Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’ve got another Q&A entry, where I answer questions submitted by readers. Thanks to everyone who sent in something — if you don’t see your “Q” here, I just may “A” it next time. (And keep them coming — any related topic on which you want my opinion and/or a little research? Just let me know!)
Regular reader robert keuscher asked… what did you think of the PBS Special, ANYTHING GOES?
Couldn’t watch it. I know Anything Goes is not some great work of musical drama with nuanced characterizations, but I saw Sutton Foster live in the 2011 Broadway revival and was not a fan of her interpretation of Reno Sweeney — I found it unbelievably far from the “Ethel Merman type” for which the role was obviously created (and I question whether Foster is even aware of Aimee Semple McPherson, on whom Reno was based). But, then again, I think Anything Goes as a whole has continued to get diluted — losing its initially well-blended cocktail of social satire, bedroom farce, and A+ Porter tunes in favor of a cartoonishly generic gangster pastiche with a jukebox array of Porter’s ’30s hits. That’s been going on since the late ’30s, so I don’t blame Foster or anyone specifically; I guess I just wish the spirit of the original was more genuinely evoked, and because I know it’s not, I tend to “protect my peace” (so to speak) by avoiding iterations that I’m sure won’t satisfy. (Incidentally, I also wonder how long Anything Goes will be performed with the whole “Plum Blossom” climax, given our elevated sensitivities!)
Trace was curious… I saw your list of favorite “Happy Days” episodes. But I was wondering what do you think is the single best episode of the series?
My favorite episode is actually the entry that introduces Laverne and Shirley, “A Date With Fonzie” — not because it premieres the two leads of the spin-off series that I chose to feature here, but really because it’s a primo example of what Happy Days could be at its third season peak, reinforcing its premise’s nostalgic era through character by emphasizing the contrast between Richie and Fonzie, both of whom have their personas reiterated in this funny script that’s also blessed with the high energy (and big laugh yielding) debut of those aforementioned soon-to-be-stars. To me, there’s no more perfect half hour sample of Happy Days, based on our understanding of its own goals and the sitcom genre’s textual needs.
Matt asks… Besides Empty Nest what does your future lineup look like? Growing Pains, Silver Spoons, Family Matters, Step by Step, Full House, maybe Reba?
No, I have no plans to discuss any more less-than-ideal family sitcoms from the ’80s and ’90s with interchangeable leads in weekly stories not driven by their characterizations. I highlighted some of the best and most vital entries in this subgenre already — e.g., Family Ties, Kate & Allie, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, and Married… With Children — and I’m all set for now. As for Reba, that’s a 2000s show, and I’ve not announced yet how/if I will examine that era. Please visit the Coming Attractions page to see what’s directly ahead here — after Empty Nest, look forward to: Evening Shade, The Nanny, Martin, Living Single, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Cybill, and Becker.
Muneeb Khan has a request… I was wondering if you have a list of shows that you have done a complete coverage of?
For Sitcom Tuesdays, yes. This was published here in February 2022, reprinted below.
Toby Griffith wants to know… Who do you think is the most underrated sitcom performer based on their work?
Well, glancing at the above list for reference, the first person who comes to mind is Tina Louise, whose portrayal of Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island seldom gets the appreciation it deserves — she avoided making the role solely a wiseacre, a ditz, or a vamp, as other actresses have veered, and instead rooted all those traits in the “situation” of her character, coalescing them into a surprisingly well-rounded whole. Louise’s Ginger could be quick-witted and quippy, but only because she had been around the Hollywood block and had a lot of experiences, and she wasn’t dumb — she was merely naive to working-class concerns (like cooking and cleaning), due to her relatively glamorous life — and she could be a sexpot, yes, but only intentionally, when she was deliberately trying to use her natural strengths (as a glamorous movie star) to achieve a desired outcome. Mind you, not every script gave her the chance to exhibit all this nuance at once, but, on macro terms, she took what was on the page and filled out each suggestion with so much more, even indulging flaws, like Ginger’s heightened movie star ego, which contributed to the role’s multi-dimensionality. We often joke about Louise’s time at the Actors Studio — because she used it to knock this series and position herself as superior — but it clearly helped. And she doesn’t get enough credit for doing with Ginger Grant what nobody else could (see: the reunion movies) — make her believable. As a result of this multi-faceted depiction, her character became one of the most equally reliable purveyors of both laughs and story!
Have a question for me? Submit it at the “Ask Jackson (Q&A)” link.
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Empty Nest!