Shout! Factory // 1991 // 570 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino // January 27th, 2010
Not a problem!
I remember watching Parker Lewis Can't Lose when I was just a child. While I was too young to get all of the Dan Quayle references, the show's colorful, cartoon-like presentation won me over.
Nowadays, I look at all that pastel, the goofy geometric motifs, and the rollercoaster hairstyles and this world feels fake and absurd. Did people really dress like this? How did we let these styles happen? Just as I assure myself that I never would have fallen for such ridiculousness, even at age 7, I look at old picture albums. I lived this.
Now I'm reliving it with Parker Lewis Can't Lose: The Complete Second Season.
That Gumby-haired king of high school, Parker Lewis (Corin Nemec, Stargate SG-1), returns to Santo Domingo High with his best buds, Mikey Randall (Billy Jayne), and Jerry Steiner (Troy Slaten), for a second season.
Together, these three friends navigate the strange, cartoony world of the early '90s. Along the way, they'll square off against their returning foes, principal Ms. Musso (Melanie Chartoff), her lacky Frank Lemmer (Taj Johnson), and Parker's little sister Shelly (Maia Brewton, Adventures in Babysitting). Parker will also get a taste of true love this season when he meets the girl of his dreams, Annie Sloan (Jennifer Guthrie).
It would be easy to dismiss Parker Lewis as another dated sitcom from the early days of FOX. The series, and this second season, deserve a lot more credit than that. Having passed the first season exam (and outlasting that Ferris Bueller TV show), Parker Lewis returned with a renewed sense of confidence.
The second season of Parker Lewis Can't Lose retains much of what made its debut so successful (by FOX standards): the single-camera style still, to this day, feels fresh and inventive; the show's relentless use of Looney Tunes sound effects and sight gags gives each episode a Ren and Stimpy quality; and the sheer amount of jokes flying by per minute provides a density akin to Airplane! For its time, the show was unique and cutting edge, with daring self-referential humor and topical-to-the-week jokes. Its style would reverberate through television for years, and you can still see plenty of Parker Lewis in shows like Community and Arrested Development.
The show did make a few changes this season. For starters, the Lenny-like mouth breather, Larry Kubiac (Abraham Benrubi, E.R.) is no longer a dangerous bully. He's more of a friendly giant, a clutch when Parker needs a little muscle to get the job done. This season also introduces Nick (Paul Johansson, One Tree Hill), the Cyrano de Bergerac of Atlas Diner. Just about every character flocks to Nick for romantic advice at some point in the season, but the show's writers wisely keep him from becoming infallible (like in the episode "Dance of Romance"). Of course, the biggest addition to the show comes halfway through the season with Parker's steady girlfriend, Annie Sloan. Her infrequent appearances, starting with the episode "Boy Meets Girl," cause the show to skid into sappy guardrails, but it's nice to have a female character who isn't an antagonist.
The season has some really great episodes ("Full Mental Jacket," "Fat Boy and Little Man," "Home Alone with Annie") and some pretty lame ones ("Geek Tragedy," "Love Handles," "Diner '75"), but every episode has at least a few winning jokes and gags. The show only bears a close approximation with what we'd call "reality." Instead, it opts for a barrage of jokes that resonate even when the plot doesn't. I especially appreciated the show's self-referentiality, constantly reminding us that they're on before In Living Color and that commercial breaks only last a few minutes. The second season ends on a very bizarre note, but considering that there's little-to-no continuity between episodes, I'm not overly concerned for Season Three.
Shout! Factory has done an admirable job bringing this cult show to DVD, supporting it with a four-disc set and a handful of commentary tracks featuring various members of the cast and crew (that's the only bonus you'll find this time). Sadly, the picture quality is sub-par, with a grainy video transfer. The quality does improve on certain episodes, and the audio is fairly strong overall, but on average this is just slightly better than VHS.
Parker Lewis may, on first pass, seem like a time capsule show, stuck in the loud, triangular ways of the early '90s. But Shout! Factory has given the masses an opportunity to experience what a devoted few have known all along: Parker Lewis Can't Lose has a unique and influential sense of humor that transcends Dan Quayle and In Living Color. Its goofiness may be a bit much for some, but you can't win or lose if you never give it a chance.
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 570 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries