Judge Christopher Kulik would love to be Fran Drescher's manny.
Our review of The Nanny: The Complete First Season, published August 12th, 2005, is also available.
Oh, Mr. Sheffield…
When I was growing up in the '90s, it was more common to see The Nanny on in my household than Friends. Some of you may consider this shocking, but the truth is I related more to the wacky family dynamics of the former rather than the so-cool-and-hip-it's-bland-and-sick smell of the latter. Looking back on things now, I still consider The Nanny a funny show, and certainly more inventive and outrageous than its Schwimmering-in clichés competition. To me, there was something about Nanny Fine that brightened my day…and it wasn't merely because she lived up to her last name. Hey, when I was 10, I wanted to have Julie Andrews as my nanny. That all changed when I was 15…
The genesis of The Nanny was cooked up by the show's star and executive producer Fran Drescher and her ex-husband Peter Marc Jacobson. Hailing from the Flushing section of Queens, N.Y., Fran Fine—as indicated by the title theme—was selling cosmetics in Manhattan when her flash and flair caught the eye of Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy, Days Of Our Lives). She had no experience, and yet Maxwell offered her a nanny position looking after his three children: Maggie, Brighton, and Grace. While the kids eventually grew to love her, she wasn't favored by Maxwell's business partner C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane), who has been hoping to get romantically involved with her boss.
Much of the show's comic mileage was strictly based on cultural differences. Fran's Jewish background, Italian heritage, brassy attitude, deafening wardrobe, and incredibly whiny nasal voice made her a virtual caricature. The Sheffields were a carbon copy of the stuffy and respectable British family, complete with a sarcastic domestic named Niles (Daniel Davis). This tea-at-three family is a bit too stiff for Fran to take, so she ends up lightening up the household, injecting color and life. Fran's wacky family would also add to the proceedings, though I preferred the cheeky insults between Niles and C.C., as well as Fran's rather unorthodox methods of raising children. By season three, the formula and characters were established well enough to be comfortable to viewers, thus enabling The Nanny to coast along for another three years.
I still like The Nanny, and enjoyed my visit with them again after several years. It's one of those shows most audiences seem to love or hate, as it depends on how one thought of Fran Fine. Some just find her plain annoying. Regardless of your feeling of the character, Drescher proves to be a real comic talent. You can tell she studied Lucille Ball while growing up in the same area where her alter ego was from. The nasal voice wasn't exaggerated, either, and it no doubt was a challenge to overcome when she began acting in the late '70s. Most of her roles were regulated to bit parts or marginal character roles; one of my favorites is when she played one of Robin Williams' girlfriends in 1990's Cadillac Man. When she found herself the whining queen of primetime, however, she struck sitcom gold, and it's pretty safe to say she will always be remembered as Ms. Fine.
Still, The Nanny has one major drawback…aside from the extremely exaggerated characterizations of Fran's family, that is. Like most sitcoms, this is designed as comfort food to digest when you're relaxing on the couch. Back in its heyday, The Nanny was very amusing when confined to half-hour or one-hour timeslots. Watching an entire season on DVD is like overdosing on Hostess Snowballs or cotton candy—it fills you up quickly, and you need to wait a couple of days before coming back for seconds.
The show hasn't really aged all that well. Still, it's interesting in a nostalgic way to watch Roger Clinton (Bill's younger brother) as the Sheffield's next door neighbor. However, jokes referring to the dating show Studs and Hugh Grant's affair with a hooker come off as rather stale today.
Useless Trivia of the Day: Shaughnessy and Grant worked together in the 1989 miniseries Till We Meet Again, although they shared only one scene.
Still, the cameos are great fun. Aside from legends Elizabeth Taylor, Marvin Hamlisch, and Milton Berle, we also have Michael McKean as C.C.'s brother, David Lander as a weird landlord, and Lainie Kazan as Fran's Aunt Frieda. One episode has Fran somehow ending up as a contestant on Jeopardy!, complete with a self-deprecating Alex Trebek. The funniest ones, however, are when the Sheffields go to Hollywood and Fran wanders onto a set looking for a bathroom. When she comes out, they are shooting a scene for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and so Fran takes the opportunity to throw herself on Joe Lando.
Since I haven't viewed Seasons One and Two in their entirety, I can't say for sure if Season Three is on par with them visually and audibly. Nevertheless, the full-frame presentations and 2.0 Stereo tracks all serve their purpose, making The Nanny just as good as viewing it in syndication on the Lifetime Network. There are no extras, although the rarely broadcast animated holiday special "Oy To The World" is included here.
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