Universal // 1984 // 550 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 8th, 2006
Charles in Charge of our days and our nights,
Charles in Charge of our wrongs and our rights
Bow before the Mighty One. Glory be to Charles...he who is in charge of your days, nights, wrongs and rights. Tremble mortal! TREMBLE!!!
Allow me to introduce you to the Pembroke family:
* Stan Pembroke (James Widdoes): the stern patriarch
* Jill Pembroke (Julie Cobb): the nurturing mother
* Lila Pembroke (April Lerman): the 14-year-old teenage daughter who wants to grow up too fast.
* Douglas Pembroke (Jonathan Ward): the prepubescent geek-boy
* Jason Pembroke (Michael Pearlman): the precocious runt of the family
On the outside, the Pembrokes may appear to be a normal, loving, suburban family, but they harbor a dark secret: unless cared for by a freshman male in sweater vests and suspenders, the family unit disintegrates and chaos will reign. Lucky for them, there is just a young man to fit that description. His name is Charles. And his rule will be merciful...unless you cross him.
Pray that does not happen.
* "Extracurricular Activity"
* "Another Saturday Night"
* "Cousin Elliott"
* "Slumber Party"
* "Trick or Treat"
* "A Date with Enid"
* "Friends and Lovers"
* "Home for the Holidays"
* "Accidental Puppy"
* "The Commotion"
* "Mr. President"
* "Jill's Decision"
* "Pressure from Grandma"
* "Snowed In"
* "Charles R Us"
* "Charles' Spring Break"
* "The Wrong Guy"
* "Mr. Brilliant"
* "Meet Grandpa"
In the days before Nicole Eggert (B.N.E.) there was the Pembroke family, an exceedingly boring group of individuals, headed by a mother and father so inept as parents that they couldn't survive without hiring a full time male nanny. This first season of Charles in Charge pits Charles (Scott Baio) against the cornucopia of problems facing the Pembroke children. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke are largely M.I.A., occasionally showing up late at night after their shifts at the N.S.A. or wherever they worked to catch up on all the major happenings that affected their offspring's lives while they were gone.
I liked Charles in Charge. In fact, I think I still do. For me, this harmless sitcom was addictive, turn-your-brain-off fare that always seemed to treat me right after a long day of school. You know the drill: walk in, throw the books on the table, call up the guys for a game of basketball, collapse on the couch and watch Charles in Charge reruns until they get there. Or maybe you don't know that particular drill. Anyhow, I found it an enjoyable show and if it were still being broadcast I'd still stare at it.
The series began on CBS, where it lasted for one season before getting the boot. That season is before us today on these DVDs. When the show rematerialized in first-run syndication, huge changes took place: the entire Pembroke clan was jettisoned, the Powell family was brought in, Charles started wearing cooler outfits, his hot girlfriend Gwendolyn Pierce (Jennifer Runyon) got the heave-ho, and Charles's best friend Buddy (Willie Aames) slowly metamorphosed into a complete idiot. For my money, these changes served the show well, and the series went on for another four seasons.
Season One is where it all began, though. Here, Charles parades around in a buttoned-up, tight-ass preppie look and Buddy is a mentally capable lecher (Buddy Lembeck's descent into retardation is a fascinating study on television character arcs, but that's a dissertation for another day). The kids are dull, despite the creators' dedication to foisting quirkiness upon them (e.g. Douglas the nerd wears crazy rubber masks and is generally ostracized from adolescent culture, while his younger brother strives to normalize him; this grows boring and annoying several episodes in). And Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke are as uninteresting a sitcom couple I've seen. The gags are uneven, with an emphasis put on "learning" and "growing," and Charles is always at the ready to unload helpful advice that will better the children's lives. It's straightforward, saccharine sitcom syrup, but at least it goes down easy. The audience, on the other hand, thinks it's the funniest, most endearing stuff ever put on film, and they react with overwrought glee and empathy to whatever transpires in the Pembroke household.
This season covers all of the sitcom family basics: the girl's first crush and her subsequent struggles with the temptation of wearing makeup out of the house, the son's struggles at school because he's misunderstood, and the other son's separation anxiety with his parents (which is understandable). Charles tackles these issues like the champ that he is, finding time to confront his own crises, like running for freshman president and deciding if he's going to bring his best friend or former girlfriend to the Bruce Springsteen concert.
Basically, this first season will give you the boilerplate family sitcom shenanigans, the gimmick being there's a wily 19 year-old guy dispensing the lessons. I suppose that's why I'm just not on board with the Pembroke regime: it took itself too seriously. Subsequent seasons of this show would fly off the deep end, and though the storylines would be goofier (remember Charles's sinister alter-ego, Chaz?!?) and Buddy would plumb the depths of brain cell decay, they were much more fun. I think the DVD producers recognize that, as they've included the first episode of the second season as a bonus feature, as if to say "See, we had to release this season because of chronology, but this is the Charles you know and love!"
The shows are presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and don't look any worse for wear. Sound is a reasonable 2.0 mono. In addition to the bonus episode, you get "The Great '80s TV Flashback," a half-hour retrospect on television from the decade of excess, featuring few minutes devoted to Charles in Charge. Here, one of the interviewees refers to the series as "groundbreaking." That might be pushing it a little too far.
I'll likely get harangued for it, but count me as a fan of this show. Whatever it was about Charles and his exploits, I was down with. Unfortunately, this first season lacks the energy (and inanity) of the forthcoming installments. The Pembroke kids may have learned some important life lessons, but they still annoyed me. And what's with all the sweaters, Charles?
Hey Universal, release the Powell seasons now. You know you want to.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 550 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* The Great '80s TV Flashback
* Season Two Bonus Episode