Judge Dylan Charles had a perfect attendance record in high school.
Our review of Room 222: Season Two, published April 5th, 2010, is also available.
Alice: Well, I'd better ask you straight out. Do you prefer colored or
Negro or black?
Alice: I know I have a lot of middle-class hang-ups. I went to a
In 1969, James L. Brooks (The Simpsons) was approached to do a pilot about a black high school teacher that mixed comedy and drama, a concept that was more than a little unusual for '60's television. The pilot and the resulting series, which showed blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, and Jews integrated and working together, went on to win the Emmy for Outstanding New Series that year. Does Room 222, and its socially conscious messages, still hold up forty years later?
Facts of the Case
Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes, Ice Station Zebra) is a history teacher at Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles. Helping him through the daily trials and tribulations are school counselor (and special lady friend) Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas (In The Heat of the Night) and student teacher Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine, Gidget Grows Up). Along with the curmudgeonly and world-weary principal Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), they do their best to help and guide their students (and each other) through crises like dating and marriage, drugs, pollution, and the bureaucratic bull that plagues the education system.
In Room 222: Season One, there are 26 episodes on four discs and they are:
In spite of the fact that it's forty years old, Room 222 manages to stay topical and relevant. That's a little depressing considering that some of the topics included schoolroom overcrowding and devastating air pollution (problems that we still have to deal with today). Even when Room 222 doesn't go after social issues, its focus on the day-to-day lives of the teachers and students of Walt Whitman High is as relevant as it was when it first aired.
This is due in large part to the strength of the cast and the writing. Lloyd Haynes is a charismatic and commanding presence as Mr. Dixon, who's damn near the perfect teacher. His rapport with Principal Kaufman reflects the real-life friendship between actors Haynes and Constantine. While they're different people, Kaufman maudlin and cynical and Dixon vibrant and idealistic, one of the show's great abilities is to show the power of their friendship, even when they disagree vehemently, as in "Just Between Friends."
Denise Nicholas's Liz McIntyre is the kind of guidance counselor I wish I had in high school. She's the middle ground between Mr. Dixon and Mr. Kaufman: she sees how the system works and does her best to work with it. Alice Johnson starts off as probably the weakest of the main characters, but as the season goes on, her unbearable enthusiasm is toned down to exuberant, and Karen Valentine gets her moments to shine in episodes like "Alice in Blunderland," where Alice gets her first chance to teach Mr. Dixon's class on her own. The class's response to her first attempts to rein them in had me cringing and seriously reconsidering my own ideas about becoming a teacher.
Room 222 would also be nothing without its students. Richie (Howard Rice), the focus of the pilot, continues to show up throughout, along with Jason (Heshimu), a tough-talking, streetwise artist. Toward the end of the season, they're often paired together and have a great chemistry as the nerdy scholar hangs out with the wisecracking tough. They even get a few episodes to themselves, including one of my favorites (just 'cause I love the title), "Once Upon a Time There Was Air You Couldn't See." It adds greater depth to the show and makes Walt Whitman High School a real place, instead of just a backdrop for the main characters.
Room 222 is a strange mix of sentimentality, idealism, and cynicism. At times, the treacle factor can be a little wince-worthy. Alice in particular gets the bulk of the lines that made me cringe with their cheery earnestness. For the most part, though, this sweetness is balanced with an attitude that matches Mr. Kaufman's bitter worldview rather than Alice's. Very rarely does the show decide to take the easy way out. In "The New Boy," Walt Whitman gets a new student who's a pathological liar. By the end of the episode, instead of making it apparent that he will change, we just see the new boy standing by himself on the playground, isolated by his own actions. In "El Genio," Alice pours herself into a pet project: attempting to get Robert Salazar into college. While also dealing with issues of how Latinos are treated in this country, the show brings up the very bold notion that maybe, just maybe, college isn't the solution for everybody.
In the early episodes, the first dozen episodes of the first season or thereabouts, the studio heads made the questionable decision to add a laugh track to Room 222. The writers and producers successfully had it removed, however, for which they've earned my eternal gratitude. Room 222 is not a sitcom, but a blend of drama and comedy. Those expecting, say, The Brady Bunch should look elsewhere. Instead, it's a more somber Good Times or a less pun-intensive M*A*S*H. There's humor to be found for sure, but it's the quiet chuckle variety, not the uproarious guffaw kind.
The transfer varies wildly from episode to episode. In some cases, it looks pretty damn good, with popping colors and solid black and minimal dirt and scratches. In other cases it's like trying to read a photocopy of a photocopy. In one episode, you get to see Mr. Kaufman's amazing ability to change his skin color from frame to frame. Judging by the back of the box, it appears Shout! Factory used the best material they had available to them, which is not that great at times.
There's also a bare minimum of extras, by which I mean, there's one extra: a short featurette with interviews with James L. Brooks, Allan Burns, Denise Nicholas, and Michael Constantine, with Karen Valentine conspicuously absent. It's great to hear from these folks, but after being blown away by the show itself, I was hoping for something a little more in-depth.
Room 222 is a powerful little drama laced with humor and idealistic hope. It's the kind of show that I wish was on now, something that tackled the issues of today without becoming bogged down in sentimental treacle or bitter cynicism. Room 222 hits the magic balance between drama and comedy, between idealism and reality, and is definitely worth checking out.
Room 222 has a perfect attendance record and will graduate with Honors.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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