The Golden Girls: The Actor vs. Growing Pains: A Star Is Born

On Growing Pains, Mike is cast in the lead role of George in his school’s production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. On The Golden Girls, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are cast in a community production of a thinly veiled spoof of William Inge’s Picnic. Two shows from 1987! Two classic American playwrights! Only one Very Special Winner! Who will it be?

One thing unique about Growing Pains versus most of the other contenders in this contest is that we do get to see a whole lot of the production. We’re treated to several minutes of Our Town and lots of quirky true to school amateur theater moments — the lights are too bright, the kids forget their lines, the director (the school’s coach and PE teacher) is still on stage when the curtain rises, etc. It’s very cute and I got a kick out of watching it. That said, the staging is horrible. No one seems to know how to cheat out — either because they wanted to keep that real amateur vibe or because these are a bunch of film actors with no stage experience. Needless to say, this isn’t a problem on The Golden Girls.

While the costumes are good on Growing Pains (and once again true to a high school costume shop where everything is just a bit ill fitting) I just couldn’t resist the mid-century dresses they put our girls Blanche and Rose in. Plus, Dorothy shows up as the small town sheriff (as a last minute understudy because no one else can fit into the costume) and I just love her energy in this role. So I did award the point to The Golden Girls for costuming.

Scenic design was a tricky point in this matchup. Those of you familiar with Our Town will know that the set is intentionally sparse. And the Growing Pains crew did a nice job honoring this in a way that’s both true to the tradition but also still interesting to look at.

But I did give the point to “Picnicish” (lol I’m not actually sure what the play is called but it’s not quite “Picnic”) because frankly I just thought this set was gorgeous.

You can see the stage a little bit in this video of the Blanche’s audition:

Growing Pains wins on overall plot because they do follow the Our Town script and we see a lot of their production! Also, I’ve never seen Christa Denton in anything other than this (she plays “Monica” as Our Town‘s “Emily) but oh my gosh I can’t take my eyes off her. She makes what could be a boring ingenue role really charming to watch.

The Golden Girls is great but um…they definitely go off book…as it turns out the out of town actor paying the lead turns out to be a romantic scammer. He sleeps with the entire cast of women and tells them all that they’re secretly in love. He’s gross. The GOOD NEWS is that Blanche confronts him on stage and it does kind of track with the performance…he’s playing a drifter…the call him out for lying to everyone…and then Dorothy, the sheriff, runs him out of “town.” The audience, none the wiser, erupts in applause. But it’s unclear how exactly the show will continue after the opening scene…it’s probably just a wrap at that point.

Very Special Winner: The Golden Girls

A Few Words on Alan Thicke

I hate to post on celebrity deaths. It feels like capitalizing on a terrible, personal experience that should be left sacred to friends and loved ones. But I have to say something about Alan Thicke. It must be plain to see from this blog’s existence that I grew up watching reruns. Growing Pains, while frequently lampooned on this website, was nearest and dearest to my heart.

In some ways, the Seaver children’s lifestyle mirrored my own. I grew up in an upper-middle class home with two professional parents. I even had one parent, who like Alan Thicke’s Dr. Seaver, worked from a home office as a mental health services professional. It could be for this reason alone that Alan Thicke is so close to my heart, but my appreciation does not stop there.

I’ve watched a lot of television family sitcoms over the years and, in my mind, Alan Thicke accomplished what no other TV actor of the 80’s sitcom golden era had successfully been able to do. He gave us a character who was wholly comedically funny and was also a good dad. Think of all the great TV dad’s, Ward Cleaver, Mike Brady, Steven Keaton, or maybe even Danny Tanner if we are feeling particularly generous.

Now how many of those guys cracked good jokes where the timing was just right and the writing wasn’t too smarmy? How many of those guys would you want to have a cup of coffee with? How many of those guys would you trust to be in a Robin Sparkles video? And how many of those guys did ALL of those things while being genuinely good parents to their TV kids (while also still seeming like a human being)?

In a blog full of jokes, I’ll put all joking aside and say Alan Thicke is my gold standard for modern TV sitcom dads. Maybe Growing Pains can’t be considered “modern” anymore, but I’m still holding all TV dads to this standard. Alan Thicke’s Jason Seaver felt like Andy Griffith’s Andy Taylor with a Ph.D. I can laugh at sitcoms even when they’re not trying to be funny because they usually get human nature so wrong. But Alan Thick got it right.

Also, “They said they didn’t go to the bathroom and they don’t want to,” will always be a funny line.


European Vacation: The Facts of Life vs. Growing Pains

Oh my gosh this episodes are so long. This makes me long for the days of two-part Hawaiian episodes. But here are some key points from each of these 90-freaking-minute long trips to Europe.

The Facts of Life: Mrs. Garret and the girls take trips, separately to Paris. Mrs. Garrett studies French cooking and the girls are supposed to be studying at one of Eastland’s sister schools. But these girls decide to runaway from the school because it’s too “rigid” and “structured” like most boarding-schools would be. But they are used to doing whatever the hell they want. Out of financial necessity (and the fact that the school has their passports) they crash with Mrs. Garrett. And she, as per usual, lets them get away with this insanity. Jo spends the entire trip trying to walk from Paris to LeMans to see car racing. She meets a random cute guy and, in what should be the beginning of an episode of Criminal Minds, hops on the back of his motorcycle and spends the night with him in a hotel, sharing a bed. But this is The Facts of Life so it is totally innocent and he’s a perfectly upstanding gentleman. Mrs. Garrett struggles to cook well enough for the French but she meets a French boyfriend and he helps her ace her test. Natalie and Tootie stalk a writer that Natalie thinks is cool. They didn’t even give Tootie her own plotline. Blair decides she can have fun by herself without trying to get guys to pick her up. And Jo, in the only remotely interesting story-arc of this 90-minute sans-laugh track drudgery, shares a chaste kiss with that perfectly upstanding gentleman. Oh and she never makes it to LeMans because he has to go back to Paris early for work and she decides she would rather be with him. Who are you, Blair?

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.39.00 PMGrowing Pains: Mike gets a job selling travel tours for a company called VaVaVaVoom. He sells so many tours (including one to Maggie & Jason) that they give him a free trip to Barcelona on a sorority tour. Maggie & Jason go to Paris at the same time that Mike goes to Barcelona and Maggie’s parents babysit the rest of the kids. The first night in paris, Maggie comes down with appendicitis and spends the rest of the trip in the hospital. She and Jason see literally nothing of Paris, but he does manage to track down the restaurant where he proposed to her. And the chef caters a romantic candlelight dinner for them in her hospital room.
Meanwhile, the travel company has gone defunct and Mike and this one other person on the sorority tour (who turns out to have thought it was some kind of history tour) are the only tour members rich enough to afford Barcelona on their own. Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.37.39 PMThey contact the airline and learn that they can get some kind of value out of their otherwise worthless tickets if they can make it to Paris. So they set out across Spain hating each other in a poor-man’s When Harry Met Sally only to share a not-so-chaste kiss when they finally make it to Paris after having stolen a crap-ton of coins from a public fountain. That’s right, The Facts of Life is more chaste than a born-again yet unmarried Kirk Cameron, so you can all update your chastity rulers now. Somehow they all manage to have a good time.

Point Breakdown:
Overall Plot–This hands down goes to Growing Pains. It’s not even much of a winner but The Facts of Life was a snoozefest.
Music–Also, Growing Pains on this one. Their elevator-music soundtrack was slightly more highbrow than that of The Facts of Life. Plus, I did enjoy the meta-humor of Jason signing the Growing Pains theme song to Maggie in her hospital room, especial since Alana Thicke wrote the song.
Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.25.16 PMVacation AttireGrowing Pains again. Mostly because Maggie managed to spend like 45 seconds wearing an awesome dress before she got appendicitis. And Mike and his lady friend managed to look amazing for days wandering throughout Europe and sleeping on benches.
Integration of European Setting-I’m calling this one a draw. They both have a lot of scenic pictures happening and I feel like that’s the only thing that can remotely justify the length of these episode arcs.
However, I am subtracting a point from Growing Pains because everyone is speaking Castilian instead of Catalan in Barcelona. And they’re also all speaking Castilian incorrectly. There’s even a ridiculous part in which Mike’s supposedly fluent travel buddy calls Carol, who is also supposedly fluent, and Carol says “Estás Carol.” Like what, no YOU’RE Carol, Carol. What are you saying??

Scoring Breakdown:

Growing Pains: Vacation Attire + Music + Overall Plot – Bad Spanish = 3 points
The Facts of Life: 0 points, go back to Peekskill. (But in all honesty I guess they did “integrate the European setting” so fine 1 point but it was still basically the worst thing I’ve ever seen.)

Next Week on The Very Special Blog: Blossom vs. Family Matters

Growing Pains: Viva Las Vegas

600x600bb-852I am recovering from a particularly awful migraine, so I’m going to keep this brief. Mike’s friend Eddie runs off to Las Vegas to with some girl he hardly knows so they can get married. Mike and Kate go with him. While there, Mike becomes increasingly uneasy about Eddie taking marriage so lightly.

Meanwhile, Maggie and Jason hear that Mike and Kate have gone to Vegas and automatically assume that they’ve gone to elope. Being as meddlesome as they are, they freak out and overanalyze what to do about the situation. Eventually, they come to terms with the fact that Mike is a grownup and decide to go to Vegas to welcome Kate to the family.

But back in Vegas, Mike has decided to tell Eddie what to do with his life. He decides to tell Eddie he’s making a big mistake while they’re at the alter. In my experience, it’s usually not a good idea to meddle in your friend’s romantic lives. So I assume it would be a horrible idea to meddle in their romantic lives as they are saying their wedding vows.

But this is Growing Pains so Eddie ends up being grateful to Mike after he makes his big dramatic, life-saving speech. Maggie and Jason show up for comedic relief and all’s well that ends well.

Very Special Lesson:  If you want a quickie marriage, you should probably not bring Mike Seaver along. Chances are, he’ll have something to say about it.

Growing Pains: Mike’s Madonna Story

I looked at my stats and my most popular post ever is The Facts of Life: The First Time. So in honor of all of you being perverts, I’ve decided to cover another episode about virginity loss.

Before, Kirk Cameron was an evangelical Christian, he was just a teenage actor who played a character who contemplated losing his virginity to a girl (Dana Plato, may she rest in peace) who dresses exactly like Madonna (this episode aired the same year Like A Virgin was released).

This “Madonna girl” is named Lisa and she just broke up with her twenty-seven year old boyfriend. She calls Maggie “Maggie” instead of Mrs. Seaver, and Carol slut shames her for wearing a lace top. Then Maggie calls her a tramp for dating a twenty-seven year old instead of a fifteen year old–someone her own age. Good Lord, how far we’ve come in 30 years. I feel like at least now this episode would focus on like calling the police on the statutory rapist and improving that girl’s self-esteem, while also keeping Mike safely away from her because she is “troubled.”

Lisa invites Mike on a date, but Mike has to babysit Ben & Carol…uh, isn’t Carol like 1 year younger than Mike and like 22 years more mature?? Oh well, since Mike has to babysit then Lisa agrees to hang out at the Seaver house with him.

Maggie gets all freaked out and wants to stay home instead of going out to dinner with Jason and friends. Jason tries to reassure her that they have raised Mike right and even if they haven’t, there’s not much she can do to stop him from having a good time with the ladies. Feeling marginally better, Maggie agrees to go out to dinner. And that’s when Lisa shows up in the full-on wedding dress from “Like a Virgin.”

Lisa gets Mike to give her a tour of the house and then she only wants to hang out in the guest bedroom. So then Dana Plato tries to seduce Kirk Cameron, which is kind of funny in retrospect. Realizing that he’s in way over his head Mike tries the following diversions following this kiss:

  1. Saying, “So how bout that Social Studies test?”
  2. Riding his parents stationary bike while claiming, very unconvincingly, not to be a virgin.
  3. And then we don’t get to see anything else because the camera zooms in on a picture of Maggie holding baby Mike.

So then Maggie and Jason come home and Mike’s all in a funk. Maggie tries to nonchalantly ask how things went with Lisa, but Mike sees through her rouse and yells at her that nothing happened. He feels like a loser, but it turns out that he doesn’t really like Lisa that much. Like they basically just like each other in the sense that they would both be sad if the other got hit by a truck. And Maggie tells him that he shouldn’t feel bad about  “wimping out” on “sharing something very special with someone whose face you wouldn’t want to see on the grill of an eighteen wheeler.”

Also, the B plot of this episode is that Ben kills Carol’s plant by accident. Not your finest work, Growing Pains.


And then then episode ends with Mike riding the stationary bike in the guest room so like I don’t know if we’re supposed to read into that at all or not, but yeah.

Very Special Lesson: Don’t lose your virginity to someone who you only wouldn’t want to see hit by a truck. But also, don’t lose your virginity to someone who you would want to see hit by a truck. And for followers of present-day Kirk Cameron, don’t lose your virginity.

Growing Pains: Stop, Luke, and Listen

I don’t know who did it, but someone finally made all of my dreams come true. All seasons of Growing Pains are now on Amazon Instant Watch, which means I can finally review the Leonardo Dicaprio episodes and Carol’s multi-episode tragic-romance with Matthew Perry. But for now let’s talk about Leo.

We first met Leo, I mean “Luke” when Mike starts his student teaching job. At first he seems just like a regular teenage class clown, but then we get this very special episode:

Mike’s really getting into the swing of things with teaching remedial class. I’m sure it’s some kind of big statement on how he was once a remedial student. Anyways, his class is like a majorly watered-down version of Welcome Back, Kotter and Luke is the Vinny Barbarino of the class.

Mike’s busy collecting emergency contact cards before he has to rush of to a big dinner with Kate and his parents. So when the office tells him that Luke’s emergency contact card is missing and they have to have it by 5 pm, Mike sets out on a mission to track down the information.

Luckily, Luke arrived to class late that morning and had forgotten to remove the deli apron he had worn at work. Mike calls 555-DELI (as was written on Luke’s apron) and asks to speak to Luke. Unfortunately, the deli can’t let him talk to Luke. Actually, they’ve never heard of Luke. And it turns out the school has no record of his enrollment either.

For a moment, it might seem like this is totally implausible. But having previously worked with school administrations, I’d say this is a frighteningly possible reality. Mike remembers seeing a cot in the storage room so he heads down to check and out. Sure, enough Luke is lying on the cot because he lives in the storage room. He tries to explain this away by saying he is only staying there for a few nights due to an argument with his parents.

Mike is all like yeah man, I totally get it because he for whatever reason still thinks he was a cool, edgy kid even though he grew up in the suburban paradise that is Huntington, Long Island with Maggie and Jason Seaver. So please, Mike. You do NOT get it. But then Mike notices that Luke has for serious moved into this storage room. He’s even stealing cable.

But Luke continues to claim he isn’t homeless. So Mike hands him the emergency contact card to fill out. Luke lists his address as 725 W 48th Street, which Mike immediately recognizes as “in the middle of the river.” Now, this to me is much less plausible that Luke attending school without enrolling. Mike didn’t even grow up in the city and suddenly he’s the rain man of street numbers? Why does he know this?? What happened to him on the 700 block of 48th street??

Then Mike breaks some laws by not calling Child Protective Services. While he figures out what to do with Luke, his parents try to entertain Kate. She and Maggie happen to be wearing the same dress. It’s a really stupid gag. Oh, how the mighty have fallen in their final season. Kate makes another faux pas by turning down Maggie’s homemade bread because she doesn’t eat “anything with yeast.” Ugh. Then she turns down the slow-cooked roast beef because she doesn’t eat “anything with a face.” SO RUDE. Like fine, I’m sorry if it’s gross to you but you’re trying to impress these people because you “love” their son. Just give up and go home at this point, lady!

It turns out that Mike was not at dinner because he has been stalking Luke all night. He watches Luke use his deli apron to sneak into the deli that evening and steal food. Mike’s all like I want you to have a better life! And Luke is all like I had a good life before you ruined my shelter, food source, and education! And Mike is kind of like oh, whoops. So he takes Luke home to live with his family.

Very Special Lesson: Remember that time you saw a poor helpless soul? You should totally meddle in that persons life. And if that person is a child, you can adopt that child. And if you’re a Seaver, then you don’t even have to adopt that child. You can just start raising him as your son.

Clueless: None for the Road

I wanted this week’s post to be about Matthew Perry’s tragic guest arc on Growing Pains, but it’s nowhere on the internet. Since I doubt I’ll be able to get my hands on my VHS tapes from 1998, this post is probably never going to happen.

Luckily, I found an episode of Clueless (the awful TV show not the awesome movie) that essential rips off the Growing Pains plot. It’s Cher’s birthday and everyone is planning her a surprise party–as they do every year because she is soooo special. (Like this impostor could be as cool as the movie Cher, as if!) So really the surprise is not that there’s a party, but rather the party’s details.

And this party is rockin’ because *NSYNC shows up for a surprise performance. I couldn’t actually watch the second part of this episode because part 2 of 3 was missing from YouTube, but I did find this great clip of “Tearin’ Up My Heart.”

So what appears to be happening in the 14 minutes of this episode I was able to actually watch is pretty tame high school party with a really awesome concert mixed in. Only, Cher’s boyfriend, Murray, and that guy Murray always hangs out with get drunk and then drive home. Or attempt to drive home. Murray is okay, but the other two guys end up in the hospital.

Everything seems fine and then he abruptly dies just as everyone’s making plans to continue life blissfully. It’s literally the exact same plot twist as the Growing Pains episode–except that I think Cher’s dad may be facing a lawsuit on this one. I mean, I didn’t get to see the entire episode so it may not be his fault. But it kind of seems like he threw a rock concert in his backyard, let the kids get drunk, and then allowed them to drive home.

Anyway, you can compare the two on your own below. WordPress won’t let me embed at a specific time, ugh, so you have to skip to 7:26 for Clueless and 0:61 for Growing Pains. 

Very Special Lesson: Clueless was such a bad TV Show that it ripped off it’s very special episode from an awesome TV Show. Who is this tragic guest star? I don’t even care. Without the Matthew Perry magic, this episode sucks.

PSA: Early Onset Rapid Aging Syndrome

Typically on The Very Special Blog, we talk about funny things like illegal substance abuse in schools, teen pregnancy, and racism. Today, however, we turn our focus to a serious issue in the child star community: Early Onset Rapid Aging Syndrome. Early Onset Rapid Aging Syndrome is a rare but serious condition that affects many children born into the middle to late stages of a sitcom. Research scientists believe that the origin of this disorder may triggered by the trauma of being born during a “jump the shark” period. However, the underlying root of the problem remains unknown.

Families are instructed by their doctors not to acknowledge the sudden growth of their infants or toddlers into precocious elementary school children. The common belief being that this practice will best protect the children from the stress of realizing that their best childhood years are behind them and the looming pressure to be a sassy eight year old is all that is left for them in this world. Fortunately, most cases of Early Onset Rapid Aging Syndrome seem to dissipate after the initial acute onset, leaving no other lasting complications or continued aging beyond the normal rate. In fact, most of the children appear not to have noticed or cared that they have suddenly aged. Their young minds are, perhaps, unaware of their swift progression because they lacked a general awareness as young babies, existing only as cute props and charming cutaways from their parents’ and older siblings’ drama or antics.

Case References for the aforementioned Early Onset Rapid Aging Disorder:

-Chrissy from Growing Pains-

Chrissy was a happy and otherwise health child.

But over the course of roughly four months, she went from a babe-in-arms to a spunky six year-old in what is considered to be one of the most severe cases ever.

-Morgan from Boy Meets World-

Morgan was the youngest of three children and aged normally through preschool.

Morgan began spending a lot of time in her room (likely during the early stages of the disorder) and emerged months later like a 4th grade butterfly from her preschool cocoon.

-Richie from Family Matters-

Richie was an adorable baby.

But he skipped the terrible twos and went straight to preschool. This case it notable because it also caused rapid mullet onset–a rare but serious complication of the disorder.

-Little Ricky from I Love Lucy-

little ricky 1
In one of the first recorded cases of EORAS, this Cuban-American toddler aged normally for the first couple of years of his life.

little ricky 2
Little Ricky quickly grew into a six year old with excellent percussion skills. The fact that the children (while chronologically younger) seem to have all of the fine motor skills and verbalization associated with their physical age is of note.

-Nelson & Winnie from The Cosby Show-

Fraternal Twins, Nelson and Winnie, both suffered from this disorder. This would suggest a higher prevalence between first degree siblings. However, many families with EORAS children have other children that seem to age at the normal rate. The fact that two fraternal twins were both affected by this disorder may suggest some kind of in utero trauma.

Fortunately, Nelson and Winnie seem to have only developed a minor case of the disorder and appeared to begin to age normal again after the acute onset subsided at physical age three (medical approximation).

-Nicky and Alex from Full House-

In another case of twin EORAS, Nicky and Alex Katsopolis (identical twins) aged rapidly only to physical age three before return to normal aging speed. This may suggest that twins with EORAS actually suffer from less extreme cases than single children (i.e. Morgan or Chrissy). Their symptoms seem to begin at an earlier age and slow down after aging three or less physical years.

Post-acute onset Nicky and Alex, appearing to be trauma-free and healthy with their dog, Comet.

-Lily on Modern Family-

While previously thought to have been eradicated in the early to mid 1990’s, EORAS resurfaced most recently in the case of charming two year-old Lily.

While not the most severe of cases (approximately aging two physical years), Lily’s case is remarkable in that it seems to have also affected her personality. Once a sweet, charming child, Lily is now incredibly rude.

This Is How You Write a Theme Song

Just kidding guys, I don’t know how to write a song let alone tell you how to write one. But I do have a lot of thoughts about theme songs. First of all, where have they gone? Did we misplace all of the intro music to our television shows? Is it all just a symptom of the untimely death of the American sitcom?  I may not be a person-snob but I am definitely a snob in regards to some pretty niche things. For example Ben Stone was significantly better than Jack McCoy on the original Law & Order and no one can tell me otherwise. But today I want to talk about theme songs. I have some pretty strong feelings, and I’d like to thank the Daily Post for giving me the opportunity to complain to a larger audience about the difficulties facing theme song savants in world in which theme songs are currently disenfranchised. (But everything old is new again, so I think maybe we can hope for a comeback one day).

First of all, let me say this. I would prefer a lack of theme song to a crappy theme song. Let’s just let the credits roll over the opening sequence instead of subjecting ourselves to the theme song from The Nanny yet again. Ugh, even just typing that right now made that song get stuck in my head all over again! Yes, a good theme song tells a story. We want to know a little bit about the plot or over all feeling of the show, but not the entire pilot episode! Alan Thicke (the only accomplished musician in his family as far as I am concerned…) does this really well in The Diff’rent Strokes theme song. And if you are going to tell a little more of the story, then it should be a really great song on it’s own like Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees or The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island

Then there’s the problem of a too long theme song (like in Family Ties or the uncut Cheers theme song). Luckily, Full House and Cheers managed to save themselves from the too-long-song fate by cutting down their theme songs midway through their run. Thank goodness for this because yes we all do want to go where everyone knows are name, but we do not need to slowly plod through the reminder of our worldly troubles.

Then there’s the theme song that is not worthy of it’s excellent show. I have to reference Family Ties again here. Don’t beg me wrong, I love Deniece Williams, she totally killed it on Let’s Hear it for the Boy (possibly the best song on the Footloose soundtrack tied with Shalamar’s Dancing in the Sheets). However, someone greatly wronged Deniece Williams by making her sing this totally blah song. It would have been cool if she had gotten to do the duet with BJ Thomas for the Growing Pains theme song because that song was awesome. But you’d have to expect a high quality theme song out of a show involving Alan Thicke.