Tag Archives: Mike Seaver

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.

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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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Filed under Growing Pains, Local Flavor, Makes You Think, Matt Christopher Books

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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Kirk Cameron Talking Armageddon on 360°: Rare Miss, Anderson Cooper; Also, What???

If you’re a regular visitor to Jumped the Snark you’ll know that some of our greatest pleasure derives from those delightful occasions when Anderson Cooper rips a deluded, misguided, self-serving and/or reprehensible guest to pieces.  He did it with former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell and with Congressman Michelle Bachmann and with Amazon.  So imagine our excitement when he welcomed Kirk Cameron as a guest last night.  Finally, someone would nail Cameron for forcing the producers of Growing Pains to write former Playmate Julie McCullough off the show, leaving Mike Seaver at the altar, and leaving us stunned.  Cooper could have authoritatively questioned Cameron about letting his Christian values dictate the course for the sitcom.  He could have asked what’s the deal with Way of the Master.  Or what was it like to work with a Canadian like Alan Thicke.  Or even, on a serious note, he could have inquired about the late Andrew Koenig (let alone mention of this).  Nope.  All they did was talk about the dead blackbirds and fish in Arkansas.  Boring (also, huh?)!  That’s a big miss, Anderson, and we’ve come to expect more from you.

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Also, isn’t bringing Kirk Cameron on as an Armageddon expert just the kind of thing that Cooper would rail against, castigating its inherent absurdity?  Perhaps he did that later in his “Keeping Them Honest” segment, putting himself on trial.  If so, he’s won us back.  If not, for shame, Anderson.  For shame.

via Videogum from Crooks and Liars

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