After watching this set, Judge Patrick Naugle had his middle name legally changed to "Rerun."
Welcome back to the 1970s!
Dig out your bellbottoms! Get out your afro comb! It's time to revisit your favorite high school buddies—it's time to find out What's Happening!! Come along on a fun-filled ride of soda shop visits, wacky schemes, and zany zingers with three high school buddies: smart, somewhat geeky Raj (Earnest Thompson); shy, soft-spoken Dwayne (Haywood Nelson); and the loud, boisterous Rerun (the irreplaceable Fred Berry). Raj and his buddies come up with various schemes, get caught up in all sorts of goofy troubles, and avoid being tattled on by Raj's bratty sister Dee (Danielle Spencer) to the overbearing but lovable Mama (Mabel King). And just to round everything out (pun intended!) is smart-mouthed Shirley (Shirley Hemphill), the waitress who works at the boys' favorite local hangout, the soda shop. It ain't Gaye's "What's goin' on?," it's What's Happening!!!
The following episodes are included on this three-disc set:
• The Runaway
There are certain TV shows that truly make an imprint in one's life. What's Happening!! is not that show. Yet while the adventures of Raj and his buddies may be as dated as the carpeting used in the first home my parents bought, it's still is a goofy little trip down memory lane. And no matter how you look at it, it's still better than Family Matters.
There is something cute, funny, and enticing about What's Happening!!, and it all boils down to the slightly off-balance performances by the show's leads. Earnest Thompson, Haywood Nelson, and the late Fred Berry are a likable troupe of high school misfits who inspired me to laugh even when the scripts were anything but clever. How can you begrudge a teenager (Raj) who is, for all intents and purposes, the African American equivalent of Family Ties's Alex P. Keaton? Raj is always trying to come up with some new way to make a fast buck, yet his innocence shines through during every scene, thanks to Thompson's likable charisma. Nelson plays the role of Raj's shy best buddy with true teenage angst—whenever he's required to talk to a girl he likes, the poor guy shuts down like a robot whose batteries have just run out. And what can I say about Fred "Rerun" Berry? The man is a legend in his own time and beyond—before there was a scene-stealer like Urkel, there was the wonderfully exuberant Rerun. Rerun's place on the show was twofold: 1.) trading put downs with Shirley and 2.) acting like the world was a stage and he was the center ring's main attraction. And he did them both with aplomb.
Other memorable cast members include the late, sharp-tongued Shirley Hemphill as—who else?—Shirley, the waitress Rerun loved to spar with. Danielle Spencer was one of the better child actors from the 1970s (always annoying poor Raj and foiling many of his plans), while Mabel King always laid down the law with both a heavy dose of love and a whoopin' whenever it warranted. Though none of these performances would be considered Oscar worthy (or Emmy worthy, for that matter), I still found myself endeared to each and every character.
Each of What's Happening!!'s episodes normally dealt with a fairly fluffy topic, usually centering around Raj, Dwayne, and Rerun getting into mischief, then getting in trouble via Dee's big mouth and Ma's stern hand. Some of the episodes deal with teaching a lesson, as when Rerun is about to be humiliated on national television and Mama and the gang break the news to him while letting us know it's not nice to make fun of people. Other episodes are just plain silly, as when Raj tries to come up with enough money for a writing class (and foils his deadbeat father in the process). The writing is never overly sharp and often sentimental, but I guess that's the charm of the show—sometimes innocuous mediocrity is just what the doctor ordered.
What's Happening!! ran from 1976 to 1979 and spawned a sequel, or sorts, with What's Happening, Now! (which included all of the original cast members sans Mabel King). For a little series that didn't try to save the world or even make a medium sized impact, it's still a show folks are fond of and that even in 2004 features a warm glow that is often missing from most of today's sitcoms. If you feel like taking a nostalgic trip back to the 1970s, What's Happening!! may be the perfect ride.
Each episode of What's Happening!! is presented in 1.33:1 full frame. I can't say that I was overly impressed with any of these transfers—generally speaking, they're in only mediocre condition. Don't expect much in the way of color saturation or sharpness. The images often look slightly fuzzy and the colors worn and dated. But, what else do you expect from a TV series from the late '70s? Columbia most likely did the best they could with these transfers.
The soundtracks are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in English. There isn't much to say about these sound mixes—they are full of slight distortion and lack any true fidelity. Though they are far from perfect, at the very least the dialogue, music, and effects are well recorded. I guess that counts for something, eh? No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are included on these discs.
Sadly, fans of the series will be disappointed to find out that What's Happening!! is void of any extra features.
Update Alert! Want to find out what Raj, Dwayne, and the late Rerun looked like as of 2003? Check out David Spade's ode to child actors in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.
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