By Jove, Jimmy Stewart was right! Judge David Johnson's doorbell rang, and there were his Wings on the doorstop!
Man, there are probably a ton of bad airplane-themed taglines I could conjure: "Take off with great comedy!" or "Put your seats in a full, upright position—and laugh!" or "Always bet on black."
Cheers's pipsqueak little brother Wings has landed onto DVD (last one, I promise) and all kinds of jokes and crazy situations are ready to disembark (promises were made to be broken).
Facts of the Case
Wings tells the story of the Hacketts, Joe (Tim Daly, Storm of the Century) and Brian (Steven Weber, 1997's The Shining), two brothers who very little in common except for DNA, their pilot's licenses, and the tendency to star in Stephen King made-for-TV movies. Joe is a conservative, by-the-book, humorless control-freak and Brian is an impulse-driven, devil-may-care hipster.
The show begins with the two of them reunited on the small Massachusetts island of Nantucket after a six year silence. Brian had run off with Joe's fiancée, and since then the two haven't spoken. But when their father died, and the promise of his will loomed, Brian reappeared. A few high jinks later, and Brian agrees to work for his brother flying for his one-plane outfit, Sandpiper Air.
Joe and Brian are surrounded by a colorful crew of irregulars: Helen (Crystal Bernard) is the blond firecracker and longtime friend who runs the airport lunch counter but dreams of professionally playing her cello, Roy (David Schramm) the slimy rival airline owner, Fay (Rebecca Schull) the sweet-natured ex-stewardess and Sandpiper desk clerk, and Lowell (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) the idiot maintenance man.
Paramount has boxed the short introductory season with the full-size second season for this four-disc set:
Wings is one of those easy-to-watch shows. I recall plopping down in front of the USA network and soaking up one of their Wings rerun blocks back in the day. It's one of those series that, if I landed on while channel surfing, I'd just stay in a holding pattern (wow, that one just crept up on me) and see the episodes through.
It wasn't a ground-breaking comedy, and didn't really do anything new. In fact, it's about as textbook an execution as you get with sitcoms. The characters all fit right into the necessary "quirky TV comedy character" molds and the situations that are harvested for laughs (e.g. parachuting, inane misunderstandings, macho gay sons, and a crappy Christmas) are contrived as all get-out. I can see the pitch now:
"So we know everyone loves Cheers, right? So let's stick with a similar geographical location. Instead of Boston, let's move to Nantucket (it's in Massachusetts so we can still do clam chowder jokes). And our gimmick? Flying! We can do all kinds of barf bag and emergency landing gags! Now, characters. Here's what I'm thinking. The main characters will be two brothers. They're both pilots, but, get this, they're COMPLETELY OPPOSITE!!! One of them is uptight and the other is, like, a total goof-off! Can't you just feel the juxtaposition?! Okay, now we need a female love interest. How about a perky blonde girl…who plays…the recorder! No, the tambourine! No, wait, the cello!!! Yeah, the cello! Giant instrument between her legs and so forth, that's a visual that should score us a few males from the 18-40 demo. Let's give her a Southern accent to make it even quirkier. What about the supporting cast, you ask? I'm thinking a jerk antagonist, maybe a competitor, and we'll make him fat because everyone hates fat people and greasy-haired because everyone hates greasy-haired people and white, because everyone hates white people. Then we'll add a nice old lady with a sharp tongue—another surefire piece of juxtaposition—and, last but not least, we need an idiot. Cheers has Woody, Charles in Charge has Buddy, and we'll have…Lowell, the moron mechanic. But let's make him sooooo stupid that he's borderline retarded. Retarded people are hilarious!"
So, yes, Wings feels like a precisely engineered work of situation comedy, from characters to locales to plotlines. But here's the rub—the show works. The first few episodes get off to a shaky start with not-so-crisp writing and as-yet-to-be full developed characters, but by the second round of episodes, things pick up. Is it a riotous affair? No, there were very few times I was laughing out loud. Yet I was always entertained and consistently amused, for it's worth (which I think is a lot considering how much pain and misery dwells out there in sitcom-land). The characters, while blatant contrivances, are nevertheless fun to watch. Weber is a dynamo and Daly delivers Joe's dry humor perfectly. Lowell is completely out-there, but still remains a legend of television savants and with Fay you get a bonus empty-head. I never found Roy terribly interesting, and Crystal Bernard, while hot, always seemed like she was trying too hard.
Highlights from these seasons include the reappearance of Carol, the woman who split the brothers apart, hilarious guest appearances by John Ratzenberger and George Wendt, the kindling of the Helen-Joe romance that would become the base upon which the show is built, Brian's hard-to-believe suspicions that Fay is a serial killer, Lowell's piss-poor Trivial Pursuit playing, Kenny the junior pilot, and the cliffhanger ending where Helen heads off to New York, leaving Joe behind. All in all, I think there's a fair amount of enjoyment to be had here. The writing is a bit uneven and lots of jokes fall flat, but not every show is Seinfeld. Besides, Wings sports a strong cast and a lot of energy.
Paramount has merely issued these seasons. Nothing discernible has been done to pretty up the video quality, and some moments look downright awful. Worse, except for some previews, there are zero bonuses. Economy class coach all the way.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Lame Misleading Studio Marketing Ploy Alert! Plastered on the disc box is the smiling mug of Tony Shalhoub, who would go on to play Antonio, the simple immigrant cab driver in subsequent seasons. Thing is, he only appears once in "Looking for Love in All the Wong Places" as a waiter.
I like this show. There's not really any innovation at all, but for a purely formula bit of small-screen comedy Wings delivers the goods. Not the "greats" mind you. Just the "goods."
Better than airplane peanuts!
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