Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday and the last 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 have comprised 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 (final seasons of Night Court notwithstanding).
However, I also can’t afford to waste my time on material that ultimately ends up not making this site. So I’ve turned lemons into semi-sweet lemonade, and ensured that all that work I put in while laboring through these flops wasn’t for naught. In these five posts, I highlighted 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. We’ve looked at Filthy Rich (1982-1983, CBS), Off The Rack (1984-1985, ABC), Sara (1985, NBC), and All Is Forgiven (1986, NBC). Today…
05. Easy Street (1986-1987, NBC)
Created by Hugh Wilson, along with Janis Hirsch, this multi-cam vehicle for Wilson’s fellow WKRP In Cincinnati alumnus Loni Anderson featured the beautiful blonde as L.K. McGuire, a showgirl who was widowed at a young age after marrying a millionaire. Now she lives in her late husband’s estate, and upon reconnecting with her destitute uncle Bully (Jack Elam), L.K. invites him and his friend Ricardo (Lee Weaver) to move in with her permanently. This comes as quite the shock to L.K.’s snobby in-laws, Eleanor (Dana Ivey) and Quentin (James Cromwell), who also live in the mansion and would like nothing more than to see the three others thrown out and L.K.’s inheritance contested. Arthur Malet also co-stars as Bobby the butler. NBC initially scheduled the show on Sunday nights; it was well received by critics but didn’t fare well Nielsen-wise up against Murder, She Wrote. The series was shuffled around, and in the late spring, moved to Tuesdays opposite another top ten hit, Moonlighting. Yet either with or without steep competition, no matter where Easy Street was placed on the weekly schedule, it failed to bring in the necessary viewership. Its cancellation was a disappointment (to some), but not a surprise.
Having seen all 22 episodes (and it should be noted that this is the only show covered in this five-post series to get a full season, and for that reason, it came the closest to getting its own post of favorites), I can see why the show wasn’t a big hit: it’s not bold enough. It’s charming, it’s sweet, it’s smile-inducing. But it’s not different, it’s not memorable, and it’s not laugh-inducing. Furthermore, I think the premise inhibits the show from tapping into the comedic possibilities of its notably strong cast. There’s an element of The Beverly Hillbillies with Bully and Ricardo, two veritable hobos, finding themselves living in the lap of luxury, but the existence of Eleanor and Quentin as antagonists who would drive the two men (and ultimately the heroine herself) off the property, sets them up as villains, meaning that like Filthy Rich, there are people we like and people we don’t like. How can we invest emotionally in characters so story-driven?
The bigger problem, however, is L.K.’s lack of agency within the weekly narratives. As with Jennifer Marlowe, her character in Easy Street aims to reject stereotypes. She’s a gorgeous blonde who married a millionaire. But she’s not stupid and she’s not a gold-digger — she loves and misses her husband. However, this inversion of expectations yields laughs based on the reactions of others: not anything that the character herself does. And unlike WKRP, this series doesn’t have the sharp writing to also make her interesting, capable of delivering comedic material that’s still in keeping with an established characterization. So, ultimately, Easy Street wouldn’t have ever been a great series unless it could have done a better job of using its leading lady as the leading lady. Everyone else is great — even the characters that aren’t designed correctly still get fine material (in terms of comedy) — except our star. But the episode I’m sharing with you today is one of the few in which L.K. is more of the driving force of the story; that’s why it stuck out to me as among the series’ strongest (although, that praise should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt — this show still is flawed). Here’s the tenth aired episode, “Like That Brave Little Gal In The Philippines,” which was written by Sheldon Bull (Newhart, Coach, Mom), directed by Tony Mordente, and originally broadcast on 11/23/86.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Monday for another forgotten musical!