Judge Dennis Prince has a rather straightforward question for us all: Does anyone remember the dance troupe The Lockers?
"Oooh! Raj! You gonna get it."
My, oh my, how time flies. It seems just yesterday that three friends were navigating their way through the trials and triumphs of high school life, hanging out at the local soda shop, and getting tangled up in all sorts of crazy schemes and wild rides. They're all grown up now and off to college…where they navigate the trials and triumphs of dorm life, hang out at the local soda shop, and get tangled up in all sorts of crazy schemes and wild rides.
What's happening? Seemingly, it's the same ol', same ol'.
Facts of the Case
With high school now visible only from the rear-view mirror, studious Raj (Ernest Lee Thomas), naïve Duane (Haywood Thomas), and bumbling Rerun (Fred Berry) are looking to make a splash in the world. Raj continues in his pursuit to become a full-fledged journalist although he's not quite as worldly as he'd like to imagine himself. Duane just wants to hang out and keep his nose clean but usually winds up fending off any manner of affront thanks to the latest success scheme gone bad. Rerun simply wants to be on stage and in the spotlight, hip-hopping his way to stardom and never-ending nourishment. Raj and Rerun share an apartment where their conflicting values usually put them at odds with one another. They join Duane at their well-loved hangout, Rob's Place, where theyh slurp down sodas and fries while fending off the razor-tongued barbs provided by waitress Shirley (Shirley Hemphill). Back at Raj's boyhood home, bratty sister Dee (Danielle Spencer) is growing up but not growing any less prickly than she was when Raj occupied an upstairs bedroom. With the spare room and the absence of Mama (Mabel King), there's room for waitress Shirley to move in and watch over Dee while Raj and Rerun have their hands full with their new neighbors, police officer Big Earl and his grating offspring, Little Earl. It all mixes together to provide unending opportunities for fun and fortune, love and loss, and plenty of hard-learned lessons along the way.
Without a doubt, the 1970s was a decade of some excellent television sitcoms. As simplistic as some were, therein lay their charm. With the unbounded success of Happy Days, creators and producers were hard at work creating more family-based situations where the laughs were plentiful and the intellect went largely unchallenged. The successful team of Bud Yorkin, Bernie Orenstein, and Saul Turteltaub (who also brought us Sanford & Son) tapped on the formula that made Ritchie, Potsie, and Ralph Malph so entertaining, this time providing a peek into the madcap adventures of three African-American teens, their friends, and family. The various set ups, then, aren't very inventive nor innovative—we've seen this shtick before—but the character chemistry is compelling enough that we'll look on and laugh at and with these three well-meaning but woefully inept young adults.
In this final season of the show, Mabel King's loving but no-nonsense Mama is sorely missing and the cute-but-caustic Danielle Spencer is outgrowing her precocious pre-adolescence. To make amends, the character of Shirley is moved into the Thomas household to fill Mama's void but the results simply aren't as satisfying. To reinvigorate the precocious kid element, the new character of Little Earl is offered up but he simply appears as filler and evidence of the show's self-consciousness of its maturing cast. As for the storylines themselves, they're pretty much more of the same we had seen in the previous two superior seasons and, sadly, this one just doesn't have the legs to keep our interest. Most interesting to note, though, is the manner in which Fred Berry actually soaked up the center stage in his role of Freddie "Rerun" Stubbs. Owing to his accomplished work as a dancer who helped bring "locking" and "electric boogaloo" into the mainstream when he was performing with the dance troupe The Lockers, Berry glides in and out of his scenes with apparent ease and cuts quite a rug when the script calls for it (see "Disco Dollar Disaster").
While they're not up to par, content wise, with the previous two seasons, here are the episodes you find on this What's Happening!!—The Complete Third Season boxed set:
Each episode is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame format as originally televised and each looks generally good. The color is vibrant and pleasing yet the detail level wavers from very good to rather soft to pretty bad (with each show's end titles looking awful). Given the time period and video masters of the day, the episodes probably look better than they ever have before, both in first-run and syndication airings. The audio is suitable in an intelligible Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix. There are some times of shrillness but, by and large, the sound is acceptable. Unfortunately, there are no extras on the disc and given that several of the cast members have passed on (Berry, Hemphill, and King), it would have been nice to see interviews or hear commentaries from the surviving cast members who might provide insight and anecdotes about the show and their co-stars.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, as it is a product of the often silly 70s sitcom era, perhaps it's a bit harsh to ask too much from a light and likable show like this. Again, the first two seasons are the jewels but for fans of the program, a look at the final original season (the cast would return in 1985 for the re-vamped What's Happening Now!!) is in order.
What's Happening!! is another cozy relic of the 70s era, a time where plenty of social unrest gave rise to as much situational silliness. This third season does fall short of achieving the entertainment value of the previous two but it's charming to watch, just the same.
No true crime has been committed and so this court grants the What's Happening!! cast and crew a full pardon.
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