One and Done: '80s Sitcom Edition

Some sitcoms in the '80s were huge hits. Many others were not

One and Done: '80s Sitcom Edition
No chance of ruining your eyes by sitting too close to this

In the earliest days of Jefitoblog, the site's slogan was something like "Poking the soft, white underbelly of pop culture with a sharp-witted stick," which reflected its overall tilt toward more posts about stuff that stunk or failed to catch on for some reason. A lot of the snark that soaked through my writing in those days has been dried out by age and empathy, but as I said in my post about the one after the one-hit wonder a few days ago, I still tend to think failure can often be a lot more interesting than success. And because I am forever deeply fascinated by the art of the sitcom and I also came of age in the '80s, it only stands to reason that if you let me, I could talk to you all day about would-be hit comedies that failed to find a lasting home on the airwaves. With all that in mind, let's cuddle up on the sofa together, briefly fight over the remote, and take a (semi-) fond look back at some shows that only had a single season to try and make people laugh.

The New Adventures of Beans Baxter (1987, Fox)
This show faced an uphill battle starting with its absurd and absurdly complicated premise, which goes as follows: The titular Beans, a junior in high school, lives a double life as a sort of fledgling secret agent who's dedicated to the rescue of his spy father, who is presumed dead but was actually kidnapped by the minions of a nefarious organization dubbed UGLI (short for the Underground Government Liberation Intergroup). This is a lot to bite off for any series, let alone one airing Saturday nights on Fox in the late '80s; in retrospect, it only stands to reason that the show was off the air by November, mere months after its July premiere.

Fox chucked a lot of stuff at the wall during its early years, so The New Adventures of Beans Baxter probably isn't all that notable in terms of its lack of longevity. Whoever was casting this thing had a grand time, though — aside from the heavy being played by Kurtwood Smith, who was fresh off delighting viewers as a RoboCop villain and would soon leave his enduring mark on TV as Red on That '70s Show, this series also featured a wonderfully bizarre list of guest stars that included bandana-afflicted Loverboy frontman Mike Reno and real-life criminal G. Gordon Liddy. Bonus points for hiring Savage Steve Holland to serve as executive producer.

It Takes Two (1982-'83, ABC)
I feel like things have gotten better over the last decade or two, but for a really long time, television fame was really a double-edged blade — anyone who was fortunate enough to land a major or recurring role on a long-running hit series was also liable to find it hard to get work anywhere else after that show ended, if for no other reason than they'd been stereotyped as the character who made them famous. It Takes Two is a case in point: By most accounts, this was a generally well-written and solidly acted sitcom, and one that benefited from being hammocked between a pair of (wildly different) established hits in Too Close for Comfort and 20/20. Unfortunately, it also had the disadvantage of starring Patty Duke, who was never going to book anything that would disassociate her in the public eye from The Patty Duke Show.

It's unfortunate, because It Takes Two had a relatable premise not unlike the one that'd shortly rocket Family Ties toward the top of the ratings — a busy married couple, one liberal and one conservative, whose desperate efforts to spend time together are perpetually undermined by their teenage children (played by Anthony Edwards and Helen Hunt!) and a wisecracking live-in mother-in-law (Billie Bird). Richard Crenna played Duke's husband. Even the theme song had a killer pedigree — it was performed by Paul Williams and Crystal Gayle. Damn!

One of the Boys (1982, NBC)
Speaking of typecasting, here's a 62-year-old Mickey Rooney taking his third or fourth stab at success with a TV show. One of the Boys was yanked after 13 episodes, but it's notable today because of its cast, which included future stars Dana Carvey, Nathan Lane, and Meg Ryan, all of whom tried in vain to keep the show's leaky premise — cranky retiree (Rooney) moves in with his grandson (Carvey) and grandson's roommate (Lane) because he hates his retirement home, is a general pain in the ass, and embarks on a new career after finding a friend (Scatman Crothers) who serves as the other half of a live performing duo — from taking on hack-infested water. Tons of talent bundled up here, obviously, but it's easy to see how the concept could lend itself to a comedy writer's basest instincts.

Reggie (1983, ABC)
Before he finally landed the role of a lifetime as Harry Weston on the Golden Girls spinoff Empty Nest, Richard Mulligan labored through a small handful of episodes as the lead on Reggie, an alleged sitcom about a guy whose life as an ice cream company employee is so dispiriting that he spends much of his time lost in fantasy. The show was inspired by a BBC sitcom, and like more than one American series inspired by a British one, it lost its guts along the way — in the original, the protagonist fakes his own death so he can peep in on the folks he's left behind. A grim logline, but one that might have produced more laughs than Reggie, which is chiefly notable now for a cast that also included Jean Smart, Timothy Busfield, and Timothy Stack.

Stir Crazy (1985-'86, CBS)
TV shows that are spun off from hit films don't have a great track record. TV shows spun off from hit films that are half a decade old? Well, you can do the math. I would dearly love to know why CBS thought it would be a great idea to try and turn the Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder movie Stir Crazy into an hourlong series in 1985, but they did — at least long enough for nine episodes to air between late that year and early the next.

If you've seen the movie, you know the premise — the story's about a couple of wrongfully convicted men who bust out of prison in an attempt to prove their innocence, while hijinks ensue — and you're probably also already aware of this show's fatal flaw, which is that one cannot simply conjure up the type of comedic chemistry that made Pryor and Wilder such a beloved duo. I'm sure Larry Riley and Joseph Guzaldo are or were very nice men, but they were embarking on a fool's errand from the minute they signed on for this series.