions Robert Hegyes, Anson Williams and third Quaid brother, Barry (in his only credited role). The series picks up with Knight’s character Henry Rush inexplicably absent and shifts the focus to Jim J. Bullock’s Monroe Ficus, whose opens a handmade sofa and loveseat gallery to immediate success (later episodes would reveal that Rush left Marin County to pursue his dream of writing political cartoons for The New York Post). Early reviews were not kind, noting, accurately, that “nothing ever really happens in this show,” “the characters just basically get along really well and pay each other compliments. I counted seventeen hugs in the first episode alone, which I guess is fine, but super, super boring,” and “one episode is devoted entirely to the characters offering excessive praise of Ficus’ new chaise lounge. Granted, it was a very nice lounge, but the whole 22-minutes were completely devoid of any conflict – or charm – whatsoever.”  Said chaise lounge is now on display at the Paley Center for Media (Los Angeles).

Mona’s Place (ABC, 1992-1993): When Angela Bower sells her Connecticut home to move to Manhattan with new husband Tony Miceli, her vivacious and hyper-sexually-active mother Mona stays behind in the guest-house and proves that 70 is the new 20. Originally titled The Cougar Den, this Who’s the Boss? spin-off failed to appeal to young TGIF viewers, but was applauded for its frank discussions of sex, ageism and menopause. Despite lasting just thirteen episodes, Katherine Helmond earned a Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice award for her performance in “A Round of Appalled” in which she learns she has contracted the Clap, an episode that continues to be shown in many high school Health Education classes today. An interesting footnote: following cancellation, Mona’s bedroom/sex den was repurposed into Cory and Eric Matthews’ room on Boy Meets World, which debuted the following fall.

Saved by the Bell: The Early Years (TNBC, 1994-1995): Ever wonder what Bayside High was like when sixteen-year-old Richie “the Big Bopper” Belding was spinning records for KKTY? Neither did anyone else.

Just the Nine of Us (ABC, 1991): In a last-ditch effort to capture viewers, Just the Ten of Us producers Guntzelman-Sullivan-Marshall retooled the series as a season-long kidnapping mystery. Unfortunately, due to abysmal ratings, production was quickly halted and we never learned which of the Lubbock children had been abducted. Series star Bill Kirchenbauer later called it “the single worst professional experience of my life. No one knew why we were there and all of our lawyers were combing through our contracts desperately trying to find a way out. To say that cancellation came as sweet relief is a massive understatement.” An extremely short blooper reel can be found on the Growing Pains Season 7 DVD.

UnsDuck in Time: The Lost Tales of Launchpad McQuack (Syndicated, 1993-1994): Unlicensed and dangerously incompetent pilot Launchpad McQuack, second banana to Scrooge McDuck and sidekick to Darkwing Duck, finally takes center stage in this rare collaboration between Disney Television Animation and the Children’s Television Workshop. Thanks to a temperamental and possibly demonic time machine invented by Gyro Gearloose, McQuack is sent backwards through the ages to important events in history, from the Revolutionary War to the JFK Assassination. Designed as way to teach children about world history while keeping them entertained, the program failed at both aims, and ended with a controversial finale in which a Launchpad McQuack from the year 2020 is sent back from the future to kill his present day self in order to prevent a nuclear holocaust. That finale, ironically, netted the show its largest audience by a wide-margin, but talks to revive the series were abandoned following the runaway success of the newest Disney Afternoon sensation Bonkers, as well as the rampant drug use by the show’s animators. However, the story did continue in a spin-off comic book series published by Malibu Comics, which ran for seven years, and featured the writing debut of future Spider-Man scribe and Eisner Award winner Brian Michael Bendis.

Heidi’s Head (FOX, 1992): Encouraged by the mild success of Herman’s Head, FOX executives fast-tracked this spin-off that followed the same blueprint. Joan Cusack starred as the titular Heidi, an aspiring designer at a hip fashion label, with Soliel Moon Frye representing her sensitivity, Sandra Berhardt her lust, a young Jeremy Piven standing in as her anxiety and Robert Guillaume as her intellect, with occasional appearances from Marsha Warfield as Anger. A back-door pilot in which Herman’s Head star William Ragsdale sleeps with Heidi (after Hank Azaria’s womanizing scoundrel Jay drugs her at bar) was shelved in favor of a Married with Children clip-show. Was later ripped off by Pixar.

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Notes on Nothing: 25 Years of SeinLanguage

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, as the genre-redefining sitcom first graced our television screens as The Seinfeld Chronicles, with very little fanfare, on July 5, 1989. It went from an afterthought, a summer run-off and near footnote, to a comedic juggernaut that indelibly altered the television landscape. Since I noticed many websites and bloggers and critics providing their valuable insight and analysis, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well. Because if there’s anything the internet needs, it’s more of the same.

First, if not for Seinfeld it might have taken me another couple of years to understand masturbation, or least be aware of its existence. It’s no exaggeration to say that one of my initial brushes with self-pleasure came courtesy of “The Contest,” the landmark episode that somehow danced around jerking off for 22-minutes but never explicitly said it. Later, I’d come to realize what a masterful performance it was, what a majestic ballet to say so much without every saying it. It was truly bit of brilliant lingual gymnastics (and even later I’d realize that they maybe applied their cunning linguists to cunnilingus, but that was far behind my realm of understanding at that time (and possibly at this time)). Even if I didn’t fully comprehend what they were discussing, it was an eye-opening experience to just barely grasp that these people were talking about what seemed like the most adult of activities, at 9pm, on NBC, when I was sitting in my bedroom eating ice cream (I was lucky enough to have a television of my own from a very young age, which allowed me to probably watch a lot of TV that I shouldn’t have (see: Silk Stalkings)). I was used to Full Houseto Growing Pains, to Saved by the Bell, where the epic romance between Zack and Kelly seemed as important and real as anything could ever be. This is was a different kind of show, with a different kind of language, with a different agenda. Again, I didn’t quite process that at the time – I couldn’t – but I knew it was nothing like the shows I was accustomed to (TGIF, The Disney Afternoon, for the most part). It gave me a view into the adult world, and in many ways it was as formative in my education as Health class and freshman year and my one summer at sleep-away camp. To me, at eleven-years-old, the people on Seinfeld were grown-ups doing grown-up things. Not just masturbating, but sitting in a diner drinking coffee, going to the movies, seeing the baby, arguing over whether or not soup is a meal, dating a different gorgeous woman every week, hanging out with Keith Hernandez, just popping-in at your friend’s Upper West Side apartment. But also masturbating.

<!–more– More Nothing: Jews, Jewiness & Keith Hernandez…>

Secondly, Seinfeld was perhaps the first time I recognized Jewiness on TV, especially Jewiness that was camouflaged as something less overtly Semitic and thus more palatable for the general audience (there was, of course, CBS’s Brooklyn Bridge, a favorite of my father’s, but that was hit-you-over-the-head Jewish, and was more like historical fiction. Also, I think I imagined the Seavers  from Growing Pains as Jewish somehow, for some reason, despite the frequency of Christmas-themed episodes, Alan Thicke’s hair, and, later, Kirk Cameron’s big-time, overwhelming Jesus-ness).  Even as a child I identified with the characters of Seinfeld on a cultural level; their conversations, their cadences, their backgrounds, their outlooks, they just felt natural and familiar, and at the same time it was Jewiness without the Jewish grandmother or the random yiddish phrases or the Shabbat candles or, really, all the guilt. It wasn’t arguing about how long to cook the brisket or who has better matzoh ball soup or why aren’t you a doctor like your brother, it was sitting in a coffee shop arguing about buttons, about sex, about nothing. It wasn’t the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was the New York Mets. It was the modern Jewish experience stripped of all the traditions and customs and weight and distilled down into Jerry Seinfeld’s nasally voice, upturned nostrils and early-90s mullet. And, perhaps more significantly, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, as many others did, that “Costanza” was not a Jewish name, because to me, and to everyone, George Costanza was a Jew, through and through. Yes, growing up on Long Island, the Jewish-American experience felt very similar to the Italian-American experience – I often felt like an honorary Italian – but there was no mistaking George as anything other than a bundle of Hebrew neuroses.  In retrospect, knowing that George was based on Larry David, this seems obvious, but we didn’t know that then, and it was just another way that Seinfeld accomplished something real and spectacular.

Finally, Keith Hernandez is my favorite baseball player of all-time, a fact that was certainly bolstered by his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” However, even though I was a huge fan of Mex (as his friends call him. His friends and me) following the Mets ’86 World Championship, displaying a Hernandez 8×10 on my bedroom wall and a Starting Lineup figurine on my shelf, I wonder now if Hernandez is my favorite player because of his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” And, taking that a step further, I wonder if Seinfeld became my favorite show specifically because of Hernandez’s memorable turn in “The Boyfriend Parts, 1&2.” Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster (and prone to his share of off-the-cuff gaffes), is left-handed and played 1st base, while I, currently unemployed, am right-handed and played the bench, so there’s not much in common that would inspire me to choose Keith as my favorite player, making his appearance with Jerry and Elaine more important than any of his baseball accomplishments. Or, perhaps, was it just my favorite show continuing to provide moments that bolstered its position as my favorite show? Whatever the reason, it was truly an intersection of the Venn diagram of things that I love. Add in JFK assassination conspiracy theories – something I was weirdly into as a kid – then you had, maybe, the perfect episode of television for twelve-year-old Seth, and another example of why Seinfeld seemed to speak to me so clearly.

Looking back, I think that as a child I imagined that I would turn out like Jerry one day; a neurotic Jew living in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by his vapid friends. I also imagined that I would turn out like Danny Tanner, a clean freak raising three kids in the suburbs with the help of my weirdo aspiring stand-up comedian friend who lives in the basement and it’s not at all creepy, but when you’re young and have never really left Long Island those two futures aren’t mutually exclusive. Obviously, my adult life has not turned out like either of those two, because 1) they’re fictional and 2) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan or the Bay area. But, certainly, living in Brooklyn and remaining an uppity, thin, neat, single Jew, I hedge much closer to the Seinfeld side of the spectrum. And I do wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture. The show, no doubt, shaped my life, but I think it was also created, and shaped, for me and people like me. Which is why you can turn on TBS and find any episode of Seinfeld and, laugh track be damned, it’s still brilliant.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in media studies to assert that Seinfeld forever changed, redefined, television. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But the way it gave new meaning, and a lasting meaning, to things like Junior Mints and the Mackinaw peaches and Bosco, and then introduced phrases into our lexicon like “close talker” and “puffy shirt” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” is something that perhaps can only be rivaled by The Simpsons.* Over two decades later you can throw out an off-hand quote from Seinfeld and someone will immediately get the reference. The series didn’t just make a contribution to the television, it contributed to our vocabulary, it contributed to our culture. In nothing, they found everything.

*Interesting to note that when I went to sleep-away Jew camp for the first and only time in 1997 I recorded audio from two shows onto cassette and listened to them on my Walkman before bed, my surrogate for an actual television. Repeatedly listening to those poor quality recordings done on my Sony sports radio probably got me through that summer. One of those shows, of course, was Seinfeld, and the other, naturally, The Simpsons (specifically, this one). 

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Filed under Brilliance, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, Seinlanguage, Wake Up, SF!, Woody Allen, Bar Mitzvahs & Bagels

Groaning Pains: Matthew Perry Goes On to a Better Place; Or How We Learned About Drunk Driving

With the proper premiere of Go On this week and its promising ratings, it seemed like the appropriate time to revisit our Groaning Pains series, specifically Go On star Matthew Perry’s short stint as Carol’s ill-fated boyfriend, Sandy. In other words, it’s time to discuss how we learned about drunk driving (and that a guy could be named “Sandy”).

When Friends premiered back in 1994 we may have been the only eleven-year-old in the country who thought to himself “there’s the guy who was in the Married with Children backdoor pilot and there’s the guy who was Carol’s boyfriend on Growing Pains that died from drinking and driving.” The former is Matt LeBlanc, whose Married With Children character Vinnie Verducci – Joey Tribbiani’s spiritual predecessor – was spun off with his father Charlie  (the immortal Joseph Bolonga) into the very short-lived series Top of the Heapand the latter is, of course, Matthew Perry. For years, Matthew Perry stuck in our mind because of his role on Growing Pains – 1) because his arc ended so tragically, and 2) because we never could quite wrap our heads around the fact he was named Sandy – and it would take a little while for us before we thought of Perry as Chandler Bing and not as Carol Seaver’s love lost, a cautionary tale.

Go on

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In Memorium: Ron Palillo; AKA When We Welcomed Kotter

If you asked us which television character we most resemble, many suggestions would rapidly come to mind. Zack Morris for his blonde hair good looks and cunning. Mike Seaver for his teenage heartthrob good looks and mischievous charm. Cousin Cody for his laid-back surfer dude good looks and martial arts skills.  But while those are all great contenders, we have to admit that there’s another character in the television pantheon with whom we most identify: Arnold Horshack, played so brilliantly and honestly by Ron Palillo, who passed away yesterday at sixty-three.

We recall very clearly the summer in which we first fell in love with Welcome Back Kotter.  No, it was not the Summer of ’77, but almost twenty years later when the show was in syndication on Nick at Niteas that network began to shift its designation of “classic TV” from the black & white oldies like The Donna Reed Show and Mr. Ed to the grainy full color ’70s shows like Kotter and The Bob Newhart Show. Nick at Nite would run marathons of Kotter once a week, as part of their “Block Party Summer” programming gambit, and watching those episodes back-to-back-to-back was just about the best block party we ever went to. But we also remember the show airing nightly at 11pm, perhaps the following summer or the one after that.  This sticks with us vividly because we recollect having to make a tough decision, a Sophie’s choice: Seinfeld, airing every night in syndication as still does to this day, the undisputed sitcom champ of its time and perhaps anytime, or Welcome Back Kotter, the over the hill has-been who was also the new kid on the block. Even though Kotter was about fifteen years older, and had achieved lunch box-level success, it felt very much like a wily up-and-comer taking on the unbeatable stalwart. But while our head told us that we should choose Seinfeld, that it was the superior show, the one that was not only plugged into the zeitgeist but was driving it, we felt this tug towards the Mr. Kotter and his Sweathogs.  Did the latter show have hugs and heart while the former swore off that sort of sentimentality as its guiding principle? Certainly. But we weren’t quite the cynics we are now, not quite submerged in snark-infested waters. And despite the magnetic north of Nielsen ratings and cultural relevance pointing towards Jerry and the gang, and despite our unconditional love for that show then, now and forever, we followed our hearts further up the dial, further into the hinterlands of cable, towards Gabe and the gang.

More: And in Arnold Horshack we found a kindred spirit…

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Filed under Count Bleh, Good Humor, In Memoriam, Nostalgia Corner

Groaning Pains: The Time that Mike Seaver Said He Had a Black Friend

Today we continue our look at some of Growing Pains more memorable – or notorious – moments, especially those bits of dialogue or storylines that surprised (or mildly stunned) us when we rewatched the show as an adult.

One of the episodes of Growing Pains that we remember most from our youth, one that stuck with us all throughout childhood and beyond, is Season One’s “Reputation.”  In this episode Mike Seaver* prepares, fully intends, to cheat on his Civil War exam in Mr. Dewitt‘s history class, writing key dates, names and locations on the soles of his largest pair of sneakers.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the test: he actually learned the answers, and when the time came he didn’t need to take a peek at the bottom of his Reeboks.  He absorbed and retained that information, and in much the same way we absorbed and retained this episode.  It was because of this episode that we’ve known for as long as we can recall that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and Andrew Johnson took over after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  Yes, we’ve always had an aptitude for history, but we feel entirely comfortable crediting Growing Pains with teaching us about this specific and significant event in US history.  And in addition to the lesson this episode provided, we also vividly recalled Mike Seaver’s stirring, high-pitched, plea of innocence to his parents – “I did not cheat!” and Jason Seaver’s surprising but unwavering belief in his son’s word.  If we didn’t already have a father who loved and trusted us, we would have desperately wanted Jason Seaver to serve that role.  And even though we weren’t in the market for a replacement parent, we never forgot or stopped admiring Jason’s unconditional love.

But despite having such a strong connection to this episode, something did take us quite aback when we years later watched the episode on DVD, Mike’s explanation to Ben about the crib-sheet sneakers.

We’re not sure what’s more hard to believe, that they so casually equated a black guy with the basketball team, or that there would actually be a black student in their white, upper-middle class, Long Island suburban paradise (a neighborhood not unlike the one we grew up in).  We’re racking our brains trying to come up with a single black character on the show, and we’re coming up empty (Apparently Growing Pains was the Girls of its day).  But it is the first reaction – the flippant political incorrectness – that really struck us.  We could envision a line like that a few years later on a more provocative show like Married with Children, but it’s not like Growing Pains was ever considered edgy.  But, then again, the TV landscape has changed, and while you can say, do and show more now, you can also say, do and show less.  As the limits of sex and violence and vulgarity have expanded over the last twenty-five years, you can make the argument that the levels of political correctness and racial sensitivity have conversely, almost paradoxically, expanded in kind.  Appomattox Court House, captain of the Dewey High School basketball team, is a perfect example of this.

*We’ve been talking about the New York Mets a lot lately, so it’s worth noting here that the Seavers were named in honor of Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who just this past Sunday was named to the Mets All-Time Team as right-handed starting pitcher.  Also named to the team as the all-time lefty starter was Jerry Koosman, which not coincidentally is the surname of the Seaver’s next-door neighbors.

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Groaning Pains: The Time That Mike Seaver Said He’s Gay

This is the first in what may be an ongoing look at some of the more melodramatic, socially conscious, politically charged, culturally relevant, righteously pedantic or potentially controversial moments from ‘Growing Pains.’  Today we take a look at the sixth episode of the show’s first season, “Mike’s Madonna Story.”

Kirk Cameron, America’s premier born-again Christian, has gone on record (with Piers Morgan, not Greta Van Susteren) that he opposes homosexuality.  Whether he hates gays and believes God hates them too is up for debate, but he certainly disagrees with their lifestyle and believes they’re destructive to “our” Christian civilization  It’s a bit jarring then that his television alter-ego Mike Seaver would make light of same-sex relationships, suggesting to his mother in this early Growing Pains episode that the reason that he did not have sex with a young slut (played by the late Dana Plato) is that he’s gay.  Of course, the truth was that Mike was just too ashamed to admit that he was scared to go all the way (which is fine, kids!), but we find it weird that in 1985 they included this remark, especially that they used such a sensitive issue as a laugh line.  But, perhaps, this was a time that was pre-gay panic, where something like this was not yet politically incorrect or possibly offensive and instead totally acceptable on ABC Saturday night at 8pm.  We do know, however, that we never noticed – or perhaps more accurately, understood – the meaning of this reference until we saw this episode as an adult.  We were probably five or six when we saw this episode (in syndication), and the concept of homosexuality went way over our very short heads.

Besides the surprising, now distracting, throwaway mention of homosexuality, this scene features the hallmark endemic to any great, quintessential Growing Pains episode, an extremely long, deliberate, wordy scene between two or three Seavers, often concerning some social issue, but usually about love or family or trust or respect, some kind important value.  Most Growing Pains episodes actually break down into the same format, jokey opening, set up, conflict, and then a third act that may be comprised entirely of one extended scene.  In fact, many of these scenes actually feel like little one-act plays, with dense, measured dialogue and careful, detailed blocking.  Just look at this scene above and observe Joanna Kerns as she cuts across the room, then back to the kitchen counter, and then finally gliding over to the kitchen table. She reclines in no less than four places, all the while doing professional scene work with a carton of ice cream (note how she gracefully adds some granola crumbs to her dessert), while Kirk Cameron does his own prop work with a magazine and a baseball.  It’s theater, it’s Death of a Salesman, on a hammy, corny 80s sitcom.  It’s impossible to imagine a network airing a scene with this kind of glacial pace today, let alone viewers sitting through it.  But that’s what Growing Pains did from week to week, and even if it seems positively antiquated today, it does strike us as somehow very brave, very ambitious (including the gay joke, even if it feels in bad taste now).  It’s probably just how sitcoms were built then, and when you’re producing TV in a world of hammy, corny sitcoms replete long, melodramatic, sappy teaching moments, it’s hard to step outside that world.  And in that world of long, melodramatic, sappy teaching moments, few did it better than Growing Pains.  Even if we had no idea what “gay” meant.

But we have to wonder: would born-again Kirk Cameron approved of that joke?  Would he be willing, perhaps enthusiastic, to use homosexuality as a punch-line?  Or would he have been steadfast against any mention of the “sin” in the show, especially the suggestion, even as a goof, that his character is gay?  We can only hope he’ll comment on this post and enlighten us.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Makes You Think, Nostalgia Corner

We Know Someone From ‘Growing Pains’ When We See Someone From ‘Growing Pains’

Lost amid the Downey Jrs. and the Ruffalos and the Johanssons and the Smulderses in The Avengers was the brief but vital appearance of one Ashley Johnson, better known to millions across the globe as Chrissy Seaver.  When we first glimpsed her as a [SPOILER ALERT] Noo Yawky waitress in a Noo Yawky diner our Growing Pains Sense immediately went off.  But what was she doing in Joss Whedon’s Avengers?  Couldn’t be her, right?  Wasn’t that shade of blonde just a bit too golden for Chrissy Seaver?

Well, we’re happy to say, Yahoo confirmed it.  That was just the right shade of blonde for Chrissy Seaver  and that was Ashley Johnson in the supporting role.  To celebrate her long-awaited comeback, why not take a look back at her earlier work?

FINALLY, some good press for the Seavers.

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Filed under Geekery, Growing Pains, The Big Screen