The Lamentable Eighties: A Look at Five Series That Weren’t Good Enough to Get a List of Favorite Episodes [I]

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! 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 will comprise 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.

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However, I also can’t afford to waste my time on material that ultimately ends up not making this site. So I’m turning lemons into semi-sweet lemonade, and ensuring that all that work I put in while laboring through these flops isn’t for naught. In these five posts, I will be highlighting 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 (sort of like what we did with the rotten Hey, Landlord!). Let’s get started today with . . .

 

01. Filthy Rich (1982-1983, CBS)

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The first series created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Filthy Rich is notable for featuring Dixie Carter and Delta Burke, both of whom would go on to star in her future hit, Designing Women (which won’t be covered on this site). The premise of this series involved an eccentric Southern family whose patriarch, Big Guy (Slim Pickens), dies and stipulates in his will that the family, which includes his young second wife (Burke), his effete oldest son (Michael Lombard), the effete son’s greedy scheming wife (Carter), and his noble younger son (Charles Frank), must accept their illegitimate half-brother Wild Bill (Jerry Hardin) and Bill’s ditsy wife (Ann Wedgeworth) into the family mansion. Adding to the mix was Nedra Volz as Big Guy’s senile first wife and mother to the legitimate kids. An hour-long pilot was produced in early 1981 and the series was marked for a possible midseason premiere when CBS wavered, finding the show too broad and cartoony. They ordered another half-hour pilot in early 1982 that was, again, rejected. But when CBS decided to burn off both pilots (which now became three half-hour episodes) in August of that year, each broadcast ended up scoring big viewership.

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Believing they had a sleeper hit on their hands, the network immediately green-lit the series for an official first season (now technically called its second), and the company raced to get episodes done in time for late September. (By now, Slim Pickens was deathly ill and had to be replaced by Forrest Tucker in the role of Big Guy, who would occasionally be seen via video.) The season premiered on the first Thursday in October 1982, but was placed opposite NBC’s new hit Family Ties, making it difficult to secure a regular audience. Meanwhile, critics loathed Filthy Rich, finding it overly theatrical and utterly ridiculous — more campy than comedy. After six weeks, the show was pulled from the schedule, only to return for a few more Mondays in January/February 1983. The two additional episodes that had been produced (for a total of 15 half-hours) aired in early June, long after the series had been canned. Having seen all 15 offerings, I’m afraid that I have to concur with the critics. The show plays so broad that it’s painful to watch, with Carter being the primary offender. Meanwhile, the premise, which is clearly supposed to parody Dallas, falls into the familiar trap of having regulars who not only antagonize each other, but hate each other to the point where the setup structures the cast into two camps: heroes (Hardin, Wedgeworth, Frank) vs. villains (Burke, Carter, Lombard).

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This format isn’t sustainable on a longterm basis, and the nastiness of the aggressors — especially when juxtaposed against the charm of both Hardin and Wedgeworth’s characters, who (along with the kooky Volz) make for the series’ brightest moments, with laughs that hinge often on character comedy, not just outrageous behavior — renders some of the players completely unlikable, and therefore, uncomical. (I’m speaking mostly of the two Designing Women ladies, actually.) Interestingly, the strongest episode is probably the second pilot, or the third aired episode, “Town And Garden,” which was broadcast on 08/23/82 and was written by Bloodworth (before she was married and added the hyphenate) and directed by Bill Persky. It’s the best because, well, simply, it manages to be the funniest while still maintaining its primary narrative objective. But, never fear, all of the show’s shortcomings are fully evident — the faulty premise, the nasty characters, the ridiculous performances. You’ll laugh… but maybe not when the show intended.

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post (and the week following for the next in this lamentable ’80s series)! And tune in on Monday for another forgotten musical!