In this intro season, Judge David Johnson thinks the writers of this show dropped the ball in the "funny" department.
Touchdown or turnover?
One of the '90s longer-running sitcoms, Coach tells the story of Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson, The Incredibles) and his struggle to balance the intricacies of his life with his job as a football coach.
Facts of the Case
Hayden Fox coaches the fictional Minnesota State Screaming Eagles football team. It's a struggle as he works to transform what once was a losing program into a successful one. Aiding him is his best friend and defensive coordinator Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) and Dauber, the student assistant (Bill Fagerbakke).
This debut season will introduce two major elements into Hayden's life that immediately turn it upside down—and they're both of the female persuasion. First is Christine Armstrong (Shelley Fabares), a well-known reporter with whom Hayden has had a non-committal physical relationship that's about to move to the next step. Second, is Kelly (Clare Carey), Hayden's fetching 18-year-old daughter. Kelly is beginning her freshman year at Minnesota State, expressly to get to know her father.
So Hayden has three balls in the air—his high-pressure job, his relationship with Christine, and his navigation through the troubled waters of fatherhood. The 13 episodes of the premiere run are delivered in unimpressive fashion over two discs:
This first season of Coach is more "situation" than "comedy." The writers apparently were more interested in laying the foundational characterization for the series run rather than focusing on generating laughs. There would be like five-minute stretches in some episodes of straight talking with no jokes at all, as we most likely watch Hayden and Christine dialogue at length yet again about their relationship. Or maybe this time Hayden and Kelly need to have a conversation about trust. Regardless, the tail ends of episodes are dedicated to the show's moral, and Hayden's big lesson of the day. These exchanges often take place in Hayden's cabin, and feature him pacing back and forth shouting and scratching his head, while either Kelly or Christine stay put, arms folded, faces scrunched up, trying to impart their feelings to the lug. If melodrama is your sitcom bag, then this season of Coach has it by the Gatorade-coolerful.
To be fair, this group of shows has the unenviable task given to first season runs; that is, character establishment. We've got to see that Hayden is a clueless lunkhead with a good heart, Christine is a level-headed, crushing bore, Kelly is a bubbling font of energy, Luther starts scratching the surface of idiocy that blossoms in successive seasons, and Dauber is…tall. We also see Kelly's over-sensitive wuss of a boyfriend Stuart for the first time, in what is to be come a major narrative theme and one of the show's best character juxtapositions; he and Hayden have some great run-ins, highlighted by Stuart's complete breakdown in "I'm in Love With a Boy Named Stuart" and Hayden's complete bewilderment.
Laughs to be had there—and elsewhere—but I couldn't help think the studio audience was confused in spots. Take "Whose Team is it Anyway?" This episode focuses on Hayden's clashing with his star athlete who becomes belligerent to his coach's dictums. Hayden has to put his foot down and decide between a winning season and the retention of his dignity. The final 10 minutes or so are veritably laugh-free, spiced with some seriously tense moments, and the audience's uncertainty on when to laugh or not was audible. I think, like me, they wanted to laugh at jokes, but the show was unwilling to oblige.
In terms of acting, Coach is all about Craig T. Nelson, who dives into the character from the get-go and obviously has fun. His Hayden is bullish and charming at the same time, though often written far too stupidly. Everyone else on the show plays second fiddle, merely revolving around Nelson who consumes every scene he's in, which is like all of them. The ladies don't fare as well: Shelley Fabares does her best, but Christine is a ponderous killjoy with humongous hair and Clare Carey's Kelly is hot but exists merely as a foil for Hayden's moronic devices.
There you have it. My Swiss cheese memory recalls that the show grew funnier and less pretentious, and the bonus Season Two episode "Homewreckers," where Hayden, Luther and Dauber destroy Christine's apartment, is more slapstciky and comical than any of the first season offerings. A taste of things to come? I think—and hope—so.
The full frame transfers are less than impressive, not looking much better than broadcast quality. The original mono soundtrack works the sound with little fanfare. The only extras are the bonus episode and "The Great 80s TV Flashback" program Universal includes in most of its TV sets. Basically, a typical, extras-starved television presentation from Universal.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The best part of the set: the packaging, a binder encased in faux pigskin, emblazoned with the Screaming Eagles logo and football stitching. It's nifty.
I remember liking this show, but this season provided too few laughs for a recommendation.
The bench throws a flag on the play.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Great 80s TV Flashback"
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