Sunday, December 2, 2007

What's Happening!!

I've been off work for the last week (see for details and baby pictures) and while not helping look after our new baby, I've been catching up on TV. I managed to catch two episodes of legendary 70s sitcom What's Happening!! It was quite an experience. I watched this show all the time when I was young and it was good seeing it again. The tale of the show is told in its ever-changing opening credits...

Season One

That "BOWMMM BOWMMM" bass synth that starts the show off has been imprinted in my brain ever since I first heard it. The show obviously thought it was crucial and subjected it to various interpretations in future seasons. If they'd only just done the show opening and left it at that, the show would be hailed as one of the greatest of all time.

Seeing Ernest Thomas's Raj character again confirmed to me that there hasn't been a more thoroughly dislikable character in TV history. His arrogant swagger coming out of the door captures it perfectly. He's emotionally distant, completely condescending, and probably sociopathic. His malevolence comes out all the more when he's onscreen with Dwayne or Rerun - two of TV's most lovable characters.

It's probably been 30 years since I've seen the opening credits, so I can be forgiven for screaming for a split second when Haywood Nelson falls off his skateboard and very much looking like he's fractured his hip. He was okay, though.

And there's no more iconic 70s TV imagery than Raj and Dwayne giving each other five under Fred Berry's benevolent gaze. Every single time I see this, what he has in his hands always registers - butter bun and Coke.

Season Two

The "BOWMMM BOWMMM" is lower in the mix this time. Not good. No wonder the second season did a lot worse than the first.

SHIRLEY HEMPHILL! Her dismissive gesture pretty much says it all for me. I'm glad they cut out the Rerun abuse to add footage of Shirley. And there's Dee, Raj's sister. God help me, I actually laughed for real at a couple of her lines in one of the episodes I saw this week. And there's Mabel King's fearsome Mama character. I never liked her. She was always either scolding the boys or going to work. Her and her no-good son Raj are a couple of bad apples. If they'd booted those two off and have a show about Dee, Dwayne, Rerun and Shirley... wow.

No, wait! They're taking off on Rerun again! Some friends!

Season Three

Wow! The "BOWMMM BOWMMM" makes a triumphant comeback. And the cheesy solo in the middle is even cheesier! And check out the punchy bass underneath it. Like punches to the solar plexus.

The actor playing the vile Raj is now bafflingly billed as "Ernest Lee Thomas". And are we to understand that something has happened to Mama and Shirley Hemphill lives in the house?! Raj and Rerun are roomies at college. Dwayne's still in the picture. I think since all Mama ever did was say "I'm going to work", the producers just decided to have the character at work permenantly and show Mabel King the door.

Apparently, Fred Berry was a nightmare on the set and during the third season he and the other two started acting up. Their unprofessional behavior (missing rehearsals, demands for money) led to the show being closed down! Nice work, boys!

Unfortunately, the story didn't end there.


I'm welling up even as I write this. The "BOWMM BOWMM" is gone and in its place is the most banal of banal 80s backing tracks.

No basketball inside, Raj. Even you have to play by the rules. And God knows why he's back to being billed as "Ernest Thomas". He's shaking his head at the typewriter because IT'S THE 80s AND WE HAVE COMPUTERS NOW.

Tell me that's not Haywood Nelson. The 80s makeover is a total disaster. His pushed up sleeves, loose tie, the haircut.. it's like they've taken his soul. He's a Stepford Wife now. Oh God, the tan
sweater is a stab in the heart.

There's dignity for you - Rerun in a crazy genie get-up and then he's drooling over an oversized phallic hoagie. Why bring the show back only to cover it in mud?

At least Shirley's still here. The bastards never managed to break her spirit. There's Raj's foxy wife Anne-Marie Johnson. It's not enough. I don't see Dee but see some Dee clone in her place. I'm too numb to care now.

Some half-hearted violence from Raj's wife. Pitiful.

What's Happening Now?! A mean-spirited desecration if you ask me.

Now I'm upset. I knew I should have done a run-down of which court shows are best instead...

1 comment:

Colby Cosh said...

Why is Shirley Hemphill reacting so dubiously to the breakfast she presumably prepared in Season Three? When Dee refuses the food it's like she goes "Can't blame her, this stuff is pretty goddamned foul."