Monday, June 27, 2016

Favorite Childhood TV Shows: #5-8 (Muppet Show, Perry Mason, AFHV, Super Friends)

Years It Aired: 1976-1981
Years I Was Into It: 1982-1984

My little brother was born when I was two. He took afternoon naps like a good little baby, but I wouldn't have any of that. And because our house was small and my mom wanted to keep me quiet, every afternoon I'd get plunked in front of the TV to watch the daily lineup of Smurfs, Super Friends and The Muppet Show. I don't know what order those three shows aired in, or if I'm falsely remembering they all aired in a block at all, but I do distinctly remember being three years old and loving each of them. I even remember one afternoon when -- thanks to a tipping stool, a mouthsmack on the counter, and a rush to the dentist -- I missed the shows. I cried. But then the tooth fairy came and all was well.

I loved the Muppet Show theme song. I remember asking my dad: "Why do they sing 'On the Muppet Show tonight' when it is daytime?" and he explained that the show used to air at night. I was intrigued by this bit of trivia. So I'd missed the original series run. The same can be said for several shows of my childhood. But I didn't mind. It's better to be late to the TV party than not show up at all.

The Muppet Show was really meant for adults; I know that now. I've rented the DVDs from Netflix and I'm quite sure 90% of the jokes must've flown over my head back then. But there was still plenty to keep me entertained. There were puppets, for one thing. Colorful furballs of all shapes and sizes who made wild gestures, sang, and danced. The Swedish Chef was always throwing kitchen utensils, and if 3-year-olds aren't the key demographic for that kind of comedy, I don't know who is. So what if I didn't know who any of the guest stars were? Heck, I still don't know who half of them are! Valerie Harper? Oh yeah, I have a TV-movie with her! Peter Ustinovwhowhatnow? Oh... he did one of the lion voices in Robin Hood, gotcha!

Many of the guest stars may be long forgotten, and a few of the jokes may be corny and stale thirty years after the fact, but it's still an entertaining show. I love the musical numbers. I love the running gags. I love the Muppets' personalities -- from the headstrong, passionate Miss Piggy... to the gawky Skeeter... to the cool, talented Rowlf... to the cranky, sassy Waldorf & Statler... to the humble, lovable Kermit the Frog. Watching an episode of the Muppet Show brings me to a warm, fuzzy place.

Just like I've been swallowed by a big ol' Muppet.


Hey, who turned out the lights? 

Years It Aired: 1957-1966
Years I Was Into It: Early-to-mid 90's

Perry Mason-watching was a summer activity. It always aired at noon on weekdays, which meant during the school year -- no Perry. The same is true today; the same station that aired this hour-long formulaic whodunit show in the early 90's still airs it in 2008. And just like back then, summertime is the only time I can watch it. And I'm not exactly sure why I like to.

Maybe it's because of my mom. She watches it too. And she tells me about how she and her brother used to watch it on their lunch break in college. She's probably seen every episode. We'll start watching it, and she'll go, "I remember this one." "So who's the murderer?" I'll ask, because I like to know. Her response is always the same: "I don't remember." Great.

The show was simple: Perry Mason was a famous, intelligent defense attorney. Whenever someone was accused of murder or fraud, they'd go to Perry. This was a wise decision, because Perry Mason always won his cases. (Maybe there's an episode or two where he didn't, but I've yet to see one!) He would not only prove his client's innocence, but he'd draw out the real culprit through fancy interrogation (or just a simple "Didn't you. DIDN'T YOU?"-like demand). The bad guy would then crumble and admit everything. "Okay! Okay, I DID IT! And I did it because..." Pure gold.

Like on any good dramatic series, Perry had an opposing force. His name was Hamilton Burger, and he was a lawyer who often went against Perry in trials. You can probably figure out this guy's success rate -- it wasn't good. Yet he was relentless -- almost as if every time he found himself face-to-face with Perry Mason in the courtroom, he was muttering to himself, Okay, this is it. I can feel it. This time it's MY turn. I know I've lost every case to that man so far. 563 wins for him, zero for me. But this is the one, this is the case that will change all that! But, as far as I saw, it never was his turn. For him to win would mean Perry would have to lose, and that would be shifting the balance of the universe in unnatural ways.

For nearly a decade -- and then later, with a series of TV-movies -- the message remained the same: Good triumphs over evil, even in the courtroom. And nobody gets away with murder, not as long as Perry Mason's on the job.

I like that.


Years It Aired: 1990-?
Years I Was Into It: 1990-1993

When I was growing up, Sunday night TV-watching was a family activity. In the 80's, we'd sit around the ol' tube, watching "The Magical World Of Disney," and be treated to G-rated Disney fare. In the mid-90's, Sunday nights were devoted to Lois & Clark. But from 1990 to 1993, Sunday night was reserved for one show: America's Funniest Home Videos.

I loved watching the videos. We didn't have a video camera at the time, but I longed for one. I loved the idea of being on TV. And winning money, too. But mostly just being on TV. So we'd turn on ABC at 8 o'clock on Sunday nights and proceed to watch for the next hour. During the commercial breaks, we'd grab snacks.

The hilarity of the videos themselves can be debated. People fell down. Heavy people broke fragile furniture. Stupid-in-the-first place stunts went awry. It was sophomoric humor to be sure, but hey, I was 10. It worked. There were some genuine videos, too -- videos you knew weren't staged or just out for cheap laughs. One that sticks out in my mind is the clip of a one-year-old kid toddling through a garden. All of a sudden a cat springs out of the bushes, pounces on the kid, and knocks him down. Come to think of it, I often enjoyed the funny cat videos.

Toward the end of the show each week, Bob Saget would announce the three finalists of the evening. Typically, these were not the funniest clips we'd seen that night (at least not to me), but for some reason, the producers thought they were award-worthy. The audience would then vote with little electronic votermabobs, and afterwards Bob would announce the 2nd place winner ($3000!) Drumroll, please? AND THE WINNER IS... (Insert name of Video here) SENT IN BY THE (insert last name here) FAMILY, FROM (family's city and state)!!! Bob Saget always sounded so excited when he announced the $10,000 winner. Meanwhile, the third place winners, who knew they were third place by default, hung their heads in shame. (Or at least they probably did. Unless they were totally just thrilled to be on TV... hmmm, can't blame them there!)

From the catchy theme song (Oh the funniest things you do / America, America, this is you!") to the perky host (gotta love TV's Danny Tanner) to the pure wackiness of the home movies -- this was once a very entertaining show.

And now I have nothing to watch on Sunday nights anymore. Nothing

Years It Aired: Off & On From 1973-1986
Years I Was Into It: 1983-1985

Last week I rented a DVD of Super Friends and watched the show for the first time in nearly 24 years. Maybe I shouldn't have done that before writing this... maybe I should've written this based off my sketchy memories of being a preschooler who spent her weekdays parked in front of the TV, waiting for Super Friends to air. A kid who'd take her Cinderella paper dolls and pretend Prince Charming was Superman and Cinderella was Wonder Woman and fly them around the basement. A kid who cried the time she fell asleep and woke up too late to watch the show. A kid who, eight years later, would fall in love with another Superhero show, one which, at the risk of sounding cheesy, would change her life.

But I really wanted to see Super Friends before I wrote this. Just to see if it gave me that same feeling I got when I was four years old. The funny thing? It kind of did. It's action-packed, but kid-friendly. Sure, it can be corny (but that's not really unusual for a Superhero cartoon, is it?) and its plot holes could sink a freeway... but there's still something charming about it that makes me smile.

One particular Super Friends memory has remained in my brain all this years. It's from the episode where Superman got trapped behind the mirrors. He could go from one mirror to another, and I remember he went to Lois Lane's mirror (in her office!) and tried to get her attention, but although she heard his voice, she thought she was just going crazy and left the room. I remember Superman went to another mirror, and... yeah, but that's where my memory pretty much ended. But I do recall feeling frustrated with that Lois Lane woman. What was her problem, anyway? 

The above TV show profiles were written in 2008 and 2009 and published on my old website The above-mentioned Super Friends episode, I discovered, was from season 4 and titled "Reflections In Crime." It was just like I remembered. 

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