All’s Fair (or Middling)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Several years ago, I published a post on the single-season Norman Lear sitcom All’s Fair, which ran on CBS during 1976-’77 and starred Richard Crenna with Bernadette Peters. They played a pair of political opposites embarking upon a May-December romance in Washington D.C. during the end of the Ford administration and the beginning of Carter’s. I had only screened one episode at UCLA and read scripts for a handful of others before writing that piece, but I offered an assessment of the material based on what I’d seen, essentially determining that the lead characters were positionally poised for conflict but not well-defined enough to encourage it, while the supporting cast was generally weak too. Now, after having viewed all 24 episodes, I’m afraid that my initial adjudication was spot-on.

So, instead of reiterating what was already discussed, I ask you to revisit this link for my thoughts on the series, along with more details about its scheduling and the particulars of its premise and cast, which also included J.A. Preston, Lee Chamberlin, Jack Dodson, Judith Kahan, and Michael Keaton. I’ll only add three things. First, since obtaining the pilot I was once anxious to screen, I can now confirm that it was overhyped. Because the show was determined to push the two stars together right away — in hindsight, this was a mistake, for it meant there was nothing to build towards (or make us root for) — the premiere is forced to employ some narrative heavy-lifting that strains emotional credulity. Second, although all of Lear’s shows have a political bias, both parties’ ambassadors are almost equally wrong and/or obnoxious, so there’s not a consistent “antagonist,” like in, say, All In The Family. To that point, the show is indeed fairer than we’d expect… even though it becomes quite broad in its quest for laughs (particularly near the end of its run) and everyone has to take turns being a grating moron.

The final thing I’ll add — for subscribers who comment below to alert me of their interest — is access to the best episode. It’s called “Discovery Day,” and aired as the show’s fifth on October 25, 1976. Directed by Bob Claver and written by Michael Loman with Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf, this is a two-hander — it features only Crenna and Peters — and takes place in real-time, during an evening the two main characters share as they get to know each other better. Considering that their mutual lack of definition is All’s Fair’s core hindrance (via their limitations in story), the fact that this installment seeks to explore its two leads is not only enjoyable, it’s also a positive development for a series that needed more of this. Here’s a clip.



Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Sitcom fun!