Judge Paul Corupe still can't stop thinking that the geeky girl in Who's the Boss? would grow up to be the smokin' hot Alyssa Milano.
A brand new life around the bend.
Tony Danza has it in for me.
After suffering through the sitcom sentimentality of She's Out of Control, I thought that my Danza reviewing days were over. I was wrong. Before I could even cleanse my palate from the disagreeable aftertaste of Tony's manic parenting techniques and truly unsubtle comedy, I had in my hands another Danza-filled DVD box set that was clearly mocking me—mocking me with the promise of oversize shoulder pads, promiscuous grandmothers, and gratuitous hugging. Only then did I know that escape was impossible.
Facts of the Case
Widower and former major league ballplayer Tony Micelli (Tony Danza, Taxi) is worried about the effect of city life on his daughter Samantha (Alyssa Milano, Charmed). While searching for a new job as a housekeeper, kinfolk said "Tony, move away from Brooklyn—suburbia's the place you ought to be," so he loaded up his rusted-out van and moved to Hartford. Connecticut, that is. Swimmin' pools, SUVs.
Frumpy advertising executive Angela Bower (Judith Light, Law & Order: SVU) has doubts about hiring a male maid, but her pathologically liberated mother, Mona Robinson (Katherine Helmond, Soap) convinces the plucky divorcee and her reptile-obsessed son Jonathan (Danny Pintauro, Cujo) to give Tony a chance. Once the new help moves in, Angela comes to appreciate the work and friendship of Tony and Samantha, inviting them to become part of their extended family—a situation made all the more complex in light of Tony and Angela's unspoken attraction.
Every decade or so, the television networks proclaim that the sitcom is dead in the water, a doomed format no longer relevant to the American viewer. Then comes an inventive new show like All in the Family, Friends, or Seinfeld that brings sitcoms back from the brink of extinction. That was the situation in the early 1980s, when the networks once again started looking for a 24-minute comedic savior in a prime time schedule overstuffed with hour-long dramas like Dallas and Magnum P.I. Finally, they hit on a revolutionary series that revitalized the ratings and spawned a dozen imitators, leaving a long shadow on the future of TV sitcom programming. The name of that groundbreaking show? The Cosby Show.
Who's the Boss?, on the other hand, is a completely underwhelming 1980s sitcom. Debuting the same year as The Cosby Show and lasting just as long (both were cancelled in 1992 after eight seasons), this Tony Danza vehicle is an unchallenging half-hour that seems to offer a novel twist on old formulas, but in truth, relies on hackneyed TV comedy standbys more than ever.
ABC's Who's the Boss? somehow survived its initial season, despite running Thursdays at 8:30—opposite the Keaton family's slot in NBC's blockbuster line-up of The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and Night Court. Turns out that few were willing to switch channels after Cosby finished, and Who's the Boss? didn't even dent the Nielsen Top 20 in its inaugural season. The following year, the show was moved to 8:00 on Tuesday, where it was paired up with an equally schmaltzy new sitcom, Growing Pains. Here, the show finally found its audience, breaking in at 10th in the Nielsen ratings and becoming a Tuesday night tradition for the rest of the decade.
It's hard to imagine that a huge audience has been patiently waiting for DVD sets of this second-tier show; however, Columbia TriStar has diligently squeezed the first 22 episodes on three discs for the die-hard Danza devotees and more casual viewers seriously jonesin' for a shot of prime-time nostalgia.
• "Briefless Encounter"
• "Dinner for Two"
• "Sorority Sister"
• "Angela's First Fight"
• "Truth in Dating"
• "Mona Gets Pinned"
• "A Rash Decision"
• "Samantha's Growing Up"
• "Sports Buddies"
• "Protecting the President"
• "Paint Your Wagon"
• "Guess Who's Coming Forever?"
• "Angela's Ex (Parts 1 and 2)"
• "Eye on Angela"
• "Double Date"
• "Tony's Father-in-Law"
• "Just Like Tony"
• "Keeping Up With Marci"
• "First Kiss"
To say that Who's the Boss? is a little bit contrived would be like saying that Tony Danza is a shade emotive as an actor. If there's anything more unbelievable than a former second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals that needs to make ends meet by scrubbing toilets, then it's a seasoned advertising executive who is intimidated of her mother, New York City, and even asking a male co-worker out for a drink. The show's old-fashioned insistence that each character learn a lesson at the end of every wacky 24-minute adventure becomes as implausible as it is cloying over the course of the season presented here.
In the first few episodes of the show, the scripts are obviously geared not only to wring laughs out of the odd couple pairing of blue collar Tony and stuffed shirt Angela, but also to play on the moderately subversive role and gender reversals. In the pilot, Mona comments that "a man can do meaningless, unproductive work just as well as a woman," and much of the rest of the episode deals with Angela's struggles to cope with the male-dominated business world. The remaining shows probably would have been better had they stuck with these themes, but eventually the presence of a man cleaning the house of a successful female executive becomes just a lame joke. In almost every subsequent episode, guest stars wink and nudge each other that Tony is probably polishing more than Angela's banisters.
Much of the show's later success hinges on the "will they or won't they?" sexual tension that appears as early as the second episode. Unfortunately, the chemistry between the characters is extremely stilted for the first half of the season, hurt by the show's penchant for going to mind-boggling extremes to put Tony and Angela in compromising positions. "Eye on Angela" contains an extended musical chairs gag that is insistent on forcing Tony and Angela to sleep the same bed, eventually proving to be a manufactured bit of sexual innuendo that even Three's Company would be hard-pressed to top. Around the mid-season point, Judith Light and Tony Danza begin to settle into their characters a little more, and their relationship becomes a little more believable. Later episodes, in which Tony's job with the Bowers seems constantly in jeopardy, help to push the characters together in a more natural way.
Perhaps under the influence of Bill Cosby's successful take on parenting over at NBC, the focus of many episodes gradually drifted to Tony's trials in raising his lively daughter. Several of the episodes here seem like a step-by-step guide for Danza's later film She's Out of Control, as Tony's over-enthusiastic desire to share time with his daughter turns her life into a stifled mess. But the show barely approaches the smarter "lighter side of parenting" offered by The Cosby Show, and is too often content with moralizing and teaching overly-simplistic lessons without much humor or poignancy.
As syrupy as Who's the Boss? can be, Katherine Helmond is simply outstanding as the saucy redheaded grandmother. Although the novelty of Mona as a counterpoint to the über-conservative Angela does start to wear off over time, Helmond's acerbic tongue and plentiful acting experience is really the one thing that Who's the Boss? has in its corner. Not surprisingly, the show has Mona move into a loft above Angela's garage two-thirds of the way through the season in order to incorporate her character into stories more frequently.
Instead of evenly distributing the episodes, Columbia has inexplicably put nine shows on each of the first two DVDs, with four on the last. As a result, these episodes are riddled with compression artifacts. Although, like Tony and Angela's chemistry, a marked improvement in picture quality can be seen as this season progresses, soft transfers are the boss here. Colors fare well, except for blacks, which tend to vary from show to show. The soundtrack, in Dolby 2.0 mono, is merely acceptable—dialogue is audible once the volume is cranked up suitably high. The harsh treble of the theme music is not particularly pleasant, although advancing a chapter allows you to skip straight to the action and avoid that problem altogether. Overall, this presentation of Who's the Boss? probably looks and sounds about the same that it does in syndication today.
Even after all the episodes have been exhausted, this set's ability to disappoint is not over. The extras, comprised of seven featurettes clocking in at about two minutes apiece, are just clip compilations recycled from the very episodes of the show found in this release. Four offer personal highlights of each of the main characters on the show, while the remaining three, "Brooklyn Meets Connecticut," "Opposites Attract," and "How Will It End?" are completely-self explanatory. Why anyone would watch these even once is beyond me—I frankly would have preferred a bare bones release to this brazen waste of bitrate.
This presentation of Who's the Boss? is certainly lacking in quality, although maybe not quite as much as the show itself. I recommend skipping this box set entirely unless you happen to be stricken with an acute attack of nostalgia. There's a path you take and a path not taken—the choice is up to you, my friend.
Who's the Boss? is guilty of not living up to its potential, choosing instead to tow the line of sitcom monotony. The show is sentenced to "Angela's First Penitentiary Lockdown." In this episode, Mona has trouble keeping a secret after Tony shivs the bully who has been picking on Jonathan in the exercise yard. Meanwhile, Angela and finds a new love who teaches her the value of the prison barter system.
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