Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday and the next entry in our Lamentable ’80s series! In several other places on this site, I’ve indicated my disappointment with many of the single season (or two-season) ’80s shows that have faded into obscurity. While the ’70s TV curiosities that we covered were generally fascinating, with ideas or talent that made them worthwhile for discussion, the flops of the ’80s seem to be mostly dire shlock — unfunny, conformist, and comedically deplete. So finding sitcoms that deserve a whole post of chosen favorite offerings has been a challenge, because while all five of the shows that will comprise this bi-weekly series were initially intended to get that full treatment, they were so severely flawed that I couldn’t justify featuring them here alongside the wonderful stuff that’s getting covered on Sitcom Tuesdays.
However, I also can’t afford to waste my time on material that ultimately ends up not making this site. So I’m turning lemons into semi-sweet lemonade, and ensuring that all that work I put in while laboring through these flops isn’t for naught. In these five posts, I am highlighting the shows that I initially chose and then rejected for full coverage, with a bit of my thoughts on why they don’t work, and as a special bonus, a full episode that I think illustrates both the best and worst of what each series has to offer (sort of like what we did with the rotten Hey, Landlord!). So far we’ve looked at Filthy Rich (1982-1983, CBS) and Off The Rack (1984-1985, ABC). Today…
03. Sara (1985, NBC)
Created by Gary David Goldberg, an MTM vet best known for helming the hit series Family Ties, along with Ruth Bennett, who would go on to co-create Duet, Sara was a star vehicle for Geena Davis, who had caught favorable attention for her anachronistically warm presence on the critically acclaimed Buffalo Bill, which we covered here five months ago. Davis, not surprisingly, played the titular Sara, a young San Francisco lawyer surrounded by an ensemble of quirky characters. Touted by the producers as the ’80s answer to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, comparisons between the two were easy — not only was Sara a modern working woman (with an even higher education than her TV predecessors), but in the series premiere she too had to choose between the return of a comfortable romance or her independence as a single professional. Naturally, she chooses the latter and her adventures in the workplace formed the basis for this 13-episode series, which began in January ’85 on Wednesday nights — scheduled opposite the season’s #1 series, Dynasty, coverage of which begins in August. Although the show was critically favorable, the Nielsen returns were the opposite.
Following cancellation, Sara became characterized as having deserved more of an opportunity to prove itself to audiences, and once Davis found a screen hit in Beetlejuice (1988), NBC actually reran the series in the summer of 1988 (alongside The Days And Nights Of Molly Dodd). Meanwhile, television scholars have forever reveled in the exquisite supporting cast, which included Alfre Woodard, Bill Maher, and Bronson Pinchot as Sara’s co-lawyers. Woodard was the protagonist’s loyal best friend, while Maher was the office jerk who commonly boasted and bragged about his successes while sparring with Pinchot, another early gay character to hold a regular position on primetime. Filling out the cast were Ronnie Claire Edwards as the lawyers’ boss, musician Mark Hudson as Sara’s divorced neighbor (with whom she shared an obvious attraction that would have been exploited in a longer running series), and Hudson’s cute son, played by Matthew Lawrence.
Having seen 12 of the 13 episodes, I must tell you that the series’ charms remain completely imperceptible. Unfortunately, no one in the ensemble lives up to their potential; each player falls into one of two categories. The first group, which includes Maher, Pinchot, and Edwards, is made up of characters who are defined by exaggerated mannerisms, easy cliches, and little depth. The second group, which includes Davis, Woodard, and Hudson, is made up of characters who have no evident flaws and are therefore utterly boring to watch. In other words, the characterizations are completely insufficient, without nuance or honesty, and more importantly, lacking the strong guiding hand that could mine regular humor from exploitable, but grounded traits inherent to each individual. Sara is not even bold enough to be bad, instead committing an even worse sin: mediocrity. So there was no installment that stood out as worthy of inclusion here. Instead, I’m picking an episode that illustrates an overt attempt at humor (and there may even be a few okay laughs here), while indicating the deep character problems that the series would somehow have had to overcome. Titled “Helen Steps Out” and written by Merrill Markoe, this episode (the series’ fourth) aired on 02/20/85 and was directed by John Pasquin.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post (and the week following for the next in this Lamentable ’80s series)! And tune in on Monday for another forgotten musical!