Judge P.S. Colbert's heart belongs to Joanie.
"This young couple finds that being in love and being in a band isn't always harmonious."
For the benefit of those who don't already know: Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran, Galaxy Of Terror) and Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio, Finish Line) were high school sweethearts on the wildly popular, long-running Happy Days. That series' ninth season closed with an episode titled "Love and Marriage," which featured the marriage of Chachi's mother, Luisa (Ellen Travolta, Charles In Charge) to malt shop owner Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro, The Odd Couple). Following the nuptials, the new Mr. and Mrs.—with Chachi in tow—headed for Chicago to realize Al's dream of opening a family restaurant.
A mere seventeen episodes constitutes the entirety of Joanie Loves Chachi: The Complete Series. As slight as that sounds, I found this slim three-disc set to be an overdose of sub-Laverne and Shirley unfunniness, songs that would never threaten and hit lists during any era, supporting characters not even their own mothers could love, and storylines so bereft of originality the second to last episode actually resorted to using Happy Days flashbacks!
Do I sound unnecessarily harsh? If so, it's because I'm pissed off at how little apparent interest creator Garry Marshall and company had in delivering a series worth watching. First, there's the concept: Joanie and Chachi decide to chase their dreams and sing with a band, playing nightly at Delvecchio's restaurant. Think about that for a moment…When you go out for a nice Italian dinner, do you really want a rock group thrashing away at songs you've never heard before, and being sung by a man with a tin throat? Scott Baio is many things—incredibly charming, handsome, and when given the chance, a fine actor—but musical is not one of them!
And then, there's the rest of "the band," who never actually rate a name. On bass guitar is Chachi's cousin Annette (Winifred Freedman); a cute, sweet and (slightly) chubby girl who gets routinely pelted with fat and ugly jokes. Nice, right? Annette's brother Mario (Derrel Maury) plays keyboards; a fairly good looking—if somewhat anonymous—kid, distinguished only by his pork pie hat. Finally, there's drummer Bingo (Robert Pierce), who wears Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts, has a bushy blond perm, and speaks entirely in non-sequiturs, sounding just like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. That's right, he's a "surfer dude"…in Chicago.
You want comedy? Here's a sample of what passes for witty repartee.
Al: "Bingo, listen, the band is late again. Now, we can't wait forever.
Isn't there something you can do?"
(Chachi is clearing tables at the restaurant when he sees Joanie's ex-boyfriend enter, and take a seat. Hoping to avoid a confrontation, Chachi darts behind the bar, where Mario is standing, and crouches down next to him.)
Mario: "You know, Chachi, when you crouch down like that, you're the exact height as my grandmother."
Unfortunately, Paramount's DVD presentation of Joanie Loves Chachi: The Complete Series suits the middling-to-awful material all too well. The 1.33:1 standard def full frame image looks pretty good, but many of the episodes suffer from flicker at the top of the frame, and the pilot appears to have taken a bit of a beating (watchable, but roughed-up). The Dolby 2.0 Mono audio is more successful, clearly amplifying Mr. Baio's vocal performances, so beware. (Note: According to Mr. Todd Fuller, founder of the excellent Sitcoms Online website, several episodes have had musical numbers edited out!) Subtitles have been provided, but nothing else, which is curious, as all the major cast members, Marshall, and many of the show's runners are still among the living. Again, that seeming total lack of interest on their part.
Lest I leave you with the impression that Joanie Loves Chachi was among the very worst endeavors in TV series history, I feel obligated to mention there were some obviously talented performers involved (who couldn't love Molinaro and Travolta?). But somehow their efforts were squandered or taken for granted, if not altogether ignored. I'm speaking specifically of Erin Moran. By the time this series bowed, the then twenty one year old actress was a fifteen year showbiz veteran, who'd grown from a freckled tomboy into a stunningly beautiful woman with an incredible singing voice. In this critic's humble opinion, no bigger mistake was made by the spin-off's producers than their decision to make Moran a junior partner in the musical element of the series. Check out her amazing slow-burn rendition of early '60s classic "He's So Fine" at the end of the episode "Term Paper." It'll blow your mind.
If you've kept up with the tabloids, you're probably aware that Ms. Moran has had her share of hard times since her "Joanie" days. God speed, Erin. You deserved so much better.
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