Shout! Factory // 1990 // 598 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 30th, 2009
Gentlemen, synchronize Swatches.
The 1990s cult show makes its long awaited debut on DVD, courtesy of Shout! Factory (who else?).
As the titular hero of Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Parker Lewis (Corin Nemec, Mansquito) is the coolest kid at Santa Domingo High School -- think Ferris Bueller mixed with Zack Morris. Together with his best buds -- rebel-rocker dude Mikey (Billy Jayne, Just One of the Guys) and young, sycophantic Jerry (Troy Slaten, Johnny Dangerously), the boys have their hands full constantly trying to pick up girls, stay out of trouble and combat their many enemies: Parker's bratty sister Shelly (Maia Brewton, Adventures in Babysitting), school bully Larry Kubiac (Abraham Benrubi, Open Range) and, most of all, principal Grace Musso (Melanie Chartoff, Fridays) and her vampiric lackey Frank (Taj Johnson, Samantha).
Here are the 22 episodes that make up Parker Lewis Can't Lose: The Complete First Season, spread out over four discs:
Parker and Mikey compete for the affections of the same girl (guest star Milla Jovovich, Kuffs).
* "Operation Math"
The boys have to teach Kubiac math so he doesn't lose his football scholarship.
* "Power Play"
Jerry becomes a defector when a new student shows up and threatens to take Parker's crown of coolness.
* "Parker Lewis Must Lose"
Parker runs for class president, but quickly realizes he wants to win the title far less than he wants to date his opponent.
* "Close, But No Guitar"
Mikey drops out of school to pursue his dreams of rock n' roll.
* "G.A.G. Dance"
Determined to get a girl (guest star Robyn Lively of Teen Witch fame) to ask him to the Girls Ask Guys dance, Parker gives a seminar on confidence that quickly backfires.
* "Love's a Beast"
Mikey gets a secret admirer that's closer to Parker than anyone suspects.
* "Saving Grace"
Musso is replaced by new principal Dr. Pankow, who turns out to be even worse for Parker and the boys. This is the first appearance of recurring guest star Gerrit Graham (The Phantom of the Paradise) as Dr. Pankow.
* "Musso & Frank"
The boys must help find a date for Frank.
* "Deja Dudes"
When Parker's dad's (Timothy Stack, Son of the Beach) class reunion rolls around, Parker realizes just how similar he and his friends are to his dad and friends, and that giving Grace Musso a hard time is apparently a family legacy.
* "Radio Free Flamingo"
The boys discover the school's old pirate radio station and Parker quickly becomes an underground celebrity.
* "Science Fair"
Jerry experiences major anxiety about competing in the science fair, while Musso takes on a bet with Dr. Pankow (returning Gerrit Graham) over whose school will lose.
* "Teacher, Teacher"
Parker pushes his favorite teacher (Penny Johnson, 24) too far and she quits.
When a string of shoplifters hit his parents' video store, Parker hires Kubiac to work security.
* "Heather the Class"
Shelly turns her back on a friend (Tiffany Brissette, Vicki of Small Wonder) to join The Vogues, the most popular (and evil) clique in school; Parker and the buds help Kubiac lose weight for a wrestling match.
* "Jerry: Portrait of a Video Junkie"
The boys must help Jerry go cold turkey when his addiction to video games gets out of control; Musso's mother (Barbara Billingsley, Leave it to Beaver) pays a visit. Jerry Mathers also has a cameo.
* "Splendor in the Class"
Parker gets a new artistic girlfriend (April Lerman, Charles in Charge) that leaves him no time for his friends.
* "The Human Grace"
The boys must come to Ms. Musso's rescue when her new love affair with Dr. Pankow turns out to be a charade.
* "Citizen Kube"
Kubiac wins a fortune in a magazine sweepstakes, and suddenly new friends come crawling out of the woodwork.
* "Randall Without a Cause"
Mikey falls in with a bad crowd and winds up getting arrested as a result.
* "Jerry's First Date"
The boys play backup when Jerry finally scores a date with the girl of his dreams (A.J. Langer, My So-Called Life). Look fast for an appearance by Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama).
* "Against the Norm"
Parker and the boys must once again look out for Principal Musso when Dr. Pankow returns (again) to exact his revenge.
* "King Kube"
Jerry gets Kubiac elected homecoming king as a joke, but Kube finds out and, humiliated, leaves school; Musso meets Donnie Osmond.
* "Teens From a Mall"
Several stories are told over the course of a day at the mall: Mikey works the counter at Hot Dog On a Stick; Parker chases his dream girl (Josie Bissett, Book of Love); Jerry looks for a job and Musso discovers she has a shopping problem.
* "Parker Lewis Can't Win"
The last day of school is a rough one for Parker.
Looking back nearly twenty years (!) later, there's almost no way Parker Lewis Can't Lose could have succeeded in the long run. It was too far ahead of its time: a single-camera sitcom, devoid of a laugh track, reveling in absurd humor and incredibly inventive camera work. When the show debuted in 1990, America was still watching ALF. You can tell where our tastes were at.
But Parker Lewis (as it would later be called, and which I'm going to call it because I'm too lazy to keep typing two more words) is a very entertaining show, and well deserving of the cult it's developed since it was canceled after three seasons on the air. It's the kind of show that would likely only ever be appreciated by a certain group of people, anyway; it was almost designed to be a cult show.
The cast is cartoonish, yes, but so is the show -- it's all "whooshing" sound effects and shattering glass and wild, Raising Arizona-era Coen-brothers photography. Corin Nemec pulls off the incredibly difficult task of being effortlessly cool and charming without being an irritating douchebag (for contrast, consider that the TV series Ferris Bueller lasted less than one season around the same time, largely because its lead actor, Charlie Schlatter, was an irritating douchebag. Also, it was on NBC and not FOX.). Billy Jayne gives the series its brooding soul, and Troy Slaten's Jerry is a lovable Muppet. The entire ensemble works well together, making the show's quick pace and four-to-one joke ratio feel smooth and organic. The cast never struggles to keep up. It helps that Parker Lewis was a single-camera show and could do all sorts of fancy editing and effects. In the era of three-camera, studio audience product, Parker Lewis distinguished itself above the pack by being one of the best-directed shows on television.
As ahead of its time as Parker Lewis is, it's also very much a product of the early '90s: the hairstyles, the clothes and the garish neon colors all reek of its very short pop culture window. It's also fun to see all of the show's guest stars, a who's-who of recognizable young faces from the past: A.J. Langer, pre-My So-Called Life; Tiffany Brissette, post-Small Wonder; David Faustino, in a bit of meta-crossover humor (a reference to Married With Children, another of FOX's earliest shows); Robyn Lively of Teen Witch fame. There aren't any really big-name guest shots, but these are more fun; they reward you for being a fan of other cult films and TV shows.
I really can't say enough nice things about Shout! Factory. They gave us Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series and kept all the music intact. They gave us the entirety of My So-Called Life. A few months ago, they finally unearthed and released The Dana Carvey Show. Just this week, I learned that they will be putting out the complete series of It's Garry Shandling's Show in the fall. The studio has become the patron saint of great, lost television series, and they consistently do a swell job on the DVD releases of those series. Add Parker Lewis Can't Lose to that list.
All 22 episodes are presented in their original full frame TV aspect ratio. Many episodes show signs of age -- particularly the pilot (don't be disheartened with the image quality on the basis of the pilot alone; it gets better by the next show) -- but, honestly, it's nothing that will really detract from your enjoyment of the show. The 2.0 stereo audio track serves the show well, though on occasion the music cues kick in considerably louder than the dialogue. I would have liked some English subtitles or captions, but that's because I always want them.
Though not exactly packed with extras, there are enough bonus features on Parker Lewis Can't Lose: The Complete First Season to please fans and give casual viewers a good deal of background on what made the show special. Several of the shows come with audio commentaries, mostly from the shows creators and some of the behind-the-scenes talent (the stars show up only sporadically); their talks are amusing and informative, discussing the personality of the series and how some of the more creative shots were designed and achieved. The fourth disc also contains a 30-minute retrospective piece called "The History of Coolness." While most of its running time is comprised of everyone talking about what they liked about the characters and actors, it is fun to see everyone (save for Chartoff, who doesn't appear) nearly 20 years after their fake high school days.
Though clearly not a show for everyone, I found Parker Lewis Can't Lose to be almost unreasonably entertaining. It holds up better than I could have expected; like Moonlighting, it transcends its forgotten time-capsule status and remains a show that's as enjoyable today as it was when it originally aired. Thank goodness DVD makes it possible to revisit shows like Parker Lewis Can't Lose, and thank goodness Shout! Factory is finally getting it released.
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 598 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated