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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

'Eight is Enough' S3: Classic Family Dramedy Scores a 10

Eight is Enough: Season Three
One of many great things about the recently released eight disc two- volume third season set of the 28-episode '70s ABC family dramedy "Eight is Enough" is that it truly is a show that Xers will enjoy revisiting and millenials will like discovering.

Before sharing some of the trials and tribulations that the eight-child Bradford family discovered that, ala the Keatons of the '80s sitcom "Family Ties" there "ain't no nothin'" they couldn't love each other through, the significant change to the previous seasons' instrumental theme song deserves notice. Dreamy teen idol Grant Goodeve, ala dreamy teen idol Wesley Eure of '70s kids show "Land of the Lost," sang his series' theme song.

Goodeve took over the role of eldest son David after original cast member Mark Hamill left out a belief that a low-budget sci-fi film in which Hamill starred during the same period would launch (no pun intended) his career.

Two elements about the pilot (again, no pun intended) that make owning the first season of "Eight" worthwhile are seeing Hamill play suburban middle-class David EXACTLY the same as he played Luke Skywalker, and a scene in which family patriarch Tom Bradford essentially stated "David, I am your father."

"Eight" qualified as "Unreal TV" because it modified the premise of the chaos associated with a large family to depict entertaining timeless and relevant stories without turning preachy. The Bradford kids were far less whiny than the Brady offspring (and scored future "Karate Kid" Ralph Macchio as their "Cousin Oliver" in a later season), did not form a family rock group like the Bradys and the Partridges, and did not live forty years in the past like the Waltons.

One reason that "Eight's" episodes seemed realistic was that the series was based on life of syndicated newspaper columnist Thomas Braden, who was prolific at work and home.

Many plots revolved around the lack of privacy, financial pressures associated with large families, scarcity of telephone time in this era decades before smartphones, and sibling competition for parental attention and other resources that have an inverse relationship with the number of children in a family. However, "Eight" did an "unreal" job taking things further by giving the individual challenges of family members airtime in a way that make us smile and/or empathize.

The gamut of seriousness ranged from nine-year-old Nicholas, played by fan favorite Adam Rich, dealing with new feelings of affection for girls (and his fourth grade teacher with a Princess Di hairdo) to the older kids dealing with issues related to what they wanted to be when they grew up. Additionally, future Broadway star Betty Buckley's character fairly new step-mother Abby contended both with fitting in with the large well-established family and taking graduate-level courses while teaching school.

Buckley's real-life experiences flying between California and New York for Broadway auditions on weekends while filming "Eight" showed that she could relate to Abby willing to work hard to have it all. Abby did just as well as Buckley in that regard.

Although the five daughters had their moments, and some of them thrived in later seasons, "Eight" was still a boys' club during its third season. Each episode typically began with a vignette in which Nicholas and another cast member had a cute moment; the real action would start after the opening credits that followed the vignette.

Dreamy teen idol Willie Aames played Tommy, a typical "Lembeck" (Google it millenials). This 16 year-old boy was simultaneously horny, goofy, conniving, relatively lazy,  played in a garage band, and was an overall benign bullying older brother.

Tommy helped get the season off to a good start by putting "Man of Steel" Clark Kent to shame regarding his ingenuity in changing back and forth between the unbuttoned to the navel red polyester shirt and skin-tight black slacks that he wore to disco dance (presumably at Studio 18 and Under) with one girl and earth-toned fringe loose-fitting clothes on dates with the earth child that he was simultaneously dating.

A later episode in which a trench-mouth infected Tommy comically tried to conceal that embarrassing condition from his sibs had some of the season's best moments. I remembered a "taco orgy" scene from that episode from the original broadcast.

Older brother David, who was the only Bradford who did not live in the family's colonial house, played the ideal older brother. He was generally in good humor, was not above participating in hi-jinks, was very gracious and kind when he caught a  fully clothed Tom and Abby on his water bed, and took some of the parental load off Tom. He definitely is the Bradford who I would chose as my sib.

The two-part season three finale reflected Goodeve's popularity by having very limited unresolved plots that involved other Bradfords and that focused heavily on construction worker David's engagement to attorney Janet. The facts that one plot had newly graduated Elizabeth doing a high school assignment and that Goodeve did not appear in the episode in which Elizabeth graduated suggested that the season finale episode was intended to run earlier in the season.

Conflict with his fiancee prompted David to take an extended road trip at the end of Part One. Part Two entirely revolved around David helping an elderly amateur hang glider designer who he met in his travels.

This episode was an apparent pilot for a spin-off starring Goodeve. This effort was abandoned when he returned to the fold at the beginning of the fourth season.

Depictions of serious issues that did not devlove into "very special episodes" included Tom's concern that the family would learn that the stresses of raising such a large family drove him to see a psychologist. His evasiveness resulted in two separate comedies of error but ended with nice shows of support from the family.

Drama also came in the form of Abby having reason to believe that she was pregnant, middle-daughter Nancy deciding whether to drop out of college, and Abby's parents considering a divorce.

The late in the season episode "The Final Days" deserves special mention both for guest-starring the then-elderly and still kicking Abe Vigoda as a union organizer whose picket line outside the Bradford home during school finals creates hilarious chaos and because of an equally funny technical flub.

The shadow of a boom mike clearly appears on the refrigerator of the Bradford kitchen for several seconds during the episode's epilogue. There additionally are hints that Aames had a 4:20 p.m. call regarding a scene in which he gave Tom feedback on a speech.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Eight" is encouraged to email me.