A Deliberate Throwback: A Look at The Garry Marshall Style (I of II)

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday… on a Wednesday! This week, I’m finally ready to launch our coverage of Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983, ABC), the most-requested ’70s sitcom when I polled readers back in April. But, before we can get to the opening season and my initial list of favorites, there’s still more that I find necessary to say, in general, about the series and, more importantly, the “Garry Marshall style” of sitcommery. So, count this as my Laverne & Shirley introductory essay, where I’ll put the show in the context of its era with the trends it embodies, as part of a broader look at Garry Marshall and what his sitcoms represent to our survey of the genre. (Well, this is the first half of this introductory essay, anyway. Stay tuned for the remainder, coming soon…) In support of my analysis, I’ll be talking a lot about Happy Days, which I watched IN FULL for this piece. And before you ask — no, I’m not doing a week-by-week study. You all preferred Laverne & Shirley, and eight weeks of that — trust me — is quite enough. However, Happy Days is the more perfect exhibit of the so-called “Garry Marshall style” — the foundational text, if you will — and since it’s the series off from which Laverne & Shirley spun, I felt like I had to watch it. That said, I’ll be honest with you: my interest in discussing these two shows is confined to their analytical rewards — what they tell us about an important time in the trajectory of the American sitcom. In terms of quality — the idea that we each subjectively pursue the material we find stimulating and/or particularly well-made — none of these series adhere to my learned standards of success, based on my eight years here on this blog and six years studying the form in college from a script-first perspective (alongside some of the genre’s master scribes, with whom I’ve also worked). I’ll try not to be too harsh, but while these are beloved shows that some do count as favorites, I believe many of their ’70s contemporaries are significantly better — more rewarding, more reliable, and more successful at depicting the situation comedy as the art form that we, its connoisseurs, know it to be.

But first, I’ve got to play a quick catch-up. I call the situation comedy an art form because it’s a unique type of narrative fiction, with its own rules and goals — specifically, it’s designed, in structure and intent, for the ultimate sake of humor, with adopted clichés and original choices in aid of that single endeavor. Oh, yes, movies and songs and books may be funny, but those formats exist for other genres too; the sitcom is a specialization — situation comedy — and it deserves to be discussed as an entity unto itself. What’s more, trying to make a spectator laugh out loud is a noble mission that puts the sitcom up there with any other artistic practice seeking an emotional response. That takes talent and skill. And yet, what’s interesting about this genre is that, while comedy is the goal, it also employs the narrative tropes of theatrical drama going way back to the Greeks — protagonists, objectives, obstacles, settings, themes, etc. I note all this to explain the nebulous term “situation comedy,” which arose out of a need to recognize these dramatic roots, not as a genre, but as a set of narrative principles, when a certain type of radio comedy evolved throughout the 1930s and needed to be distinguished from other non-narrative shows that we’d now put more in the comedy-variety, or sketch comedy, category, where there’d be jokes and topical skits and maybe a star, but little of the sustaining dramatic circumstances, or premised givens — people, places, and things — that the development of a perpetual medium like radio, and later the visually additive television, could use for the cultivation of an elemental continuity. It acknowledges that a “situation” — the who’s, the where’s, the when’s, etc. — would be established before every episode, as if a show was an ongoing, or repeating, play. Accordingly, when examining a sitcom’s merits here, we’re really looking for how well it takes advantage of what it means to be a situation comedy, namely the medium’s rare opportunities — the pre-established, premised givens suggesting an elemental continuity — to make the audience have a repeated emotional reaction: laughter. That is, we’re looking for how well a sitcom lives up to its innate potential by using its created “givens” for regular comedy.

Now, humor can be subjective, so a show’s effectiveness will be different for everyone, but if it labels itself or links itself with this genre, then we should take it at face value and assume laughter is the goal. And if we can agree on intent, then we can turn our sights away from whether we find a series funny, and onto something more objective: how it’s attempting to be funny, and specifically how it’s attempting to be funny as a sitcom — how it’s using its “situation” (people, places, and things) for laughs. Over the past few years, I’ve introduced a framework — also inspired by the Greeks (their New Comedy vs. Old Comedy) — that has allowed us to simplify the way we adjudicate sitcom construction. That’s by conceptually situating shows between two rival aesthetics: the character-driven style vs. the idea-driven style. You can read more about this in past posts, but, briefly, character-driven shows derive the bulk of their comic value from characters who are defined with an eye towards their laugh-providing capacities, and from their purposeful definition, they are able to motivate — through objectives, perspectives, and flaws — story, which is the means by which series episodically practice their identity. Idea-driven shows are the reverse, as the bulk of comedic value exists theoretically — either in the premise alone (like in Get Smart‘s James Bond parody), the kind of storytelling offered (like Seinfeld‘s trivial, dovetailing subplots), or some notional trapping that uses the leads for its own larger narrative benefit (like the political interests evident in Norman Lear’s sitcoms) — supplanting character as the most crucial element of self-identification. High-concept shows are almost always idea-driven then, because they have an unusual premise to satisfy (for remember, a premise is a promise — what we expect to see every week), and that’s their first narrative goal, while low-concept shows tend to be character-driven, or rather, they should be character-driven, because there isn’t often much else ingrained structurally that can encourage story. When low-concept sitcoms are NOT character-driven, plots tend to pop up out of nowhere, and by being poorly tethered to any premised givens — the individual facets of the “situation” — stories of this type don’t narratively suggest the sitcom to be a disciplined art.

Understandably, I have a natural preference for character-driven shows, as they inherently know to affirm the sitcom’s raison d’être, while idea-driven shows aren’t as poised for success, because even if a premise/concept may provide a blanket situation that seems to validate a technical definition of the genre, using a premise alone to procure laughs and secure investment makes for an intrinsically self-defeating ideal — a halfhearted victory that champions the existence of a continuous construct while undermining the necessity of the elements needed to continue it. More to the point, this approach runs the risk of blurring the distinction between this genre and the variety shows from which it purposely sought to separate, as sketch-like ideas get applied to the sitcom form, either foundationally as a sustained premise, or episodically, in a way that makes for randomness and inconsistency, missing the anchoring durability of well-built, art-form-needing “givens,” like character. However, although this design is not preferable, that’s not to say funny, bold ideas have no place in the sitcom. Actually, they’re a crucial part of it, as one of the main benefits of seeking funny characters is so that they can inspire funny ideas, for remember, the sitcom’s comic objective is also an unimpeachable part of this artistic equation, and using fixed elements like character is the most reliable way of ensuring big yuks, especially once the novelty of a premise fades. So, it’s how the comic objective, and these funny ideas, find support from the “situation” that separates the great sitcoms from the not-so-great ones. And this fact extends beyond just character-driven shows. Brilliant, hilarious idea-driven works like The Phil Silvers Show and All In The Family and Seinfeld are all venerated because of their conceptual hooks — Nat Hiken’s methodical storytelling, Norman Lear’s passionate polemics, Larry David’s misanthropic minutia (which created a storytelling apparatus too) — but they’re classic examples of the genre as well… in large part because they have to use their self-created “givens” when delivering on their premise-satisfying, and ultimately hilarious, ideas.

That means, more than anything else, they use character, for character is always essential — all narrative drama, going back to the Greeks, involves someone who faces challenges (usually in the pursuit of a goal). There’s no getting around it: Phil Silvers’ storytelling needs Ernie Bilko, All In The Family’s politics needs Archie Bunker, and Seinfeld’s minutia needs George Constanza, even if those characters are merely vessels for the ideas/concepts that are driving the comedy, for without these figures, those ideas can’t even be put into play. In essence then, no matter whether a sitcom can be better defined as character-driven or idea-driven — and to be clear, while most shows hew to one side or the other, they all combine elements of both, hopefully because, again, funny characters are the most reliable way to regularly yield funny ideas — every sitcom needs capable leads in order to capably do anything. As such, I’ve found as a writer that the most important element in every single situation comedy is character. The utilization of character to evoke laughter is therefore the main standard by which I judge every sitcom we discuss on this blog. (You can call it the “Upperco Doctrine.”)

On that note, I think you can start to see why I am critical of these Garry Marshall series — and especially his three big ’70s hits, produced with Miller-Milkis (and later Miller-Milkis-Boyett): Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy, which I single out because they define Marshall’s ethos at the peak of his success — for not only are they clearly idea-driven shows that root their priorities outside of their characters, they also each undermine the importance of character as a principle by failing to reliably attach the depictions of their leads to the conceptual or idea-led engines determining identity. In other words, they’re idea-driven shows without the kind of support from character that every sitcom requires. (More on that later…) To that end, I think his big three shows, in comparison to their contemporaries, are not aesthetically laudable models of the situation comedy art form, for without the bedrock of strong regulars to sustain the episodic fluctuations of series television, there’s a fundamental lack of consistency as it pertains to each series’ self-made notions of excellence; Happy Days‘ idea-led construct is built on the nostalgia of its chosen time period, Laverne & Shirley is enamored of its slapstick opportunities, and Mork & Mindy has to favor its supernatural premise, which, unlike the other two, is high-concept and thus more expectedly character-suppressing… even though, in all three, character is sidelined for idea-based concerns with a limited amount of novelty… And yet, you may be reading this and thinking what I’m thinking, which is that while all three of these shows might definitely be idea-driven, they actually do have iconic characters, for Fonzie, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork from Ork (hey, even Lenny & Squiggy) are all memorable comic figures, particularly among ’70s sitcoms. This would seem to suggest that, contrary to my criticism, these shows do offer the rich personified tangibles necessary to make for favorable samples of the genre, or at least the idea-driven subcategory. Indeed, comprehending how shows with such strong, memorable leads can still be so fundamentally idea-led, and, more intriguingly, fail to satisfy in comparison to other contemporary idea-led efforts (like those of Norman Lear) — is one of the main reasons I’m interested in discussing them now.

As it turns out, I found some answers to that inquiry in my pre-coverage of Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days, when I decided to vamp with reruns and clip shows, some of which were about Garry Marshall’s previously highlighted sitcom work, for as I attempted to solve why someone who co-wrote (with then-parter Jerry Belson) a handful of supreme episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which I would call the most character-driven sitcom of the 1960s, could then go on to produce a string of classics the following decade that are so far away from that honor, it crystallized a basic approach to character that Marshall maintains throughout his work, hinged around an understanding that star performers need elemental comic personas to stabilize the genre’s need for funny ideas, which, obviously, are always his core concern. This seems like an acknowledgement of what we noted above regarding how a sitcom is different from a sketch show, and the value of creating elemental “givens” to help uphold comic plot — meaning, there’s a recognition of what a sitcom craves in order to be more than just a variety show: character… Well, kinda, for if the focus of Marshall’s conception of character is reserved for star performers, or at least fixated on them, that’s really a throwback to the early days of television situation comedy, and radio before it, where the lines between sitcom and variety show were more blurred. In fact, many of the hosts of the initial TV variety programs, from Milton Berle to Ed Wynn to Red Skelton, have the same kind of rudimentary comic personas that Marshall was trying to cultivate for Joey Bishop and then able to write for Lucille Ballone anchoring personality providing continuity to otherwise tenuously connected ideas and other interchangeable gimmicks. We’ll talk more about Lucy next time, but we already saw how The Lucy Show, for instance, came to rely on guests, à la a variety series, upon its 1965 reformatting — minimizing its other givens outside of the star, so it became much less a situation comedy than I Love Lucy had been, even when also boasting celebrities. This is because all the leads on I Love Lucy were precisely rendered and used as a vital component of the “situation.” (Also, Lucy Carmichael never had the objective that made Lucy Ricardo so utilizable as a character in plot.)

Ultimately then, this appears to be leading to a debate about whether or not a mere consistency of personality, even alone in a vacuum, can be called an actual character for a situation comedy. I’ll generously say “sometimes,” for all of these determinations are relative; if the elements surrounding sitcom stars are few and/or undefined, the fact that they simply are means they’re providing a dramatic continuity lacking in star-led variety shows, giving personalities more support than they would have as hosts/emcees. So, The Lucy Show is not The Martha Raye Show — not even close — and although this feels like a tangent, I bring up this debate as a way of understanding Marshall’s star-based conception of character, which exists enough so that we can call what he does sitcoms. But not enough that we can call what he does character-driven, as his sensibility is very evocative of the star-dominated idea-driven classics from the ’50s, like Phil Silvers and The Honeymooners, both of which, as we saw, stemmed from a sketch-like pre-sitcom ideology (the latter arising from Jackie Gleason’s variety show). Unsurprisingly, a lot of Marshall’s ’60s sitcom work resides close to that early ’50s variety frame of mind… even, surprisingly, Dick Van Dyke, which is character-driven because of Carl Reiner’s autobiographical attention to detail with its leads and his impenetrable threshold of believability — tenets that force most of the action to be attached to choices/behavior, and funny ideas to be linked to funny characters — but its sense of the funny actually stems from his past in the idea-driven sketch-comedy world (Your Show Of Shows). And this pedigree helps explain why Marshall was able to be such a fit on Dick Van Dyke, for with Reiner’s strong, personal foundation of character making a platform for sketch-like ideas, Marshall was free to go off and deliver some: the crook in the elevator, the intoxicated bride, the Tennessee Williams parody, etc… Never mind that he didn’t have to do any of the character-creating or maintenance himself. (And his attempt at launching his own sitcom, Hey, Landlord!, makes that painfully clear.)

What’s more, his star-dominated ’50’s-esque perception of character shines through on Dick Van Dyke, as he offers bits for headlining personalities — centerpieces done in a spotlight by stars, with little mind for the characterizations underneath (or those surrounding)… Well, okay, I don’t want to undersell his work — “Pink Pills And Purple Parents,” in particular, is one of the funniest Dick Van Dyke episodes of the series, with a great set piece for Mary Tyler Moore that also feels justified by what’s been established of Laura’s depiction, creating more of a backstory that fleshes out both Petries so they feel even more like real people, in turn reaffirming Reiner’s believable ethos and the show’s identity. However, again, it also corroborates Marshall’s values: it’s a routine that needs a star more than it needs a character, and, again, it’s only because of Reiner’s foundation that it becomes anything more. The same can be said for The Odd Couple, which is blessed with Neil Simon’s construction: classic archetypes in opposition. Marshall is not responsible for this design, in which merely juxtaposing such different figures — Type A vs. Type B — as a premise makes for textbook sitcommery. Indeed, The Odd Couple can comfortably claim to be the most character-forward of all Marshall’s produced works, relying on individual characterizations to deliver the laughs and fulfill the series’ promise… But it’s a Marshall show, and while they are the comic focus, he doesn’t let the leads propel story as much as they should — meaning, they’re not involved as much in the regular practice of identity. They’re often put in a plot and then tasked with reacting as their set personas would — in a monastery, on a game show, on a cruise, etc. Accordingly, the storytelling is more idea-based, like his other efforts, and once again, the star-driven perception of character remains, for Oscar and Felix as played by Klugman and Randall have easy-to-read comic personalities, like Lucy, but everyone around them, including the peripheral players, matter far less. Now, perhaps this is an uncharitable reading — I always fear I’m too harsh on The Odd Couple, for the central twosome is strong enough to make the show character-driven in terms of humor…

…You just wouldn’t know it by the stories that are utilized. And this is the crux of my criticism, for strong characters are supposed to help a show be a situation comedy, and in terms of story — the weekly projection of the show’s identity — it doesn’t feel like The Odd Couple’s leads are being maximized, certainly not in comparison to those on its other character-rich contemporaries (like at MTM). In this regard, even Marshall’s character-driven show behaves like it’s idea-driven…. However, this talk of strong characters not revealing their strength brings us back to Fonzie, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork: great, larger-than-life, now-iconic figures… who don’t actually drive plot (even less than The Odd Couple). Usually, they’re applied to some generic story construct, with the guiding idea determining whether or not it’s a success: does it reinforce the ’50s nostalgia, does it yield a big slapstick crescendo, does it honor the high-concept alien premise? In these three shows — singled out from the duds because they’re more visibly influential — Marshall continues practicing the principles we saw in the sitcoms featured previously in our “clip show” posts: he knows the value of star personas… but his writing is nevertheless idea-driven, and it’s obvious that he’s never truly been responsible for creating a sitcom with a foundation where character, beyond the ’50s’ rudimentary star-driven understanding of it, is king. And it’s a shame because character is the most important continuity-providing narrative suggestion — the primary reason a situation comedy is a situation comedy. This is also why, to date, I have shunned most of Garry Marshall’s produced sitcoms, especially those from Miller-Milkis, where this unideal aesthetic seems, frankly, deliberate — a reaction against the popular sitcoms of the early ’70s, specifically the entries from both MTM and Norman Lear: two stylistic polarities — one character-driven, the other idea-driven — that we’ve discussed a lot because they define the decade’s comprehension of these two divergent aesthetics… even though they also share something big: an elevated realism corroborated in large part by low-concept premises that naturally push their leads to the fore (even when, as in the case of Lear’s shows, said characters are only in service of something else).

Now, our recent Barney Miller coverage has revealed that realism for its own sake is not always of service to the genre — when it infringes upon the basic comic objective, it’s harmful. But a commitment to suggested reality typically begets an attention to detail and an increased continuity, both of which benefit characters by encouraging more consistent and believable depictions — and this can focus comedy and inspire story, along with securing the audience’s investment. (To wit, I Love Lucy provided an emotional constancy that made the characters identifiable and capable of propelling comedic plot, earning the big-idea shtick.) So, when “realism” is weighted appropriately within structurally low-concept designs that emphasize fixed elements — because there are few high-concept needs that must also be featured — character is then able to be a seminal attraction. Interestingly, with the exception of Mork & Mindy — which I’m mostly setting aside for this essay because it boasts a high-concept supernatural premise and a dominating star that crowds out commendable character work, reiterating everything we’re discussing… but without the complicated potential for character in Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley — Marshall upholds the early ’70s’ fondness for low-concept designs. It’s their elevated realism that he’s less concerned with pursuing. And I have to clarify first that there are two ways of thinking about realism — the literal way, and the aesthetic way. With the literal way, we’re referring to shows that stick to the same standards of truth that we accept in our everyday lives; think: Barney Miller, which avoided the process of defining its leads in ways that would serve the genre’s comedic demand, purposely downplaying them to instead prioritize a true-to-life textuality above all else. The other way to think of realism is the aesthetic way, or realism as it applies to the art form. And in this context, that refers to a show’s internally created standards of acceptable truth, which are solid and easily understood… but give more room for sanctioned comedy. This is not realism by the terms of our world, but the show’s — implied and honored by its characters, and echoed in story, with any breaches accordingly discordant.

I care more about aesthetic realism because it gives each show more leeway to create its own individual ideas of what’s permissible and what’s not, and therefore what is fair to expect. For instance, a supernatural sitcom like Bewitched is not going to be literally realistic, but with consistent, believable characters, and explanations for the things that to us would seem absurd (witchcraft), it creates its own brand of truth that we can assume will be maintained every week. So, while the more literal realism of MTM and Lear typically forces more precise character work, via details and continuity, literal realism is by no means a necessity. It just so happens, in this case, that Marshall not only moves away from MTM/Lear’s literal realism, he also doesn’t have much internally rendered aesthetic realism in its place. To wit, the proverbial “jump the shark” moment, which comes from Happy Days‘ extended fifth season premiere, is one of these perceived breaches — it’s an unbuyable development, not merely by our world’s rules, but even by those of the show, which had heretofore not presented itself as willing to bend the laws of physics for such a cheeky sight gag. An even better example is Mork, an alien whose very presence damages Happy Days’ credibility, as the show’s use of a fantastical creature is so at odds with everything we’d seen prior. Once something like Mork appears without warning, it’s a sad indication that realism, both literal and aesthetic, just isn’t a big concern to Marshall or Happy Days, and when the maintenance of internally established truth no longer matters, then it’s hard for the maintenance of any cultivated given, like character, to matter either… Now, sure, this lazy kind of attitude creeps into most long-running series eventually, but seldom so early and to this extent. Also, MTM’s and Lear’s best efforts tend to be more consistent about what they won’t accept. (There are no alien friends on Rhoda or Good Times.) And though they do veer closer to our external notions of reality, you can similarly look to broader shows from later in the decade, like Soap and Taxi and WKRP, to see decent benchmarks of internally created realism that aren’t as “traditionally” logical as their early ’70s predecessors — they’ll offer crazier stories, with crazier people — but can still remain believable, because they’re true to both the premised givens and the various guidelines they’ve implied.

Of course, the broadening that those last three shows enjoy all come within a trend that Garry Marshall helped usher in — a desire for a deliberately sillier, less “important” comedy: a push obviously reacting to what was crowding the airwaves in the first trimester of the decade, like on the socially self-righteous All In The Family and the overly sincere Mary Tyler Moore, which were topical, real, and fairly serious. Some called it “modern.” To that point, the use of nostalgia on Happy Days, which Marshall first developed in 1971 — All In The Family‘s breakout year — is often cited as the main reason why Marshall’s shows with Miller-Milkis were unlike the contemporary and more realistic material of Lear and MTM. But while the results do prove, I think, that Garry Marshall was consciously creating his own counterculture against the ’70s’ counterculture — setting a show in the ’50s so he didn’t have to address both the social commentary of Lear and MTM or write in their more realistic, modern style — the nostalgia is more of an excuse for doing so than a premised requirement. That is, he could have produced a period piece that adhered more to the standards being set by MTM and Lear. He deliberately chose otherwise — and not for the first time. Let’s look at The Odd Couple, which premiered in 1970 and claimed a late ’60s socially relevant concept attached to growing divorce rates. It’s actually set in the present and, by virtue of Simon’s premise, easily the closest to Lear and MTM’s very current and realistic offerings. However, it still totally reinforces Marshall’s goofier, idea-led sensibilities, undermining character and their created logic for narrative gimmicks (like Password). The next two shows Marshall created, Me And The Chimp and The Brian Keith Show (initially known as The Little People) — are similarly idea-led, realism-subjugating fare, the former focused on a noxious gimmick with a literal chimp, and the latter a tonal and narrative throwback to the family warmedies of the ’60s. They’re both set in the present day… but choose to ignore what MTM and Lear were asserting as the era’s new normal.

These other outings prove that Marshall’s non-“modern” rebuttal was not confined to shows set in the past, but in all of his ’70s work. So, we can’t blame Happy Days’ nostalgia for this rejection of his contemporaries’ thoughts on realism, and collaterally, character. Additionally, the wave of ’50s/’60s nostalgia that we noted with both Grease and American Graffiti reveal that there absolutely could be material that was just as socially critical and more cynically realistic about the era than Happy Days — see more on Grease, and its origins here — and this again implies that his show’s diminished realism, and diminished character as a result of a blatant disregard for consistency via a maintained set of internal guidelines for dramatic truth, was more than just a byproduct of the idea-led gimmick of setting the show as a nostalgic period piece. This “old-fashioned” aesthetic was a certainty, with nostalgia being a hook that seemed to allow it, for if the nostalgia didn’t necessarily create Marshall’s style, it certainly justified it to audiences, as setting the show in the ’50s appeared to instill a higher tolerance for hokier, less honest or believable fare — more in line with the comedy that was being produced and consumed in that era, prior to the counterculture that Marshall was avoiding as part of his own counterculture. In contrast, Me And The Chimp is almost as low-concept as Happy Days… but it doesn’t have the nostalgia to prop up its silly gimmickry — the chimp — and give an implicit excuse for it. Okay, that’s not exactly a fair comparison — Me And The Chimp, as we’ve seen, is particularly bad… to a degree that Happy Days, for most of its run, isn’t. (Me And The Chimp is a nonstarter. More here.) But if that primate sitcom was produced in the early ’70s, and just set prior to the counterculture, as, say, a ’60s period piece, thereby granting it the same license to embrace earlier standards of realism (think: Mister Ed’s), would it have worked? Okay, still probably not. But I think we’d dismiss it as more of a deliberate throwback than an unconscious regression.

To that point, this is how I see Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley: deliberate throwbacks as opposed to unconscious regressions… for they came at a time when the public was craving a swing back to the stuff from which Lear and MTM had swung a few years prior. (Popular tastes are cyclical and correlated to the culture at large!) This opened the door for fare that broadened the genre again, so it wasn’t so urgently serious. These new shows were just going to be plain fun — and Marshall used nostalgia as the vessel to carry out Happy Days’, if not Laverne & Shirley’s, shift towards this comfort. This enabled him to intentionally offer material with which he was more comfortable… And yet, even with his admittedly regressive ethos that didn’t conceive of character beyond elementary star personas, the genre itself wasn’t regressing. It had no choice but to progress, as popular tastes made others accept his ideas, folding them into the mainstream so that the trendsetters of the early ’70s — namely MTM and Lear — were put on defense, forced to adapt to the times instead of continuing to lead them. That Marshall’s work, and a lot of what he inspired, made for a comparatively less ideal sitcommery — based on how we’ve defined it above — is perhaps unfortunate, but it’s not surprising, given his earlier efforts. And the alternative he provided proved truly popular with many viewers, ensuring that, again, the genre couldn’t really be seen as abandoning the elevated character work of the early ’70s, but reconciling itself towards something more familiar, in accordance with how the times kept changing. In this regard, I do look to MTM and Lear as being more artistically noble, but Marshall’s work to be the natural progression from them — an inevitable course correction that validates the boldness of their aesthetic choices. As such, I’m glad I was asked to grapple with them here on this blog, for Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley give context to both All In The Family and Mary Tyler Moore — and vice versa… So, with all that said, I think that’s where we’ll stop for now. In the second half of this essay, we’ll dig more into Happy Days‘ trajectory, its corresponding character work, and how it compares to its “deliberate throwback” sibling, Laverne & Shirley — seasonal coverage of which will follow; stay tuned…



Come back next week for more sitcom fun — and stay tuned for another musical rarity!