Judge Ben Saylor took Paula Petralunga to Inspiration Point once when Fonzie was out of town; if he asks, just say Ben was at Arnold's with Ralph and Potsie.
The third season of popular sitcom Happy Days was a pivotal one for the series. It was the first season filmed with multiple cameras in front of a live audience, as opposed to filming with a single camera with no audience. In addition, due to the popularity of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler), who was originally intended to be only a minor character, the first episode of this season has the Fonz moving into the apartment above the Cunningham family's garage, thus giving him a logical reason to be around in future episodes. The result is twenty-three episodes of solid situation comedy that is still two seasons before Fonzie (and the show) jumped the shark.
Facts of the Case
The third season of Happy Days continues to follow the trials and tribulations of the Cunninghams, a 1950s Milwaukee family, and their friends. The Cunninghams consist of Richie (Ron Howard, American Graffiti), the clean-cut teenager, and Joanie (Erin Moran), the younger sister forever being sent upstairs by parents Howard (Tom Bosley) and Marion (Marion Ross), a hardware store proprietor and homemaker, respectively. Many of the episodes deal with the ups and downs of Richie and his two friends Warren "Potsie" Weber (Anson Williams) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most), all of whom seek advice on girls and other matters from the Fonz (Henry Winkler), a mechanic who lives above the Cunninghams' garage.
The episodes from Happy Days: The Third Season, which were broadcast between Sept. 9, 1975 and March 2, 1976, are as follows:
I watched Happy Days a lot when Nick at Nite had it as part of its lineup, but that channel's ever-rotating parade of programming meant that eventually it wasn't on anymore. Thus when Happy Days: The Third Season arrived at my home, it had been years since I had watched an episode of the show. To my surprise, I found that it held up very well comedically, if not in other ways. (Fonzie's finger-snapping at his "chicks" probably wouldn't fly in today's world.) This season pushes the Fonz to the forefront, and Henry Winkler is more than equal to taking an expanded role. It's clear that he had a firm grasp of the character at this point, and everything about Winkler's portrayal from his swagger, facial expressions, and tones of voice contribute to the iconic character whose leather jacket hangs in the Smithsonian.
By no means was this just Fonzie's show; the whole ensemble makes a solid contribution to making this season (and series) the success that it was. The whole Cunningham family is fun to watch, whether it's Howard and his frustrations with Fonzie and raising two teenagers, Joanie and her perpetual complaining about being sent to her room and missing all the adult stuff, or Marion and her telling Fonzie to "sit on it." Richie, at this point in the show, is kind of like a younger brother to Fonzie, and it's nice to watch the two help each other out and offer advice. In fact, Fonzie helps out each member of the Cunningham family by the time the season is through. It's clear that the showrunners wanted to make sure that despite Fonzie's tough demeanor, he remained a clean-cut role model for the young people watching the show. (You never see him smoke a cigarette or drink anything but soda.)
In addition to the Cunninghams, other characters get their own moments in the sun in this season. Joanie develops a crush on Potsie in "They Call It Potsie Love," and the episode gives Anson Williams some nice moments for Potsie when he's not just playing the doofus second fiddle to Richie. Similarly, Ralph gets an episode of his own in "Tell It to the Marines," where he wants to join the U.S. Marines due to his low self-esteem. This episode is also notable because Fonzie has to admit that he was wrong about something; his attempts to pronounce the word "wrong" are hilarious.
It's also interesting that early in this season there's a two-parter, "Fearless Fonzarelli," that has Fonzie jumping his motorcycle over a row of garbage cans. Fonzie didn't water-ski jump over a shark (the point in the series where it's generally agreed the show took a downturn) until Season Five. I suppose jumping over garbage cans on a motorcycle is more plausible than water-skiing over a shark; anyway, it doesn't really hurt the season. Here are some of my favorite episodes from this set:
• "The Other Richie Cunningham"—Howard wants to get in good with a potential supplier for his store by setting Richie up on a date with the man's daughter. But when Richie decides to duck out on the date to go out with someone else, Potsie takes the girl out instead—with disastrous results.
• "Richie Fights Back"—After getting humiliated by a pair of bullies, Richie gets acting-tough lessons from Fonzie. This is one of the few episodes I remember watching back when the show aired on Nick at Nite, and I remember liking it then too. Everything in this episode, from Arnold (The Karate Kid's Pat Morita, who left the show after this season) giving judo lessons to Richie going wild and slamming a bully's jacket on the ground, is hilarious.
• "Howard's 45th Fiasco"—Howard has a mid-life crisis on his 45th birthday and wants to move to Tahiti. After a special Cunningham presentation of This Is Your Life fails to cheer him up, Howard runs away from home. Ultimately, it's Fonzie who finds Howard and persuades him to return to his family in a very funny and well-written scene.
• "A Date With Fonzie"—Fonzie tries to help Richie snap out of a dating slump by taking him on a double date with Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams). This episode introduced Laverne and Shirley to the series, and they appeared in two more episodes in season three before getting their own show in 1976. It's also notable that Richie is paired up with Shirley for the date, and Ron Howard and Cindy Williams played boyfriend and girlfriend in George Lucas' 1973 film American Graffiti. The sequence where Richie tries to pick up women in the local supermarket is priceless.
• "Three on a Porch"—Faced with the prospect of a dismal spring break, Richie, Ralph, and Potsie rent a cabin for a week, hoping to meet older women. Unfortunately, what they rented turns out to be just a front porch, but they quickly adapt when they see the women living in the cabin. Trying to impress them, the boys try to pass themselves off as foreign, with the expected funny results. The best part about this episode, however, comes at the very end, where Fonzie, trying to get some sleep outside, yells "Cool it!" to the animals making noise. Instantly, they all become silent.
• "Dance Contest"—Marion wants to enter a television dancing contest, but when the rest of the family laughs at her, she secretly enters the competition with Fonzie as her partner. Not only does this give Marion a chance to shine, but everyone's suspicions about what Marion and the Fonz are up to lead to some great comedic moments.
Other notable episodes include "Fonzie's New Friend," which is about a black teenager who moves to the neighborhood and marks pretty much the only time during the season that the show tried to address a serious issue: racism. In addition, look for Lassie and Lost in Space star June Lockhart's guest appearance in "Two Angry Men," where Fonzie and Howard sue each other when Fonzie's roof caves in under the weight of snow and the Fonz's pigeon coop. One more overall note: Some of the footage used in Weezer's now-iconic "Buddy Holly" music video contains footage from the third season. The video incorporates not only the You Wanted To See It segments of "Fearless Fonzarelli," but footage from several other Season Three episodes as well.
Paramount's presentation of these episodes is pretty good for the most part. The packaging leaves something to be desired; the four discs are housed in a regular DVD case, with discs on the inside of the front and back covers and two more in the middle. No insert or booklet is included; episode airdates and synopses are printed on the back of the disc's sleeve. I'm no fan of bulky packaging, but surely Paramount could have sprung for a nicer-looking way to bundle these together. Although the "Second Anniversary Show," a clip show with highlights from seasons one through three, is listed as a special feature, whether it really is one is debatable. It was aired in January 1976, right in the middle of the season, so I would be inclined to count it as part of Season Three. To add insult to injury, the presentation of this episode is terrible; it looks and sounds like it was taped on someone's VCR. For a show as iconic as Happy Days, there really should have been some special features, especially for a season as important as this one. In addition, as in the first and second seasons, music has been changed on this set (due to legal issues I'm guessing), which means we get to hear the same generic versions of "Hound Dog" and "Bye Bye Love" (among others) over and over again.
Although it's sometimes corny and dated by today's standards, Happy Days was a great sitcom (for a while, at least) with strongly written characters, amusing situations, and solid values. Fans of the show will want to pick up Happy Days: The Third Season, although many will be disappointed by the lack of special features.
Even though they tripped up in the extras department, the nerds at Paramount are free to go because the episodes themselves are so cool. Whoa!
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Scales of Justice
• "The Second Anniversary Show"
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