Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Episode 1.8: Truce or Consequences

Airdate: 11/18/82

The constant bickering between Diane and Carla finally gets to Sam, who orders them both to sit down and make amends. When they do, over a highly alcoholic concoction called “Leap Into An Open Grave,” Carla fools Diane into believing she’s the mother of Sam’s child. When Diane finds out the truth, she’s livid, and a catfight ensues. Only through the arbitration of Sam can they let bygones be bygones and attempt a working relationship.

Who needs roller derby with Diane and Carla at each other’s throats? The show’s trademark verbal sparring doesn’t get much better than this, and for a few brief moments we actually believe Sam and Carla may have…you know!

Cold open: Coach can’t drive straight home because he’s so used to being a designated driver. Norm’s Opener: Daddy’s rich and mama’s good looking.

Waltons 4.7: “The Wing-Walker”

Airdate: 10/23/75

The Jefferson County Times sends John-Boy to interview an airplane wing-walker, who turns out to be a woman (much to his surprise, and delight). Inviting her to stay with his family, John-Boy is beguiled by the woman, and is instantly attracted. Emotional entanglements follow when the woman, Bobby, reveals her distrust of men after a brutal assault (most likely a rape) by a man when she was 15 years old, but that she feels comfortable around John-Boy and may be falling in love with him. The feelings aren’t mutual, though, and John-Boy fears that she may be pursuing a course of self-destruction when she attempts a dangerous stunt at the county carnival.

Pretty heavy, emotional episode (by Waltons standards) features some pretty amazing barnstorming scenes, even if it may be stock footage. Knockout Lee Purcell plays Bobby, but someone a bit less ravishing could be more believable as someone head over heels in love… with plain ol’ John Boy.

Best line (by Grandpa): You spend your whole life for Miss Right… and then the rest of your life waiting for her to get ready.

Bobby's assistant, Rex, is played by Tom Bower, who becomes a cast member next season as Mary Ellen's husband, Curtis Willard.

Waltons 4.6: “The Breakdown”

Airdate: 10/16/75

Jason finds his candle burned at both ends when he juggles academics, family life and his job, playing for Bobby Bigelow’s band, which also has a 5:00 AM call time for its sunrise gospel radio show. Oh, and then there’s his new high-maintenance girlfriend, Betsy Morgan, who causes quite a stir when the family learns he had been out with her the whole night! (Don’t worry, there’s a chaste explanation.) Emotionally, he also searches for a self-identity, trying desperately to step out of his older brother’s shadow. Eventually, Jason collapses out of sheer exhaustion, and realizes that he must please himself instead of always pleasing all those around him.

Another great TV trope, being a workaholic never pays off, is given Waltons treatment here, although more recent, and daring, shows involve the use of uppers to teach their lessons (All in the Family: “Archie’s Bitter Pill”; Family Ties: “Speed Trap”). Subplot, involving John-Boy working as a school librarian but disappointing his employer, who hired him expecting that he’d make it a career, is also engaging (haven’t we all been there with at least one temporary job in our lifetimes?).

Actress Done Oatman reprises her role as Betsy (that’s Bette) Morgan from “The Song” episode.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Episode 1.7: Friends, Romans, Accountants

Airdate 11/11/82

Norm volunteers to organize his accounting firm’s annual party, knowing that if he’s successful he has great chances for promotion. Utterly devoid of ideas, he finds inspiration when Diane facetiously suggests a toga party – to be held at the bar. The party turns out to be a crushing bore; no one, except Norm, shows up in a Toga, and the most interesting guest is a man who knows every city’s zip code. Worse yet, Norm’s date for his boss (required for the party organizer) can’t make it, and so he asks Diane, who is reluctant until she sees how handsome the man is. When the boss starts to make the moves on her, Norm steps in and is promptly fired.

Funny offering, capped by the revelation that Norm really is a pretty decent guy. (Well, we all knew that, didn’t we?) The sight of Norm wearing a toga is easily worth the price of admission!

Answer to Diane’s uncompleted charade: My Dinner With Andre.

How life’s treating Norm: Not for the squamish

Cold open: Misha, the Boston Symphony cymbals player, counts out his rest over a beer… until Diane confuses him when counting his change.

Waltons 4.5: “The Boondoggle”

Airdate: 10/9/75

John-Boy is excited to meet Porter Sims, a writer for the WPA’s new series of state guidebooks, and show him around Waltons Mountain to give him a taste of the local color of rural Virginia. Grandma is none too pleased to host a government official, and Grandpa seems to be steering him away from his true area of interest: the history behind the Baldwin sisters’ old mansion. When Sims goes to visit the sisters (and sample the recipe), he asks to see their father’s notes and documents. What he finds causes one sister, Miss Mamie, to collapse from shock: that their father housed Union soldiers during the Civil War and was arrested for treason. John-Boy is aghast at the disclosure, and asks Sims to leave, despite the fact that he knows a journalist’s true duty is to get to the truth, no matter whom it hurts. Before the reporter leaves, however, he makes one last revelation: that their father took in both Union and Confederate soldiers, and letters from the survivors reveal his compassion for humanity.

This one finally focuses more on the Baldwin sisters and the history behind their antique abode. As a setpiece, it’s certainly opulent (the bedroom looks like something out of a Victorian-era oil painting), and it’s great to get away from the Waltons house for a while. Richard McKenzie adds some nice subtle touches with his irascible but down-to-earth Porter Sims – a veteran of a boatload of TV/movie work, I associate him most strongly with the role of Archie’s brother in two episodes of All in the Family, which was CBS’s other big hit from the early/mid 70s.

Waltons 4.4: “The Prophecy”

Airdate: 10/2/75

John Walton’s inability to spin a half-dollar reminds that he’s growing older, and his upcoming twenty-fifth high school reunion has him wondering how much of a success he’s made with his life. John-Boy, too, gets an earful of reality from one of his professors, who informs him that very few writers have been able to support themselves solely by their writing. When Eula Mae, John’s former classmate, arrives to round up attendees for the reunion, she discovers there is no venue for the event, leading Olivia to volunteer the Walton house (much to John’s chagrin) to host the gala. As everyone has a grand old time, another classmate, Cathcart James Ray, who ostensibly has is it all, leads a tribute to John, whom he always envied for his accomplishments, and still does. The entire party reflects on their own lives, singing “’Till We Meet Again.”

Heavy guest cast and sharp teleplay bolsters this episode, featuring another well-worn TV trope: the class reunion that causes its participant to wonder if his life has been what he expected; the answer is always no, but still successful.

Odd title: doesn’t it suggest some kind of supernatural offering, rather than a show about a reunion?

Timeframe note: Reference to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and John’s 25th reunion of the class of 1911 places this show at about the spring of 1936.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Episode 1.6: Any Friend of Diane’s

Airdate: 11/4/82

Diane’s old college friend, Rebecca Proud, stops by Cheers to pay a visit. She’s every bit like Diane: in other words, elitist, pretentious and stuffy. After Rebecca breaks up with her boyfriend, she decides what she needs is pure “bestial pleasure,” and sets her sight on Sam to this end. Against Diane’s admonitions, Sam obliges the girl, but he ends the assignation after being bored to tears by her Russian poetry. A crushed Rebecca returns, feeling scorned and rejected, until Diane invents a ruse that she and Sam are going together, explaining his lack of interest. Rebecca reenters the room, while Sam and Diane are fighting again, and sees that it is just this “passion” she is hoping to find.

One of my favorite episodes of the season casts Julia Duffy is a role she was born to play – so much so that she later starred as a less intellectual though equally pompous housekeeper on CBS’s Newhart. The final scene, and lines, is as much an example of irony as foreshadowing, given the course of Sam and Diane’s relationship.

Subplot: To impress his alcoholically temperate boss, a very jittery Norm must limit his beer consumption, with predictably mixed results.

Best line – Carla: I love sailing. After seeing Ordinary People I’ve been trying to get my kids interested in it.

How life’s treating Norm: Like it caught me in bed with his wife!

Waltons 4.3: “The Fighter”

Airdate: 9/25/75
James Travis Clark, a young, itinerant African-American, is hired by John to help with the lumber mill, but is instantly disliked by Olivia and Grandma when John-Boy finds out he is a prizefighter. Olivia changes her mind when she discovers James’ true intentions: to fight in one last “purse fight” and use the winnings to set up a local church for other African-Americans. Unfortunately, after he signs up he discovers it is a fixed fight, with himself as the loser, and refuses to take a fall. Knowing the repercussions, only John-Boy will manage him, and with all eyes (and ears, at home on the radio) on the main event, James loses. Recuperating at home, the Waltons nurse him back to physical health, and after everyone pitches in to help build him hi church, he finds the road back to spiritual salvation as welll.

The Waltons tackles the other big sport of the 30s, boxing, in this episode. Aired in 1975, its ringside drama suffers a bit from narrowly predating Rocky, which really set the standard for boxing on film and TV (the fake blood really sets it back). Nevertheless, actor Cleavon Little, who starred in the Waltons pilot and recently established himself as the sheriff in Blazing Saddles a year earlier, is solid as the fighter on a mission, and the building of the church at the end is rousing if a bit reminiscent of Lilies of the Field.

Waltons 4.2: “The Genius”

Airdate: 9/18/75
John-Boy needs an A in Physics, and so he lets a 16-year-old whiz kid stay with him and his family for the weekend. The boy, Lyle Thomason, is a certified genius but utterly incompetent when it comes to human interaction and social skills. In no time at all, he calculates the chance of winning Ike Godsey’s slot machine, calling him a cheat in the process, and insults the Waltons at dinner when he equates faith in God with lack of intelligence. Aware of this, Lyle enlists John-Boy’s help, especially after Mary Ellen sprays him with water out of frustration at his egg-headedness. Finally, at the church bazaar, and after an earful from John-Boy, Lyle steps in as a last-minute replacement in Erin’s play about Joan of Arc, and the egghead starts to come out of his shell (sorry!).

Easily one of my favorite episodes, dealing with one of my favorite topics: the conflict between reason and emotion. Dennis Kort is pitch-perfect as Lyle; his introvertedness is as credible as it is frustrating, and his bewilderment of humanity in nearly every scene is a great reservoir for us – don’t we all wrestle, at one time or another, with the whole people thing? So many movies have explored this, many through the allegory of science-fiction (computers, aliens), but none have done it simpler, and more emotional, than this episode. Congrats to writer Robert Weverka, who also imbued the script with credible physics factoids to round out the central character.

Nice score during opening of church bazaar scene, reminiscent of Randy Newman’s Americana work.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Episode 1.5: Coach’s Daughter

Airdate: 10/28/82

Coach’s daughter, Lisa, comes to Cheers with a surprise: she’s engaged! When she brings in her fiancé, Roy, everyone agrees – he’s an insufferable jerk. Coach musters up the wherewithal to confront his daughter about the situation, but the homely-looking Lisa confesses that Roy, despite being abrasive and obnoxious, was the only one who ever proposed to her. After Coach tells her how beautiful she is in his eyes, she breaks off the engagement, and he treats her to some Rocky Road ice cream.

Worthy episode highlighted by a supremely dramatic, climactic scene between Coach and Lisa – its writing is delicate and delivery perfectly timed – I don’t think there’s been a dramatic scene yet as heartfelt as this one. Allyce Beasley (later on ABC’s Moonlighting) is perfectly cast as Lisa, and Philip Charles MacKenzie (bearing more than a passing resemblance to Kevin Kline) is sleazy and hateful to make Carla look like Dinah Shore.

Don’t miss the scene after the midpoint commercial break: a janitor who works with mutant viruses at a biology lab stops by Cheers for a beer, and after he leaves, everyone partakes in a ballet of cleaning fluids and wipes, all clocking in at 13 seconds!

Subplot: Diane (not exactly Picasso) Chambers attempts to draw caricatures of the bar patrons.

Waltons 4.1: “The Sermon”

Airdate: 9/11/75

Rev. Fordwick and Miss Hunter (now Mrs. Fordwick) marry and are off on their week-long honeymoon, leaving two jobs to fill: teacher and pastor. Olivia takes over the teaching duties, while John-Boy is asked to deliver the Sunday sermon. Nervous and unsure what approach to take, he gets much advice, ranging from Grandma’s fire-and-brimstone suggestions to Grandpa’s folksy, natural spiritualism. Ultimately, he delivers a touching, true-to-himself sermon that incorporates everyone’s idea of God into his own, that of benevolent, receptive being not unlike his own father on earth.
Good season opener relies nearly entirely on what John-Boy finally comes up with  - and it’s beautiful. In keeping with the “write what you know” mantra, John-Boy remains true to his writer’s instincts – to observe, reflect, and impart meaning through art – not, ironically, preach. The Waltons does get treacly at times, but there are moments when it does approach the literary – this is one such time.

I love season openers that function as sort-of mini pilots, reintroducing us to all the characters again (after all, summer is long). This show does just that, and in a subtle, poetic way even.

Rerecorded opening theme seems to downplay the horns a bit.

Waltons 3.24: “The Venture”

Airdate: 3/6/75
As the Waltons’ expanded lumber mill, “Waltons and Sons,” nears completion, John gets a huge order, one that he accepts only knowing his new venture can handle it. Simultaneously, John-Boy gets a job as a part-time reporter for a local newspaper, and Jason gets a scholarship for a music university. Reminders of the Depression set in as John contracts pneumonia and collapses, endangering not only the lumber order but the family’s ability to pay back the bank loan on the new business. Once again, family members consider personal sacrifice, until members of the town, headed by Ike Godsey, arrive to help complete the mill and rescue the family from financial ruin.

One thing I always liked about The Waltons was the way it confronted the realities of the Great Depression regularly, rather than using it just for a pretty backdrop. Poverty is not always appealing for a weekly drama, but the show’s writers wisely use the topic for inspiration – mining its full dramatic, and often comedic, potential (see Good Times, particularly the early years, for the best sitcom about poverty). This season’s has had its ups and downs, and some draggy spots, but I dare anyone to not be euphoric at the end of this show.

A rousing season closer, leaving us with plenty to look forward to in Season 5!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Episode 1.4: Sam At Eleven

Airdate: 10/21/82

An old friend of Sam’s, a local sportscaster named Dave Richards wants to interview him for the 6:00 news. Despite Diane’s advice against it, Sam agrees, but only minutes into the interview, Dave and his crew run off to cover John McEnroe. In the back room, Diane tries to lift Sam’s spirits by telling him to put the past behind him and “go for it”; he does, by kissing Diane square on the lips.

Nice episode fills in more of Sam’s backstory – clearly his “golden years” are behind him, at least in terms of baseball, and is personality is suffused with this regret and reflection of what could have been. More sexual tension between Sam and Diane with the final scene’s kiss, and a nice unbroken camera shot, with the Cheers music, from the pool room to the front of the bar completes the show and continues the wistful tone of the episode.

Two notable guest stars: Fred Dryer (NBCs Hunter) as pompous blowhard Dave Richards, and Harry Anderson as the recurring Harry the Flim-Flam man, a con artist proving time and time again that a fool and his money are indeed soon parted! (Don’t miss him in the cold opening.)

This episode features one of many classic zingers by Diane:

Dave: (to Diane) Dave Richards. An old teammate of Sam’s.
Diane: Diane Chambers. I’m Sam’s new waitress.
Dave: Sam have his brand on you yet?
Diane: Hardly.
Dave: Oh, good, then you’re in for a lucky day. Not only am I incredibly good-looking. I’m also incredibly rich and incredibly nice.
Sam: And incredibly married.
Diane: Well I am sorry to hear that.
Dave: You are?
Diane: Yes. I was hoping to reject you based solely on your personality!

Waltons 3.23: “The Woman”

Airdate: 2/27/75

John-Boy is in love, seriously in love, with an attractive older woman named Madeline Bennett, a visiting poet from New York City whom he is assigned to show around. As his parents celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows, John-Boy must ultimately decide his place in life when his paramour goes back home to the city; his choice, of course, is to remain on Walton’s Mountain.

A dramatic love story, with as tearjerking an ending as the show has seen. Soap star Laura Campbell is radiant as Madeline, if a bit one-dimensional. Final scene at the train station (where else), done without dialogue, might just be worthy of that of a classic black and white film – just not Casablanca.

Waltons 3.21: “The Song”

Airdate: 2/20/75

Jason writes a song to perform in Bobby Bigelow’s band, but Ben thinks he should do it as a duet with Sally Ann Harper, a girl Ben “moons” over. As you could expect, Sally Ann falls for Jason, pitting brother against brother, and causing family friction the likes of which require John-Boy’s intervention to set right.

Meanwhile, much to the consternation of the Walton women, John and Zeb participate in a high-stakes pool tournament. Zeb is poised to take all, but realizes his responsibility to attend Jason’s duet, and forfeits the game, and the rifle, pig and chickens that were all in the pot.

Country-music heavy, lighweight episode sees Jason and Ben as Cain and Abel, all over a girl, of course. The girl here is Sally Ann Harper, played by Erin Moran, who, of course, is best known to anyone who grew up in the 70s as Joannie Cunningham on Happy Days (which started airing over a year earlier, in January of 1974).

Mostly significant to the canon for its continued development of Jason as a rising country musician. Again, actor Jon Walmsley wrote the titular song, “Will You Be Mine?”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cheers 1.3: The Tortelli Tort

Airdate: 10/14/82

A thoroughly obnoxious Yankees fan insults Sam and is attacked by Carla. When the man threatens legal action unless she is fired, Sam faces the prospect of losing the bar, and arranges for Carla to get anger management counseling. When the man returns, he’s just as vitriolic as ever, and hurls more insults at Carla, but she keeps her cool and he drops all charges.

Ron Karabatsos is delightfully hateful as Ed, the Yankees fan, and its particularly amusing to see him screaming insults at a “rehabilitated” Carla point blank. Best scene: coach demonstrates how to get hit with a pitch (from offstage).

Waltons 3.21: “The Statue”

Airdate: 2/13/75

Grandpa wins Ike Godsey’s raffle prize: a white statue of a partially-clad, beautiful woman. Grandma instantly dislikes it (she thinks that it looks just like one of Zeb’s old girlfriends) and the rest of the family isn’t singing its praises either. Grandpa just can’t keep his eyes off it though, and even considers putting it in the cemetery next to his and Esther’s plot. Predictable, she puts her foot down, and the family takes the statue down to Drucilla’s pond, for a decent sea burial. Subplot: John-Boy wants to write a short story loosely based on one of the Baldwin sisters’ long lost love, but she thinks it should be more biographical. When he sticks to his guns, she still loves it, thinking it captured the “essence” of the story.

Light, late-season episode features another tried and true TV trope, the statue (see All in the Family, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc). Here, it is the McGuffin for a slew of squabbles, notably that between Grandma and Grandpa, whos closed-door altercation provides the setting for the show’s funniest scene, in which the family discusses orioles and worms to try and fake normalcy at the dinner table.

Interesting note: does anyone actually lie on the show? (Outside of a plot device) Such a far cry from modern day dishonesty, irony and cynicism, at least on TV.

Waltons 3.20: “The Choice”

Airdate: 2/6/75

Jason is encouraged to take music lessons by Miss Hunter, and his increased interest in music coincides with John’s plans for expanding the lumber mill, which John hopes his son will be a part of. The two come to loggerheads when Jason wants to apply for scholarship to a music college; his father thinks it’s no way to make a living. After much soul-searching, John allows his son to pursue his dreams, and work at the mill part-time in the meantime.

Another archetypal storyline – a Waltons child wants to forge his own path in life, to the disapproval a parent. Mix ‘n match… and fill in the blanks with John and Jason. At this point, Jason’s future is sealed in The Waltons TV future as a musician. Of course, given Jason portrayer Jon Walsmsley’s prodigious talent in music, it was probably inevitable. Interesting note: the song “The Maiden and the Soldier,” which Jason sings for the kids at the school, was written by Walsmsley himself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cheers 1.2: Sam's Women

Airdate: 10/7/82

A blonde bombshell walks into Cheers and sets all the men’s hearts aflutter. Diane soon learns about Sam’s way with, and taste in, women, and mocks his lack of depth in pursuing them. To prove he can date smart women, he brings his ex-wife back to the bar, pretending they were at a classical music concert, but Diane sees through it all. He calls her a snob, and she calls him a “rapidly aging adolescent,” but he has the last laugh when he praises her beauty in poetry, challenging her assertion that an intelligent woman could see though all his lines.

The sexual tension continues between Sam and Diane. The one thing always liked about them is the fact that they actually possess the qualities that they loathe so much in each other (but of course don’t acknowledge). The pool room is starting to become the “fight room” between them. Also - an interesting subplot about coach and his oftentimes latent abilities to solve the customer’s personal problems. First episode in which Cliff the mailman becomes a prominent character, owing mostly to his special skill in comprehensively (and most likely erroneously) answering the most trivial questions.

Waltons 3.19: “The Shivaree”

Airdate: 1/30/75

Olivia, the orphaned daughter of Olivia Walton’s best friend, has returned to the mountain for her wedding. When Bob, the groom, arrives, the family finds him to be overly prim and somewhat stuffy, but welcome him with open arms as Olivia loves him very much. Why, they even plan an initiation ritual for him, a country custom called a “shivaree” in which a group of men cause a ruckus outside the newlyweds’ house on their wedding night, then tie up the groom, “kidnapping” him and leaving him out in the woods somewhere. When Bob hears this he wants no part of it and the Waltons cancel it, but the men in the shivaree party never get the message and go through with it anyway. Bob is enraged after the humiliation, and wants to leave town, but the Waltons fix up a nice cabin for their “honeymoon,” leaving the second half of the shivaree to occur: everyone singing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to the couple as they appear to reconcile.

Another Waltons educational experience – we now know what shivaree means. (Stop, spell-check – it’s a word.) A fun show; Bruce Davison is great as the anal-retentive Bob Hill, and we so want him to loosen up. What better way than being handcuffed and blindfolded and tossed out in the middle of the Virginia woods? Davison of course later starred as the teacher in the now famous Afterschool Special episode “The Wave,” and was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for Longtime Companion. Young Olivia did a lot of TV – maybe she is best known for the 70s sexploitation flick The Van. Most likely you caught it at the drive-in.

Waltons 3.18: “The Caretakers”

Airdate: 1/23/75

Zeb is feeling mollycoddled when John urges him to take it easy after his heart attack, and Grandma feels a bit of a generation gap herself, so the two of them decide to housesit for a friend and leave the family. The timing couldn’t be worse, as John gets a huge lumber order, and when he takes on hired help, the man turns out to be a disaster. Cooler heads prevail, of course, and our favorite septuagenarians come back to where they belong.

This shows follows one of the most recurring archetypes of the show: a family member doesn’t feel fulfilled anymore, and goes somewhere else for a spell, only to see he didn’t realize how good he had it. Now it’s the grandparents’ turn, and the familiar routine follows (although the house they caretake does seem nice and quiet).

Corabeth is settling nicely into her role as the woman with aspirations of elegance in a country town. Ike seems to know when to pick his battles, as he allows her to cover up his pool tables with dresses but forbids her from nosing around at the Waltons.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cheers 1.1: Give Me a Ring Sometime

Airdate: 9/30/82

A somewhat stuffy intellectual named Diane Chambers arrives at the Cheers bar in Boston, along with her fiancé, a college professor of literature named Sumner. She immediately takes a disliking for the bar’s owner, Sam Malone, a former major league baseball player who’s also a recovering alcoholic. She also meets two other bar employees: “Coach,” a rather dull-witted but lovable former baseball coach, and Cara sassy, scrappy mother of four. The bar also gets its fair share of regulars, including Norm, a portly, affable accountant who is greeted by the bar patrons every time he arrives.

When Sumner goes back to see his ex, Sam correctly predicts that he will leave Diane high and dry. Sensing her predicament, he offers her a job as a waitress at the bar, which she rejects at first, until she sees that her photographic memory could serve her well in remembering drink orders.

From the very beginning of the show, the cold opening, one can already detect the confluence of sharp, skilled writing and near-perfect comic timing that made Cheers such a hallmark of classic sitcoms. The setup was brilliantly conceived – no other successful show was set almost entirely at a bar, and in so doing Cheers was able to draw upon a cavalcade of characters not related by family and not exclusively job-based. This provided a different kind of dynamic, one based on the notion that this was a refuge, a gathering place for brethren united by troubles that are “all the same.” And the crux of the show, Sam and Diane’s tenuous but sexually frustrated relationship, provided just enough chemistry (and razor-sharp banter) to keep viewers riveted every week.

This particular episode, in addition to setting up the characters, also does a good job in celebrating the work, and necessity, of a bartender: in essence the running theme of the show. When one of the minor characters leaves, he says to Sam, “Thanks for lettin’ me bend your ear,” and we can sense that he truly means it. Add to this the irony of Sam being a nondrinker, and you have so may possibilities for branching character development – exactly the mark of a good, sturdy pilot.


Ahh, Cheers. In my teen and preteen years, it carved out a nook for itself on NBC’s Thursday night lineup (which later evolved into the quickly worn-out “Must See TV) where it stayed for 11 seasons. Admittedly, I was a bigger fan of Family Ties (I idolized Michael J. Fox), the show that immediately preceded it for most years, but I always appreciated its writing, and yes, was caught up in the sudsy Sam and Diane drama that boosted its ratings considerably by the third season.

So once again, I picked up the entire set on DVD (after futilely spending much time and effort transferring the first season to VHS from ¾” broadcast tapes while working at a TV station). Now that I have the time off, dwindling as it may be, I can, like a disturbingly inert couch potato, watch the whole series and blog my opinions about it to all of you. I don’t know all of your names, but at Cheers, I will!

Except maybe for you guys in southeast Idaho.

Waltons 3.17: “The Beguiled”

Airdate: 1/16/75

John-Boy is blows a tire when is run off the road – by a beautiful fellow student who uses her feminine wiles to get whatever she wants. About to be kicked out of Boatwright University, she steals John-Boy’s chemistry notes and hides them in the satchel of Jim-Bob’s friend, Danny, a boy adept at slight-of-hand who has some credibility problems of his own. When Danny tells the truth about the notebook, backed by Jim-Bob, John-Boy confronts his “femme-fatale” and breaks off any future relations.

Lots of deceit going on in this patch of the season – and a directive to all Waltons characters: lock your car doors! Two significant guest starring appearances here: Darleen Carr as Sis Bradford, the ravishing but unscrupulous young woman we’re used to seeing in Film Noir films of the 1940s, and Willie Aames as Danny, the Houdini in training that teaches Jim Bob to shoplift (don’t worry – he doesn’t do it). We all know Willie Aames from the shows Eight Is Enough and Charles In Charge and the movies Paradise and Zapped! And who can forget Bibleman?

Waltons 3.16: “The Matchmakers”

Airdate: 1/9/75

Lonely ol’ Ike Godsey casts his eyes on the Waltons’ cousin, Corabeth, and it’s love at first sight. Never mind that the houseguest makes herself at home… too much at home, to the point where she quickly overstays her welcome with all involved. John and Olivia do their best to hook the couple up (that’s “hook up” according to 30’s terminology), but it seems hopeless, as Ike and Corabeth are about as gregarious as a couple of moray eels. But ultimately, Ike pops the question – yes, the question, and after much apprehension felt by both, the two are marred.

Welcome, Ronnie Claire Edwards, as Corabeth Walton/Godsey – who will become a recurring character from now on. Clearly, her shtick is the “fish-out-of-water” routine, as she is a socialite not quite at home on Waltons Mountain but looking for a life of companionship. Edwards is an accomplished actress who would stay on for the rest of the series’ run, and later starred in such features as The Dead Pool and 8 Seconds. Ike and Corabeth’s chemistry has an interesting symbiosis: both are lonely, but Ike is more than willing to endure her high-maintenance, and she’s willing to give it to him. Little House on the Prairie, which began this same season on NBC, seemed to ape the very same dynamic with the husband/wife owners of their mercantile, Lars and Harriet Oleson.

Weak subplot involving Erin’s middle-child blues. To boost her self-esteem, John-Boy takes her to get her picture taken.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Waltons 3.15: “The Lie”

Airdate: 1/2/75

Ben’s in a real pickle. It all starts when he steals John-Boy’s car in the middle of the night to drive his friend Nancy to Charlottesville so she can see her mother before she leaves town. Because Nancy’s mother had left abruptly when Nancy was young, her father never forgave her, and forbade the two from seeing each other. For this reason, Ben swears his actions to secrecy, but when John-Boy’s car is briefly stolen and involved in a hit-and-run while in Charlottesville, Ben must decide whether to break his promise, and have Nancy as a witness, or stay mum and risk facing serious charges.

Above-par show is identifiable to anyone who’s ever A) owned a car, B) been in love and/or C) had a sibling mess around with your stuff. John-Boy as detective is the best part, and Ben crisis of conscience is intriguing as well.

Car collectors may cringe upon the sight of a vintage Ford Model A getting dented up.

Waltons 3.14: “The Birthday”

Airdate: 12/19/74

Zeb overextends himself and has a heart attack. Ordered to rest in his room by the doctor, he starts to lose the will to live, even ordering John-Boy to pick out a tombstone for his grave. Grandma, at first in denial of her husband’s condition, “knows Zeb’s heart better than the doctor does,” and arranges to have his bedroom moved outside, where nature proves to be the best medicine for the old man.

Reminiscient of a season one episode, “The Star” (also involving Zeb’s loss of the will to live), this one is a bit more tragic, as family illness stories always seem to have more gravity. Two items are used here from previous shows: the wheelchair (from “The Easter Story”) and the circus tent (from “The Carnival”).

Mr. Hamner informs us that it is the Spring of 1935 in this episode.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Waltons 3.13: “The Visitor”

Airdate: 12/12/74

An old friend of Zeb’s, Mason Beardsley, arrives at Walton’s Mountain, where he and his wife had lived until they move to Atlanta. Having returned, he gets the help of the Walton family to fix up his old house in time for his wife to come join him and live together in their remaining years. Something seems odd about his behavior, though, and when his son comes to see him, he explains why: (SPOILER ALERT) Mason’s wife had died two years earlier, and he has been unable to accept her sudden departure from his life.

Very emotional episode is missing one thing: a satisfying conclusion – Mason neither fully grieves nor accepts reality; we really don’t even get a lengthy final scene one way or another, and since the show hinges on some kind of emotional culmination, it’s a letdown. A lovely parallel story involves Jimmy, Elizabeth’s imaginary best friend, prompting Olivia to teach her daughter that “pretend is okay, as long as you know it’s pretend.”

I really do love that archetypal character of someone who deludes him or herself to avoid facing a tragic reality. When well done, it has enormous dramatic potential.

Waltons 3.12: “The Departure”

Airdate: 12/5/74

John is having a mid-life crisis, feeling “put out to pasture” when a group of girls flirts with John-Boy and not with him. For this reason, and to make extra money, he takes a job as a machinist in Norfolk, some 30 miles away. Enraged at first, then lonely once he leaves, Olivia comes to recognize the reasons for his departure. John-Boy, failing one of his college courses, misses his father’s sage advice, but ultimately manages to handle things himself.

Many episodes heretofore have dealt with Olivia’s lack of fulfillment; now it’s John’s turn. He doesn’t necessarily paint the town red, but dabbles in just enough testosterone-confirming behavior that he gets everything “out of his system” before episode’s end. The closest John comes to the inevitable carnal temptation scene is when Mrs. Champion, the owner of the boarding house, propositions him with the query, “Are you just married, or are you really married?”

Oh, and then there’s the, also inevitable, barroom brawl scene: a first for The Waltons.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Waltons 3.11: “The Job”

Airdate: 11/21/74

John-Boy gets a part-time job reading to a young blind woman. Before long, he sees that she is hostile and withdrawn, refusing to venture into the outside world or let others into her own. Finally coaxed into visiting the Waltons for a family picnic, she starts to see the beauty of life again, and ultimately comes to terms with her handicap.

Just a matter of time before The Waltons tackled the subject of blindness. Elaine Heiveil delivers a good performance as the blind Ruth Thomas, but the actress too closely resembles another Waltons character, John-Boy’s girlfriend Jenny Pendleton, for my taste. Uber-sensitive Mary Ellen tries to empathize with Ruth’s perspective – in the show’s most awkward moment, she blindfolds herself and drops a pie, before running up to her room in teary-eyed vicariousness.

Waltons 3.10: “The Book”

Airdate: 11/14/74

After enrolling in a stuffy literary club, John-Boy gets to feeling that his writing isn’t important enough, until his mother secretly sends some of his short stories to a publisher, who agrees to print the works in a hardcover volume. John-Boy’s spirits are lifted – perhaps too high – as he starts disassociating himself from the rest of the family, including Jason, whose new gig in a country band gets overshadowed by John-Boy’s newfound popularity. John Boy falls back down to earth, with a thud, when he is billed for his book and discovers he had fallen for a “Vanity Press” scheme, luring in aspiring writers, naïve of the fact that they must pay for their own publication.

Wide-eyed John-Boy gets another taste of reality, but not much sympathy from me as he should’ve read the contract (telegraphed, none too subtly, when wary John Sr. warns the others but is ignored). Best and most literary scene is when John-Boy, in his literary club, is admonished to write with more “socio-political overtones.”

But Jason’s story is the most interesting here. The writers and Jason portrayer, John Walmsley, are starting to carve out a musical niche for the character. It’s not a stretch to believe the country band would hire Jason – Walmsley is quite a talent!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Waltons 3.9: “The Marathon”

Airdate: 11/7/74

Or, They Shoot Waltons, Don’t They? John-Boy enters a weeklong dance marathon against the wishes of his mother, who’s feeling the effects of the Empty Nest Syndrome. His partner, a pretty malcontent named Daisy Garner, is resolute about winning the grand prize, two hundred dollars in cash, so she can leave humdrum Virginia for the razzle-dazzle of New York City. The rigors of the competition become too much for John-Boy, who, after seeing other competitors pass out and collapse from exhaustion, decides that it’s not worth it, and drops out, leaving his partner to continue with someone else.

Possibly the most entertaining episode of the season nonetheless has a rather unsatisfying ending. It would be nice to know who, if anyone, wins this thing, but the show’s writer decided that John-Boy patching things up with his mom was more important. Comparisons to the aforementioned 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? are inevitable; this could be a good launching pad to catch up with that underrated gem starring Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin. Never danced in a marathon, but if  TV and movies are any indication (Horses ends with an assisted suicide), it’s no picnic!

Some good period music here during the dance scenes, and an interesting subplot  - technology alert – in which the kids construct a crystal radio.

Guest star Deidre Lenihan, as Daisy Garner, returns in several other Waltons episodes. She acted in some other 70s dramas and is the mother of actors Samantha and Dan Sloyan.

For the first time, this episode ends with a long shot of the house – during the day! (The family says goodnight to John-Boy at dawn after he gets home from the marathon.)

Waltons 3.8: “The Spoilers”

Airdate: 10/31/74

A new family, the Hanovers, moves to Waltons mountain from New York City, and almost immediately they upset the family’s apple cart. They are headed by Ted, the grandson of Grandma’s former beau, a man who feel reinvigorated by country life; unfortunately, his wife, son and daughter feel differently, unused to the rural way of life and, in the case of the children, looking down on it. The daughter judges John-Boy’s writing harshly, feeling it’s not fashionable enough, and the son, used to getting his own way, puts the moves on Erin and explodes when she halts his advances. Ultimately, Ted sees how has foisted his own interests on his family, and agrees to move back to the city.

Boy, those kids really are spoiled, but don’t worry: Olivia takes them to task for any disrespect they might show in her house. I enjoyed the character of Ted because I knew a similar “city mouse” who wanted a taste of the country – in his case, he couldn’t get used to any town without a subway system.

Alicia, the daughter, is played by Linda Purl. I think she looks to young for this role, but she went on to do dozens of films and TV shows, most notably as Fonzie’s adult love interest on the last two seasons of Happy Days.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Waltons 3.7: “The System”

Airdate: 10/24/74

Tom Povich is a football player attending Boatwright University on an athletic scholarship, but he struggles with his courses and enlists the tutelage of John-Boy to help him pass. During a test, though, he has an unfortunate lapse of judgment when he peeks over at someone else’s test; John-Boy sees this, and someone sees John-Boy. Under the school policy, John-Boy is just as guilty if he doesn’t turn Tom in, which Tom himself insists upon. At the college hearing, John-Boy defends his friend, who is revealed to be hard-working son of Pittsburgh coal miners trying to become a lawyer so he can go back home to defend them. The school board, understanding more about Tom’s integrity and moral fiber, aggress to reduce his penalty from expulsion to suspension.

A bit of courtroom drama adds to this above-par episode, which features one of my favorite character actors, Richard Masur, playing the role of Tom. He has tons of credits to his name, but has to be most familiar as Ann Romano’s boyfriend on One Day at a Time. My two favorite roles of his: mentally challenged man Archie treats like a child on All in the Family, and the straight-arrow father in the 80s teen comedy License to Drive.

Subplot has Grandpa “curing” Ben of his cigarette habit by getting him to smoke until he’s sick. Good for The Waltons, trailblazing the anti-smoking movement on TV!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Waltons 3.6: “The Ring”

Airdate: 10/17/74

No, no the 2002 horror movie. Mary Ellen goes to her first college dance, at Boatwright University, double-dating with John-Boy. She just has to have an evening bag, so she picks one up second hand, only to find a beautiful amethyst ring inside, which she decides to keep. When the ring’s owner, Mrs. Breckenridge, comes to the Waltons to inquire about the ring’s whereabouts, Mary Ellen decides to return it after the dance. You guessed it: she loses it, and must break into the college the next day to find it and return it. Good subplot involving John-Boy’s date, a girl he thinks is exploiting her, until she risks her sororital standing to help him by breaking into the campus to retrieve the ring.

So-so installment again depicting Mary-Ellen’s struggle with womanhood. Beautiful Katheen Cody, as John-Boy’s date, is another émigré from Dark Shadows (and a few other soaps), later made many guest starring appearanes on 70s and 80s dramas before retiring in 1988. Cindy Eilbacher (Lisa’s sister) as the snitch Martha Rose is emerging as the Nellie Oleson of the show!

Waltons 3.5: “The Romance”

Airdate: 10/10/74

Olivia signs up to take art classes at night in Charlottesville, to the delight of John-Boy, the lukewarm approval of her husband, and admonishing scorn of Grandma. Her instructor, a free-spirit by the name of Joshua Williams encourages her to unlock her passion, not simply for art but for life itself, urging her to give up her humdrum life as a housewife and consider going off with him to other world. As expected, he becomes attracted to her, but when he kisses her, she recoils and drops the class. He later visits her at home and clears up all tension between them; she resumes her lessons.

Meanwhile, Mary-Ellen, continuing her interest in medicine, is at loggerheads with her beau, Don Millman, who wants to be a doctor but thinks she should only be a nurse.

Episode explores the recurrent topic of nascent feminism in the 30s, with Olivia’s proto-liberation also a focal point for about the third time. They’re also building up Mary Ellen’s interest in medicine, in keeping with the writers giving each child some kind of identity fixture. GS David Selby made a career out of daytime and nighttime soaps; my two favorite roles of his are Quentin Collins on Dark Shadows and Michael Tyrone on Flamingo Road, a show that is woefully out of print anywhere!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Waltons 3.4: “The Runaway”

Airdate: 10/3/74

When Jim-Bob’s pet guinea pig dies, with no one in the Waltons’ household seeming to care, he runs away from home, hitching a ride to the nearest town, Westham. Once the family finds out, they dispatch John-Boy to search for him, causing him to miss a lecture by one of his favorite writers, Bennett Holmby. Once John-Boy finds his younger brother, he explains the circumstances and apologizes for his insensitivity, prompting an eavesdropping stranger to extol the virtues of traveling but lamenting not having a family like the Waltons to come home to. The stranger? None other than Mr. Holmby himself.

Guest stars: Lots of rising sitcom stars here. Elizabeth Kerr, in one scene as the college secretary, would later star as Mindy’s grandma in the first and third seasons of Mork & Mindy. Geoffrey Lewis, playing Elwood Dobbs, the man who gives Jim-Bob a ride, is a prolific film/TV actor whose trademarks are rugged looks and a perpetually sour face. TONS of acting work under his belt, but I remember him best as Earl on the short-lived Alice spin-off, Flo. Ann Noland plays John-Boy’s would-be date to the lecture; she had a brief career in 70s exploitation flicks.

This is the first episode to spotlight Jim-Bob, proving that if you wait long enough, you’ll get your time. Running away from home is of course another tried ad true TV trope, but in this perilous day and age, it seems a lot less innocent – when Dobbs picks Jim-Bob up, we can’t help thinking how the same story now would be decidedly creepier.

Waltons 3.3: “The Thoroughbred”

Airdate: 9/26/74

John-Boy meets a high-class gal at college, Selina Linvile, and vies for her attention against Carl Jensen, also a blueblood but not as interesting to her as John-Boy. When the annual cross-country horse race arrives, John-Boy thinks that riding Old Blue in the competition could give him a leg up against Carl, but Old Blue is a mule and Carl’s horse is a thoroughbred. John-Boy’s spirit is undaunted, but John Sr. is disturbed by his son using the race to improve his social standing. Seeing the light, John-Boy races purely for the sport, and ends up winning – amicably.

Solid episode continuing the double-setting of the homestead and Boatwright University, John-Boy’s college. Insecurity with social class, a continuing motif, is coupled with an engaging love triangle, the result being a flavorful tale that also balances both settings well. With the new locale, more period costumes are used, with Selina’s 30’s dresses in fine vintage festoonery!

Selina Linville (Kathleen Quinlan) and her grandfather, Col. Linvile (Frank Janson) both return in season four episode “The Collision.” Quinlan is familiar to modern audiences for many movies, starting with American Graffiti in 1973 and continuing all the wuy up to the present day in Glee. She got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Apollo 13, but I will always remember her as the teacher who gets more than she bargained for in Joe Dante’s segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).

"It's not fair! You're supposed to be happy when your wishes come true!"

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