Judge Christopher Kulik thanks God every day that Robin Williams' parents never put him on Ritalin.
Introducing Mork from Ork. Na-nu, Na-nu!
In 1997, Entertainment Weekly declared that Robin Williams was the "funniest man alive" and is the "Tasmanian devil of comedy." Ironically, it was also the same year that he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his dramatic performance in Good Will Hunting. This is a perfect example in showing that Williams has always shown his versatile range as an actor, though 1997 was without a doubt his zenith. Two decades before, the 26-year-old actor had made his first screen appearance on an episode of TV's Laugh-In, and few people knew who he was, though when he auditioned for the part of Mork on Happy Days, his career had just begun. Reportedly, when the show's creator Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) asked him to simply sit down during the audition, Williams responded by sitting on his head. Marshall loved it so much that he hired him on the spot.
In the Happy Days episode "My Favorite Orkan," Williams plays Mork, an alien from the planet Ork who comes down to discover what it's like to date girls, and he calls upon the master himself: The Fonz (Henry Winkler, Night Shift). While Fonzie finds this visitor rather strange, he decides to set Mork up with a date with Laverne (Penny Marshall, Big)—against her better wishes. Needless to say, things don't go too well, and when Laverne touches Mork's wrist it releases his erotic urges to the point he starts chasing her like a sex maniac.
Facts of the Case
As a result, Mork proved such a success with the audience that the character was given his own show: Mork & Mindy, where Mork travels via a shuttle shaped like an egg to Boulder, Colorado, in the late 1970s. His mission is to study human beings and how they function as a society (though his superior Orson really sent him because he had gotten a reputation as an inappropriate, irreverent jokester). Shortly after he lands, he meets the beautiful Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber, Stay Tuned), a college journalism student who also works part-time at a music store run by her father and grandmother.
Mindy takes Mork home (believing he is a priest who has lost his way), and is taken aback when she discovers that he is an alien, and has these special powers such as drinking liquids with his finger. However, Mork ends up moving in with Mindy—against her father's better wishes—though soon the Orkan ingratiates himself with everyone around him, including Mindy's grandmother Cora (Elizabeth Kerr, Frankie and Johnny), father Fred (Conrad Janis, Mr. Saturday Night), and belligerent neighbor Mr. Bickley (Tom Poston, Christmas With The Kranks).
In the first season, Mork also becomes friends with a religious wacko named Exidor (Robert Donner, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold), a black junior-high hipster named Eugene (Jeffrey Jacquet, Return from Witch Mountain), and Mindy's sexy—though manipulative—"friend" Susan Taylor (Morgan Fairchild, Falcon Crest). Thus begins Mork & Mindy, a hit show (at first) that would last four seasons and rocket Robin Williams to superstardom. In Mork & Mindy: The Complete First Season, Paramount presents all 24 episodes of the first season:
• "Mork Moves In": Mindy's wiener of a father refuses to let Mork move in with Mindy—especially after discovering himself that Mork is indeed an alien. Before Mork leaves, however, he drinks alcohol with Mindy as a "farewell toast"…and goes berserk!
• "Mork Runs Away": When Mork inadvertently messes up a date with Mindy and the guy she has been dating, he moves out so that he doesn't compromise the union. Mork eventually hooks up with Exidor, who proudly proclaims himself as the head of the organization, "Friends of Venus."
• "Mork in Love": Mork wants Mindy to teach him what love is all about on Earth, and even proposes to sent a report back to Orson with a slideshow. As a result, Mork thinks he finds his one true love: the music store's mannequin.
• "Mork's Seduction": One of the best episodes finds Susan Taylor arriving out of the blue to see Mindy…who she has held a grudge against for "stealing" her boyfriend away. Susan then decides to attempt to have carnal knowledge with Mork, no matter how weird he acts, just to spite Mindy. The seduction scene with Susan and Mork is a hilarious highlight.
• "Mork Goes Public": An amateur reporter comes into the McConnell music store because he believes an alien landed in Boulder several weeks ago. He thinks that Mindy is hiding something; after he meets Mork, he decides to use him as access to Mindy's house. Jeff Altman (Bee Movie) is very funny as the reporter, who views Mork as "a reject from the O'Jays."
• "Mork the Gullible": In his continuous mission to become more human, Mork gets educated on the consequences on his unorthodox indulgences, one of which lands him behind bars. Then Exidor shows up, proclaiming himself now as a disciple of O.J. Simpson.
• "A Mommy For Morky": As Mindy is getting romantically involved with a former fiancé who wants marriage and children, Mork plays with an Orkan age machine that turns him into a child again. Needless to say, Mindy gets a lesson in what having children is really like while trying to control Mork.
• "Mork's Greatest Hits": While having lunch, Mindy gets antagonized by a local creep, and Mork makes a fool out of him instead of resorting to violence, which is against Orkan law. However, the creep then wants a piece of Mork and demands that he fight or else.
• "Old Fears": When Cora loses a dear friend, she isolates herself with her unhappiness, though Mork decides to cheer her up…by dressing up as elderly charmer.
• "Mork's First Christmas": Mork learns how special the holidays are, and proceeds to make his own gifts for everyone…including Susan Taylor, who manages to make Mork ask her over to join the family.
• "Mork the Tolerant": While Mork is working on his tolerance levels, he and Mindy get to know their downstairs neighbor Mr. Bickley, a cranky, disrespectful middle-aged man who hates his work as a greeting-card writer.
• "Young Love": Now that Mork knows what love is all about, he decides to coach Eugene, who has a crush on a pretty piano student.
• "Sky Flakes Keep Falling on My Head": Exidor offers Mork and Mindy a weekend stay at his cabin up on the mountains, though it turns into a nightmare when they both become snowed out and may freeze to death.
• "Mork Goes ERK": Susan Taylor offers Mork to come a meeting of the organization ERK, which is supposed to raise spirits and make you more outgoing. However, the president Ellsworth turns out to be a con artist.
• "Yes Sir, That's My Baby": When one of Mindy's friends has a baby, Mork is transfixed and wants a baby of his own…and a man approaches him offering to sell him a baby for $10,000. Obviously, Mork doesn't realize that the man is a criminal wanted by the FBI.
• "Mork's Night Out": When Mindy goes up north with Fred and Cora for the weekend, Mork is left all alone. Out of sheer boredom, he calls on Mr. Bickley, and convinces him to go out to a club…which turns out to cater exclusively to swingers!
• "In Mork We Trust": Mr. Bickley disrupts a party where Mindy's friends have gathered to drink and play Twister. When a necklace and Mork's age calculator goes missing, they both believe that Mr. Bickley may be responsible.
• "Mork Runs Down": Evidently, Mork must recharge himself with an Orkan substance called the "gleak," though when he forgets where he puts it he may die in the arms of Mindy.
• "It's A Wonderful Mork": Inspired by a certain Jimmy Stewart classic, Mork learns what Mindy's life would be like if he had never arrived on Earth after embarrassing her and her father at dinner.
• "Mork's Best Friend": Mork acquires a caterpillar as a pet, while Exidor changes religions again, this time believing in reincarnation…and calls Mork's pet a fuzzy tootsie roll.
While I confess to liking much of Robin Williams' work, this is really the first time I got to discover his start on this wacky, fish-out-of-water sitcom which earned Williams a Golden Globe. While Mork & Mindy was indeed a major hit when first broadcast, ABC executives unfortunately tampered with its second season and the series' popularity never recovered after that. That is a shame, too, considering it was rated No. 3 in 1978 after Three's Company and Laverne & Shirley. Much of the show's appeal stemmed from Williams' over-the-top performance as Mork, and it's clear that he was given many opportunities to improvise during shooting to make room for his unpredictable stream-of-consciousness shenanigans. Even 30 years later, Williams remains a comic force to be reckoned with, and this show was ideal to exhibit his talents. As a matter of fact, Mork & Mindy is worth watching for Williams alone, even if the plots are ridiculous and many of his co-stars are given very little to do.
This is especially true with Pam Dawber as Mindy, a one-dimensional character who really only serves as a foil for Mork's outrageous behavior. Dawber certainly has charm, though she is never really given the opportunity to flesh out her character more because Williams takes center stage more often than not. As a matter of fact, what I noticed more often than not was that Dawber would say similar dialogue in every single episode, much of it designed to coach Mork on how to become more human…and she would just laugh the rest of the time at his antics. However, Dawber does have her moments to shine, including her seductive advances in "Mork's Mixed Emotions" which causes the Orkan to go off like a Roman candle fresh bought. To be honest, I blame the writers more for limiting Dawber's ability to flex her acting chops more. Shazbot!
As for the supporting characters, I'll get to Exidor later. Mr. Bickley is extremely funny as the crass malcontent of a neighbor who is alone and hates his job, especially when it involves writing sweet and sympathetic poems and limericks; Tom Poston, who just passed away earlier this year, is excellent as Bickley. The stunning Morgan Fairchild is all looks with no real acting, and she has a role that is a virtual stereotype, making her a minor liability in an otherwise talented cast. That being said, Elizabeth Kerr and Conrad Janis are extremely likeable as the other members of the McConnell family, though they would become sparse in later episodes—which would foreshadow their absence in the second season. Surprisingly, there are few recognizable stars in bit roles, not counting Jeff Altman and David Letterman, the latter of whom plays the criminal Ellsworth in "Mork Goes ERK."
Probably what I love best about Mork & Mindy is Mork's endless stream of one-liners (most of which were improvised by Williams), such as "Why do they call it rush hour when no one is moving?" and "My father was a bottle…he died a broken man!" Seriously, how can you not laugh when Mork looks into through a keyhole to see who is at Mindy's door and then turns to her asking, "Are you expecting a zipper?" The two episodes that stand out in terms of Williams' performance, though, are "Mork's Seduction" and "Mork's Mixed Emotions," though the series' premiere is so delightful just because you get to see the Fonz, Laverne, and Mork act off each other's colorful personalities, resulting in continuous laughter. If only they had Robin Williams and Penny Marshall together as Mork and Mindy, they would have made this show even better, though she was busy on Laverne & Shirley, which was an equally funny show in its own right.
The majority of the episodes were directed by Howard Storm, who started out on the first season of Laverne & Shirley and later went on to direct episodes of Taxi, Head of the Class, and Everybody Loves Raymond (one of my sister's favorite). However, there were others directed by Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and Jeff Chambers. Considering the fact that they all had sitcom experience before Mork & Mindy, they were able to bring a sense of fun and spirit to the show, while at the same time giving Williams ample room to expand his comic ability through improvisation. In fact, the scripts would be tailor-made for Williams to include significant gaps to allow Mork to say and do whatever he pleased, which wasn't all that common at the time.
Paramount released Mork & Mindy: The Complete First Season in 2004, back when they put all the discs in their own slipcases. Visually, the show remains vibrant and incredibly colorful (especially Mork's loud costumes of striped shirts and suspenders with flair), though age defects are still predictably present, seeing how this is a show from the late 1970s. The audio is slightly worse, and it's clear that Paramount did nothing to improve the quality of the series, though they rarely think about that when they put their films on DVD anyway. Fans who are looking for bonus features will not find them here; Paramount didn't even have the courtesy to include subtitles, audio options, or even previews. Seriously, I can understand if Williams is not available for anything, but what about the now-retired Dawber? Or creator Garry Marshall? Or any of the directors like Storm and Zwick? Pathetic, really pathetic!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My biggest complaints about Mork & Mindy lie with Mindy's hollow character as well as the silly plots, some of which border on stupid. I understand that this is a sitcom based around an alien character, and that its style would carry onto future clones like ALF and 3rd Rock from the Sun, though it never really strays from Mork's encounters with humans using the same introductions and mannerisms, which either a) get him in trouble or b) embarrass Mindy.
As far as Exidor is concerned, his stories were more odd than funny, though maybe I just didn't get all the dated jokes. I'm not sure if Exidor is supposed to comically represent real psychotics back then, though his dialogue (at first) was just largely unfunny to me. However, in the last episode, "Mork's Best Friend," Robert Donner's character actually won me over; when Mork asks, "Have you ever been a member of the Communist party?" Exidor replies: "Just to meet girls!"
I have to say also that the way the episodes end—with Mork contacting Orson to send reports back to him on his progress—gets rather tiresome after awhile, particularly when Mork's clever dialogue is virtually absent and he looks as though he is reading from a Teleprompter.
Oh, yeah, I'm going to state this only once: if you are not a fan of Robin Williams, then steer clear of Mork & Mindy. Don't say I didn't warn you either!
Despite Paramount's depressingly stale packaging for Mork & Mindy: The Complete First Season, the show remains a joy to watch for fans of Robin Williams' brilliant comedy, and while he never gets as raucous or raunchy as he does in his standup routines (Robin Williams Live on Broadway, anyone?), this remains a very funny show after three decades and is worth a look.
While Mork is free to go to learn about society, Paramount is found guilty and sentenced to 10 years working on an Orkan chicken farm. Until season two, Na-nu, Na-nu!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.