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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

'Happy Days' S5 DVD: Jump the Shark, Mork, and Chachi (Chachi, Chabchi) Oh My

Product Details
The objectives regarding reviewing the 4-disc CBS Home Entertainment DVD release of the 1977-78 fifth season of the '70s sitcom set in the '50s  "Happy Days" include reducing the "jump the shark" stigma associated with this series in general and this specific season. These musings are also designed to provide a forum for announcing the December 2, 2014 release of the sixth season of this classic series.

On a related note, CBS is releasing separate complete series and fourth-season DVD sets of the "Days" spin-off "Mork and Mindy" starring the recently deceased Robin Williams on December 9 2014. The fifth season "Days" DVD set includes the episode that introduces the wonderfully goofy space alien Mork to the viewing public.

The term "jump the shark," which is used to describe the episode and/or season in which a television series loses its quality and appeal, refers to a subplot in the three-part season premiere episode in "Days" S5. One important thing to consider at the outset is that this term originates from a dorm room chat among a few college boys. This shows that the concept hardly results from any form of scientific method and is not subject to very strict scrutiny.

It is also important to consider that many series making questionable decisions far predates even the existence of  "Days." The fact that many shows tank creatively and in the ratings when the leads become married makes it more apt to refer to "tying the knot" than "jumping the shark" regarding that form of decline.

The primary plot in the "shark" episode has a Hollywood talent agent discovering the very cool leather jacket wearing and motorcycle riding Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, awesomely played by Henry Winkler, while in Milwaukee during a hunt for the next James Dean. Said agent quickly invites Fonzie to Hollywood for a screen test.

Almost just as quickly the oft self-described middle-class Cunningham family and goofy buddies of "Days" lead character incoming college freshman Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard, join in the adventure. "Days" fans know that the goofy bffs are the handsome but insecure and nervous Potsie and equally dim comic legend in his own mind Ralph Malph.

A cool thing about this episode (and the fifth season itself) is that it clearly establishes that Richie and Fonzie are equals to an extent that Richie can verbally challenge that friend without fearing reprisal. This is a nice change from the initial series episodes in which Fonzie is a feared bad influence and the third and fourth seasons in which he is more of a big brother/mentor to Richie.

The primary conflict in this extended outing relates to an unexpected result regarding the screen test; this seriously strains the Richie/Fonzie friendship and requires that Richie make a big decision.

The "shark" subplot is as absurd as advertised but does not warrant maligning a classic series. This adventure revolves around Fonzie and a professional water skier known as the California Kid trying to outdo each other. It further is designed to amp up a former multi-episode plot that has Fonzie performing a dangerous stunt on his motorcyle.

As the proud owner of a decades-old bomber jacket that does not leave the closet when there is a cloud in the sky, this reviewer finds Fonzie wearing his beloved leather jacket while water skiing the most absurd aspect of the far-fetched shark plot.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of this well-known moment allows making an independent judgment regarding it.

This episode is also notable for introducing teen idol Scott Baio as Fonzie's young teen cousin Chachi, who is infinitely cooler than Cousin Oliver of fellow '70s classic sitcom "The Brady Bunch" and who contributes much more to his series than Oliver brings to the Bradys.

As an aside, "Days" fans knows that Baio goes on to star in the not-spectacular but still unfairly maligned spin-off "Joanie Loves Chachi." "Joanie" is the subject of a recent Unreal TV review.

A noteworthy aspect of the charm of Baio/Chachi is that he interacts nicely with the entire cast, who range in age from mid-teens to middle age.  He is hilarious in pursuing then-non-interested Cunningham daughter Joanie, cute as the younger buddy to Richie and his gang, and charming as both Fonzie's sidekick and huckster of low-end gadgets and other cheap merchandise to the elder Cunninghams (i.e., Mr. and Mrs. C.).

Further, watching early S5 episodes and then skipping to the final five of the season highlights the amazing physical development of Baio over the roughly six months that the episodes are filmed. He goes from a cute scrawny kid to the buff stud that captures America's heart.

Chachi particular shines in a classic episode early in the season. A misdeed results in falling out of favor with surrogate father Fonzie, and a cute and amusing scene has him trying to restore their relationship. This shows that it is very difficult to remain mad at Chachi, even in a subsequent episode in a later season  in which he commits a very serious negligent act.

The aforementioned introduction of Mork occurs in the episode titled "My Favorite Orkan." This offering is the "Days" version of the common "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" sitcom homage during the late '70s. This episode typically involve a main character being the only person who sees a UFO and then comically deals both with no one believing that fantastic tale and trying to prove the truth of the claim.

In this case, Richie is the poor sap who experiences the alleged minimal first contact. The arrival of said Mork in the Cunningham living room a few minutes later in the episode proves that a "home alone" Richie is not hallucinating.

The purpose of the trip to earth and visit to Richie is that Mork needs a earthling as a specimen to bring to Ork and selects Richie because that Midwesterner is so insignificant that his disappearance will not cause much of a stir.

Hilarity ensues when the efforts of Richie to ensure that resistance is futile leads to a showdown between Mork and Fonzie. As Winkler relates in a recent PBS tribute to Williams, his primary job during this scene is to refrain from laughing at the antics of Williams.

The following (very rough) clip courtesy of YouTube, proves that this reviewer is not crazy regarding remembering a disguised Mork having a scene on the porch of the Cunningham home. This scene is not in the DVD episode, and the poster of the clip explains that it is an addition to the syndicated version in apparent response to Mork getting the aforementioned spinoff.

"Orkan" is further notable for arguably including the best joke from the entire 11-season run of "Days." While watching "The Andy Griffith Show," Mork provides reasonable insight regarding the origin of the unique name of Howard's young character on that series.

The other significant development during the fifth season is that Richie begins his courtship with future wife (and mother of his children) Lori Beth. This "How I Met Your Mother" story is hilarious and involves Richie and Fonzie committing the expellable offense of being in a woman's college dorm after curfew. The aforementioned "Days" fans know that this becomes a real drag for our leads.

On a more serious note, this episode also shows the impact of "Days." Fonzie getting a library card and expressing amazement regarding everyone having that option prompts a real-life rush to do so at libraries across the country.

The season ends with a surprisingly good version of a sitcom cliche that is even more prevalent than the "Encounters" plot. This "Twelve Angry Men" story has Fonzie as the sole holdout on a jury that must determine the guilt or innocence of a black man who is on trial for robbing a woman.

The fact that Fonzie proves that the man is innocent is hardly a spoiler to any sitcom fan, but the manner in which he does so is nicely clever. It also provides valid social commentary.

The S5 set also includes the terrific Fourth Anniversary Special of "Days." This one uses Lori Beth doing research on the typical American middle-class family as the premise for a clip show. The great moments in these scenes include a look at "Days" take on the "Quiz Show" game show scandal of the '50s, a scene that either is from the "Days" pilot as a segment on the sitcom anthology series "Love American Style" or the "Days" episode that follows up on the pilot, and a nice scene with Pat "Mr. Miyagi" Morita as the original owner of the teen hangout Arnold's.

All of this demonstrates that, despite any flaws or slumps, "Days" is still a good series in its fifth season.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Days" or anything "Days" related is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

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