Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2013 11:49:03 PM
One of my favorite TV shows is about two decades older than I. The cast was on its second televised reunion by the time I was born. I posted these thoughts about Happy Days here because I know they will resonate far more with those who grew up with or had children that watched the series the first time around. This teenager saw her first episode while home sick in 8th grade; with the help of her DVR she was soon hooked.
Happy Days was an idealistic, altruistic show that aimed to be what would never air now –a clean, cute story of a family in the 1950s. There were no plotlines about what Marion and Howard were doing in bed or skeletons in the Cunningham closet. (However, on reflection, one does wonder whatever happened to oldest brother Chuck, who appeared sporadically in the first season and then disappeared entirely, never to be referenced again.) Vaporizing eldest sibling aside, however, Richie and Joanie grew up in a loving home surrounded by friends like Potsie, Jenny Piccolo and eventually Chachi and Lori Beth, with the Fonz always there to guide the pair through the rough patches with his infallible sense of cool.
Life, alas, is not like Happy Days. Problems are not solved neatly in half an hour segments, and you can’t hit a piece of malfunctioning technology in just the right spot to make it work again. People get hurt or sick and don’t get better, relationships get strained and never repaired, and the awful events that sometimes mar our lives don’t have a clear reason or message behind them. Whenever a character on Happy Days faces an obstacle, it’s a means to an end –Fonzie temporarily going blind brings a message of perseverance, Richie developing a drinking problem displays the public issue of alcoholism, and Fonzie jumping over a shark highlights the dangers of horrific television writing. But whether or not they are related to water skiing and a pair of shorts so small they probably should have been censored, such tragedies do happen in real life, and when they do it’s not nearly as easy to find a rationale behind them.
But maybe that’s why we have Happy Days in the first place, to forget about our real-life, messy, non-sitcom problems. Maybe that’s why American culture has loved and held a place for Howard, Marion, Richie, Joanie and the mysteriously evaporating Chuck since their incarnation –the literal Cunninghams and the others they take in create an ideal portrait of a family, traditional or otherwise.
It’s been a while since I watched Happy Days. I tend to watch more complex, dark comedy now, with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert slowly edging out the Cunninghams. But when I am need of a lift or simply feel I cannot handle another day of the world falling apart, I head faithfully to my DVR to rewatch a favorite adventure of Richie and Fonzie. I am well aware that these episodes are not realistic portrayals of everyday existence, and that real family life is going to be just as complicated as real teenage life. But every once and a while I allow myself to withhold my sense of reality and believe that someday I'll have some Happy Days of my own.