How Much of the TV We're Nostalgic For Was Actually Good?
I really like Dustin’s post from last week defending the Full House reboot on the grounds that live-action shows for tykes are all shit anyway, and at least with Fuller House parents will have some cultural reference point for the shit their kids are watching. He said it better, but, y’know, I’m here to write about hair.
But I also really hate that post, because it made me wonder how many of my youthful TV favorites were actually, legitimately good, as opposed to me just thinking they’re good because I’ve been blinded by my nostalgia. Having a somewhat obsessive personality (my therapist told me so), I decided to watch an episode each of most of the live action shows I loved when I was in single digits to see which of them hold up now that I am a mature, sophisticated motherfucker. For science. Oh, the things I put myself through.
Ranked from “shoot me in the face” to “I knew there was a reason I loved Nickelodeon,” we have:
Full House, “Our Very First Show”
I wanted to kill myself while watching this, but not as much as you can tell Bob Saget wanted to kill himself while filming it. Was the acting always this wooden? How did I forget that John Stamos’ original Jesse voice was “The Fonz Lite”? How did we, as a nation, cope with Joey for EIGHT. FUCKING. SEASONS? That scene where Joey and Jesse, two grown men who can’t figure out how to change a diaper (hyuk hyuk hyuk), use a cooking pot as a changing table is actually pretty fucking gross, right? The episode ends with the family bursting into a rendition of the “Flintstones” theme song. Let me die.
Family Matters, “Rachel’s First Date
Maybe I stumbled onto a dud episode here, but this was boring as fuck, and Reginald VelJohnson’s constant mugging for the camera made me yearn for the halcyon, dignified days of Die Hard. The basic plot is that Aunt Rachel is reluctant to start dating again after her husband died a year and a half ago. Awful lot of dead parents in ’90s TV shows. But also: Who the fuck was this for? Were there a lot of widows or widowers watching Family Matters, and I was somehow unaware? Also, Urkel was only in this episode for like 90 seconds, and let me just say God bless you to all the parents who had to live for years through their little urchins saying “DID IIIII DOOO THAAAT” in their best nails-on-a-chalkboard voice. You have an inner strength that I can never match.
Step by Step, “Bully for Mark”
This is slightly less boring than Family Matters, and it earns bonus points for using the word “animalistic” in the first five minutes, but I absolutely remember why I only watched Step by Step if nothing else was on. It is no coincidence that the worst three shows on this list drunk deep from the cup of the laugh track. There’s a scene where an adult woman, reading a high school newspaper, pants over pictures of “sweaty young men in their tight-fitting, sweaty little gym shorts. Just look at all that sweat.” Did later seasons go into the fact that the family was living next door to a pedophile? Also, I hate myself for just realizing that this show is called Step by Step because it’s about a step family.
Hey Dude, “Ghost Stories”
Watching this episode, I realized that everything I thought I remembered from “Hey Dude” I actually remembered from “Salute Your Shorts.” What I actually remembered from Hey Dude: Christine Taylor was in it. That’s all. What I know now: The main character is a dickbag, the other two male leads (Danny and the dude who isn’t Danny) are bland as fuck, and the plotting—at least for this episode—was slapdash and stupid. Neither wild nor strange. One star.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, “Zedd’s Monster Mash”
I feel a little bad putting this so high on the list, because it is enormously stupid, but it’s entertainingly enormously stupid, so I’d rather watch an episode of it than Patrick Duffy in Mom Jeans any day of the week. Behold:
Are You Afraid of the Dark?, “The Tale of the Frozen Ghost”
This episode scared the snot out of me when I was younger, so it was a little harder for me to retain objectivity, but I did my best. This was… fine. Melissa Joan Hart (I forgot she was in this episode!) plays a babysitter who takes her prissy, rich boy charge out to stay for a week with his aunts, who just so happen to live in a house haunted by the ghost of a young boy. Why does the kid need a babysitter to go with him, anyway? Can’t the aunts babysit him? If his parents insist on having a sitter go with him everywhere, surely they can choose better than a hellbeast of a little child who berates this scared, sheltered little kid for being a “wuss” and a “freak.” I forgot how messed up this was. The production value is cheap as hell, the dialogue is cheesy, and the ending is stupid. That said, I can absolutely see why little wimp children like I used to be would be scared, so it gets points for that.
Salute Your Shorts, “Zeke the Plumber”
Salute Your Shorts is high up on this list by virtue of most of the other episodes I watched being stultifyingly dull, but I’ve gotta say, I thought this one would age better than it did. Like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, we’re looking at cheesy dialogue and bottom-of-the-line production values, though there were at least some chuckles (“Due to a slight mix-up at the dairy this morning, please discard all milk cartons labelled ‘expiration date: 1983.’ Thank you.”) and some actually interesting characters (side-eye levelled in Hey Dude’s direction). There’s a certain charm on display here, but the quality could be a lot better. Bonus points for Budnick using the word “Jaboni.”
Boy Meets World, “Killer Bees”
I never watched Boy Meets World too much, so if you’d asked me before doing this post I probably would not have ranked it this high on the list. But dang, Ben Savage was actually not a bad little child actor. Probably the best one on this list, to be honest. He’s a funny little dude. Even this episode’s morality money shot (every kid’s show has to have one, right?) didn’t get too treacly. I bumped this from second to third place, though, because of a subplot where Cory convinces alpha nerd Minkus that he wants give up being a nerd and be a normal kid, because if it does then kids like Cory will have to stop bulling him. Or, explains Minkus, “exceptional people get bombardment balls thrown at their heads, and regular guys do the throwing. *cue laugh track*” What the fuck. That’s awful. And we were supposed to be rooting for Cory in that situation?
Clarissa Explains It All, “A Little Romance”
If I watched Clarissa for the first time as an adult, I wouldn’t think it’s ZOMG THE BEST THING EVER, but it’s cute, it’s clever, little Melissa Joan Hart was charismatic as hell, and this episode ended with the lesson “Why yes, men and women can be just friends!” (Clarissa and her BFF Sam try dating and realize they both think it’s gross.) Also, praise the holy gods of Nick for a judicious use of the laugh track. It was very quiet and was only used in some scenes. Better to use it never, but at least we’re not looking at a Full House situation.
The Adventures of Pete and Pete, “King of the Road”
I knew this would hold up. Late 20-, early 30-somethings have one live action show that unquestionably survives the test of time, and it’s Pete and Pete. The surreal humor is delightful, the characters are engaging, the messages (here, about sticking together as a family) are positive without being too obnoxious. And that guy from Dexter played the rival King of the Road! Pete and Pete had the best guest stars. I hate canoes.