Judge Dennis Prince often fantasized about having everything money could buy. He only got as far as remote-controlled rabbit ears and a PONG console.
Here we are face to face,
Together, we're going to find our way.
And if that little opening theme ditty doesn't send your mind reeling back to the Eighties, well, you never lived in the Eighties.
Edward Stratton III (Joel Higgins, Salvage 1) is a multi-millionaire who founded his fortune in the toy industry. It's no wonder, really, giving he's undeniably a man-boy himself, physically matured but mentally and emotionally a pre-pubescent. That's OK, though, because help is on the way in the form of 12-year-old Ricky (Ricky Schroeder, The Champ). Ricky is also pre-pubescent, physically, but seems to have the intellectual emotional wherewithal to carry the load for the two of them if only Edward will recognize that the boy is his own from a former marriage. Ricky moves in to the Stratton mansion, a veritable toy store stocked with upright video game consoles, a foosball table, and large-scale train that can navigate throughout the estate. Stratton is flanked by his personal assistant, Kate (Erin Gray, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), and legal counsel, Leonard (Leonard Lightfoot, Tentacles), both of whom take to Ricky and hope the ex-military school youth can help their employer grow up. Together, Ricky and Edward learn about life, love, and friendship as if they were brothers, two silver spoons born into privilege yet both wanting familial fulfillment.
If you detect the sweet taste of syrup, you're very much in touch with what Silver Spoons was and is all about. Without question, it's a product of its time, the conspicuously consumptive era of the Eighties where consumerism was exploding all around us, fueled by rampant technology and consolidating corporations. As a result, both factions mark the show—heavy into video game sensibility while barely able to restrain its embrace of capitalistic conglomeration. There's a bit of a thumb at the nose to the evolving Corporate America, what with Stratton behaving as if it's all a bunch of high-powered hokum while he merrily plays as if barefoot in a jump-house lined with freshly-minted notes. To this end, Stratton does manage to exist (initially, anyway) as the anti-CEO, never aware how the machinations of business operate but very much in touch with his inner boy in a way that translates to success after success in his industry (sort of channeling a bit of Tom Hanks from Big).
So where's the sweetness? Enter doe-eyed Ricky Schroeder. The 9-year-old fireball from 1979's The Champ has added a few inches and a bit more chops to helm his own dimple-laden, eyelash-fluttering teen distraction. Truth be told, the 12-year-old version of "the Ricker" initially appeared too cute for his own good, actually looking quite girlish in the show's pilot episode. A much needed haircut helped Schroeder better convince us that he did indeed possess a Y-chromosome although it was nevertheless questionable that his left one had as yet dropped during the course of the show's first season. He flashes his impish grin with confidence (and cute contriteness), bats his eyes, and waggishly wiggles in and out of situations. Within a few episodes, he's become the "All American boy" with all the usual hesitations, hang-ups, and histrionics you would expect and, most often, he carries it well. It's clear that Schroeder was more than self-aware of his teen-idol potential and he played to it with aplomb (even if he didn't know what that meant).
Of course, the greatest distraction within the Stratton expanse was Erin Gray. Effortlessly, she commanded the proverbial double take, her striking smile, luscious blue eyes, and radiant countenance causing viewers' pulse to race as early as the opening credits. Initially, she wasn't given much to do save for serving as the maternal voice within the ensemble and likely to assuage anxieties that might have bubbled had it just been Stratton and the blossoming Ricky in that big house—just the two of them, alone, with no one else to see. Whatever the reason, we're thankful that Ms. Gray was along for the ride (and, ultimately, her role would become far more significant in subsequent seasons).
Along for just a short trip on the Stratton train was Leonard Lightfoot as Leonard the Lawyer. He was generally amusing in his role as the put-upon counselor who struggled to keep his employer out of financial difficulty while also playing the straight man to the shows many slapstick moments. The Hollywood Babylon grapevine had reported that Lightfoot was removed from the cast when he purportedly had issue with the production and might have brought hand-held influence to the set. His ushering out made room for quick replacement (Episode 18, "Junior Businessman") by the markedly wackier fall guy, Franklyn Seales, as Stratton's new business manager, Dexter Stuffins. Whatever the facts might have been, it was immediately apparent that Seales brought an amped-up pitch to the ensemble and the comedy hit its mark with improved precision.
Again, the comedy of the show wasn't the best on the block but it easily outpaced the wanton silliness of counterparts like Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life (but never reached the heights of Family Ties). In terms of humor, the pacing was easy to follow and the gags were relevant to the trends of the day, some of it genuinely smart in its design and delivery. Still, don't expect a consistent level of cleverness as, most often, the shtick comes across with the same amount of nuance as a pouch of Pop-Rocks. Even so, the shows were written in typical three-act style and did a fine job of introducing a throwaway non sequitur or two that would be cleverly integrated into events or dialog later in the show. To the best of their ability, the cast tried to play most of the humor with straight faces but much of it is rather Vaudevillian in its sensibility (and that obviously appealed to the diverse audience that would help drive the show to achieve solid ratings in its Friday primetime slot). And, uncannily, the show became a magnet for some interesting guest stars including the peaking Mr. T, the venerable John Houseman, and the emerging Sharon Stone. Also along are names-to-be including Joey Lawrence, Amanda Peterson, Allison Smith, and, as Ricky's smarmy foil, Derek, none other than Jason Bateman.
Although it had recently been included in Comcast's On Demand offerings, fans were actively petitioning Sony to release the show properly on DVD. In alignment with the show's 25th Anniversary, Silver Spoons—The Complete First Season has made its debut to an appreciative base of enthusiasts. This boxed set, consisting of three discs housed in two slimline cases and packaged in a cardboard outer slipcase, includes all 22 of the first season episodes. The good news is these episodes appear to be complete, each running just over 24 minutes. The less-than-good news is that the transfers on tap look worse than we'd expect. Given their 1982 vintage, it would seem reasonable these could make for some well-rendered presentations but the fact is that these look all too much like the videotape relics from the 1970s. The episodes show obvious signs of video pull and distortion with those long-forgotten video "pops." Framed at their original 1.33 Fullscreen aspect ratio, it conceivable that what you saw during an original broadcast looked better than what you'll find here. The audio is offered in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix that's suitable and generally satisfying. Unexpectedly, there are no extras to be found on this flagship release, an unequivocal snub to the show's Silver Celebration (and what a significant marketing mishandling given the easy tie-in to the show's title). Therefore, don't be looking for any retrospectives, cast and crew commentaries, reunion interviews, gag reels, or vintage promotional goods.
In the end, Silver Spoons emerged to be a true time capsule relic of the Regan Era and still makes for simple (and frequently cringe-worthy) fun some quarter century later. While it's great to see the show finally make a DVD release, it's flatly disappointing that this premiere set is without additional content. We can only hope that Sony does a better job, technically and tastefully, with subsequent season releases. Once again, Ricky is charged with shouldering the burden; it's a task that, thankfully, he's still up to.
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