Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! To complement yesterday’s rerun post on The Odd Couple (1970-1975, ABC), my favorite Garry Marshall sitcom — and one of the few actually set in the time period it was produced — this entry features a series from his stable that had a considerably shorter shelf life, Goodtime Girls (1980, ABC). Now, this blog has intentionally ignored some of Marshall’s biggest hits — like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy — because these higher concept shows, whether “period” or supernatural, tend not to be driven by character or satisfy comedically on these terms. And this series is perfectly adherent to that unfortunate trend. However, Goodtime Girls still interests me for a few reasons.
One, it’s set BEFORE the Happy Days of the mid-’50s, taking place in Washington D.C. in 1942. This is a unique era because it predates national television programming and represents a time seldom explored on TV. It’s special for that reason alone. Two, the premise, of four women sharing an attic apartment in a boarding house, is appealingly low-concept and has the potential to push characters to the fore — it’s The Odd Couple times two. And Three, the cast has a few notable performers who had other (better) shows, including Annie Potts (Designing Women), Georgia Engel (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and Peter Scolari (Newhart). (Others in the ensemble included Lorna Patterson and Francine Tacker, along with Marcia Lewis and Merwin Goldsmith as the managers of the boarding house, and Adrian Zmed as Scolari’s roommate.)
Sadly, and as indicated above, the series is saddled with many of the same creative handicaps as the other Miller-Milkis-Boyett Productions from Garry Marshall — even though it was developed by other folks, including Sheldon Bull (Newhart) and Leonard Ripps (Full House). Principally, it over-relies on its period setting for story, at the expense of its characters. And because the show is stacked with regulars, featuring at least eight who must theoretically be served every week, there are too many roles that aren’t well-defined. Potts is kind of the anchor, and her “personality” is born from this positionality (that is, she leads exposition and carries story — taking charge thusly), and Tacker is clearly the haughty outsider. But Engel is nothing more than Georgette Baxter 2.0., and Patterson… well, your guess is as good as mine.
Additionally, the nature of the comedy is expectedly banal. It’s not quite as slapstick-heavy as Laverne & Shirley, but there certainly are moments where this show asks its cast to do physical stunts… with so-so-results… Nevertheless, the scripts are generally more DIALOGUE-based than Marshall’s late ’70s fare, and that’s really where the writing comes up short. You see, this requires defined characters, and with nebulous leads and the series’ prioritization of its premise, it’s no wonder that Goodtime Girls isn’t as much of a good time as it should be.
But, okay, maybe I’m being too tough — you should see for yourself… Now, truthfully, I’ve only seen the first five broadcast episodes (13 were produced, and one went unseen — even after five more were burned off in August 1980). There are no gems in the first five, and none are inherently worth sharing over the others. So, instead, I’ll provide you with the premiere, “Homefront,” which was shown in the series’ original Tuesday at 8:30 time slot on January 22, 1980. It was written by Bull, Ripps, and E. J. Purdum, and directed by Joel Zwick.
Come back next week for another Wildcard post! And stay tuned Monday for a new Musical Theatre rarity!