The Time Has Come For The Successor To Happy Days And That '70s Show
The death of Erin Moran reminded Chris Morgan he wants to see another sitcom set in suburban Wisconsin -- this one in the '90s. He is NOT a crackpot.
I was watching Happy Days recently (RIP Erin Moran), one of those weird later episodes where Fonzie is a teacher, Richie's wife Lori Beth is around but Richie isn't, and if I squint Tom Bosley looks just like my dad (though not as much as NHL talking head Mike Milbury does). The ep reminded me of a pop-culture stalking horse I've trotted out occasionally for a couple years now, and I'd like to talk to you about it now: We are well past due for a Happy Days of the '90s. I am not a crackpot.
Happy Days, if you aren't familiar, is a nostalgic TV show about the 1950s from the 1970s. It takes place in suburban Wisconsin, and focuses on a group of teenagers, plus a couple of parents in Howard and Marion Cunningham. It's a cultural touchstone. Then, in the '90s, we were given That '70s Show. It's a nostalgic TV show about the 1970s. It takes place in suburban Wisconsin, and focuses on a group of teenagers, plus a couple of parents in Red and Kitty Foreman. In short, That '70s Show is a spiritual successor to Happy Days. A quasi-sequel, if you will.
I'm not pretending to be the only person who has realized this. There's a theory that, for instance, Red is Richie from Happy Days all grown up, and the '70s kids make frequent reference to Happy Days. But as of now, the lineage ends with That '70s Show. That shouldn't be. It's now the 2010s. The time has come for a show about the '90s in the vein of Happy Days and That '70s Show.
I am not merely championing this position because it'd be amusing to see another show about teenagers in suburban Wisconsin. I'm not here for quirk and kitsch. I think it's a genuinely good idea for a TV show. Happy Days is good on its own merits, and so is That '70s Show, a contention I stand by despite the fact that I was not alive in either the '50s or the '70s. However, I do remember the '90s. In fact, I used to have a podcast dedicated to my love of '90s pop culture. I have a vested interest in the idea of a sitcom about the '90s, and that just makes the idea all the more enticing.
Nineties nostalgia is kind of having a moment (see: the POP network's entire raison d'etre) and while the iron may not be red-hot, there is still time to strike. Family sitcoms still work, and so do shows about young people. Teenagers will watch shows about teenagers, because being a teenager hasn't changed much. People like me who love '90s stuff will tune in for the '90s of it all. Obviously, it would have to be executed well. However, you can say that about any show. Breaking Bad would have sucked with poor execution. The concern about a '90s show, though, is just how easy it would be for the show to just slap together a bunch of lazy '90s jokes. That '70s Show is definitely firmly ensconced in the trappings of the titular decade, but it also transcends them, thanks to the writing, and also the quality of the cast.
Speaking of the cast, part of the fun of constructing TV show ideas in your mind is thinking about who you would want to have on the show. If Riverdale has taught us anything, it's that you want to harken to the past when you get the chance. There are two avenues a showrunner could take in this regard for a theoretical '90s-set sitcom. One is casting people from Happy Days and That '70s Show to honor the Wisconsin-based nostalgia-sitcom legacy. The teenaged cast of That '70s Show are still too young to play parents to the new generation of teenagers. However, maybe you could talk Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis into playing the cool neighbors or something. You know, let them work together, only make them work a day or so a week. Meanwhile, the cast of Happy Days are largely too old to play parents of teenagers. Even Anson Williams is 67. Sure, you could cast Scott Baio, but who would want to give Baio a job right now? Sit on it, Chachi! It'd be pretty cool to have Henry Winkler stop by to play a grandfather, though. The same goes for Kurtwood Smith. In fact, can we give Winkler and Smith a sitcom together? Remember when John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor had a sitcom together? Oh, the wasted potential.
The other nostalgia-based casting angle you can take: casting famous and beloved figures from the '90s. The ones who aren't too busy on Fuller House, at least. Speaking of which, I was hoping maybe to get away with using the twins who played Nicky and Alex, Blake and Dylan Tuomy-Wilholt, as teenagers. Alas, they are 27 now, and that's probably a stretch. Also, the trivia section for Blake's IMDb page reads, "He and his brother Dylan quit acting as soon as Full House (1987) was over. They are trying to lead normal lives." That being said, they did pop up in the pilot of Fuller House, and they were the best thing about it.
And while I've dismissed the idea of giving Baio a job based largely on his abhorrent political leanings, I can get away with giving Melissa Joan Hart a job playing a parent, right? In recent years, she's endorsed Mitt Romney and Gary Johnson, but that's not completely intolerable. Plus, this is a show about the '90s. I need Clarissa. I need Sabrina.
I am now about to introduce another one of my pop-culture pets into the conversation, because I'm casting Rachael Leigh Cook. I don't care which role. She's only 37, so she's probably not playing the mom of a teenager, although I am willing to suspend disbelief to give her a job. I love Rachael Leigh Cook. She's one of my favorite actresses, and her career trajectory is a travesty. She should have been given her own sitcom a decade ago. She's All That holds up, and it's entirely because of Cook's performance. Also, it's not a '90s movie, but Josie And The Pussycats is amazing.
I could go on and on, but you don't need any further convincing, I'm sure. You're on board by now.
It's odd that there are two nostalgic sitcoms set in suburban Wisconsin focused on teenagers already. Adding a third to the mix might be cynical, but it's also a great idea. Frankly, I'm surprised there hasn't been any sort of '90s sitcom already. Maybe people were scared off by the failure of That '80s Show. However, that show was set in San Diego, it was about adults, it didn't follow the "every 20 years" rule, and it sucked. Set this new show in the '90s, put it in suburban Wisconsin, make it primarily about teenagers, and be sure to thank me when you're counting your cash.