The fourth season of the late 70s-early '80s dramedy "Eight is Enough," which Warner Archive released on DVD earlier this month, is memorable both for that season's numerous life-changing developments for members of the Bradford family around which "Eight" centers and for succumbing to a handful of sitcom cliches without sacrificing quality.
This season is the penultimate one and is the last one before "The Karate Kid's" Ralph Macchio joins the cast in a "Cousin Oliver" role as Abby's teen nephew.
"Eight" is based on the memoir of the same name by the late Thomas Braden, who had eight children. The series uses that book as the starting point of a series about a typical American family with an atypically large number of offspring. Veteran character actor Dick Van Patten plays head-of-household Tom Bradford.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of early moments from the fourth season premiere shows both a mild domestic dispute regarding borrowing the family car that is common in any American family with children who drive and the scene in which daughter Susan meets future husband Merle "The Pearl" Stockwell.
Unintentional humor in this episode relates to comments from this era of earth tones that a chocolate-colored car is a great choice.
The storyline related to "When Merle Met Susan" receives quite a bit of fourth-season airtime. This couple spends the first half of that season meeting, breaking up, running off to elope, having a true family wedding, having a series of serious fights, separating, and finding that they are expecting a baby.
Meanwhile hunky oldest son David, played by dreamy Grant Goodeve, returns from his third-season "On The Road" adventure in the second episode of the fourth episode; he quickly works to re-establish both his construction career and his relationship with his former fiancee Janet.
Middle son high school senior Tommy, played by Willie Ames, spends much of the fourth season trying to prove both that he looks good shirtless and that his talent for playing the guitar ensures him a musical career that does not require good grades; this attitude, which includes a belief that college is unnecessary, regarding the value of education causes quite a bit of turmoil with Tom.
The "deep thought" regarding the aforementioned sitcom cliches is that these plots are cliches primarily because they succeed. In the case of "Eight," the writers put enough (pun intended) of a spin on them to entertain us.
One episode has country boy Merle's naive sister arriving unescorted by her brother for a visit in the middle of a flurry of activity that makes it seem that the Bradfords are breaking virtually every commandment and committing a few additional sins for good measure. These perceived illicit goings-on include a motorcycle gang hangout, boozing it up from a flask, operating a brothel, and even committing murder.
The sitcom cliche in "The Night They Raided Bradfords" episode described above is a plot straight out of an episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show;" ten year-old Nicholas innocently reveals during a poker game that Tom is winning that Tom has inadvertently been using Nicholas' marked cards all evening.
A "very special two-part" episode offers a trifecta of sitcom cliches. The free-spirted Auntie Mame type Auntie V (number one) blows into town and takes her brother Tom and the entire Bradford family on a Hawaiian vacation (number two;) aunt Vivian's secret motive is reuniting Tom with his father who left the family when Tom was ten (number three.) Alas, Tommy does not find a cursed tiki idol that brings him and other family members bad luck.
The cliche with a twist in the season finale has Tommy's graduation celebration becoming a party gone of out bounds both truly not due to any fault of his and even occurring in his absence.
Veteran actor David Wayne plays Tom's and Vivian's father; Vivian also has a prominent role in another episode with a memorable guest star. One of the last episodes of the season has Auntie V introducing the Bradfords to her sitcom cliched older fiance, played by "MacGyver's" Dana Elcar.
Additionally, later relatively successful teen sitcom actor K.C. Martel has a recurring role as Nicholas' buddy Marvin.
Other episodes with noteworthy but familiar plots include Tommy complaining that Tom is not treating him fairly regarding dividing the family's limited "mad money" prompting Tom to put Tommy in charge of that fund, Nicholas dealing with a teacher who demands that he meet the academic standards of his older siblings, and the family struggling to adapt to step-mom Abby reducing her domestic duties so that she can pursue her Ph.D.
The plot regarding Abby's higher education has parallels with Abby portrayor Betty Buckley working on "Eight" during the week and flying to New York on the weekends to pursue a Broadway career. Every good theater buff knows that that hard work paid off.
Another theme of the season is the flightier Bradford girls getting their act together; Nancy abandons dead-end jobs such as delivering singing telegrams to work hard to establish a career at an investment firm and aspiring actress Joannie thrives as a researcher and on-air personality at a local television station.
The fact that "Eight" makes this plethora of far more than twice-told tales entertaining and has resolutions in which each character and the audience learns something new without being beaten over the head with the message are two reasons that this show passes the test of time.
The parental decree regarding "Eight" is that the overall quality of the show and the realistically significant ways in which Bradfords young and old achieve varying degrees of enlightenment and inner peace make this a great show for those of us who had pet rocks and mood rings to revisit and for you millenials to watch if only to learn your father's hell.
Anyone with questions regarding "Eight" or any other truly '70s show is welcome to email me. The cool kids out there can follow me via Twitter on @tvdvdguy.