I think most people realize that Tom Hanks was once a star in the 80’s sitcom “Bosom Buddies”. Both he and Peter Scolari went on to bigger and better things, not the least of which being The Polar Express. This had me thinking of some other, even more obscure, TV shows from that memorable decade. Some of them featured actors that also went on to achieve notoriety elsewhere. One of them, as I’ve come to realize, could have changed the very face of the Star Wars franchise.
The following four shows were some of my favorites when I was growing up. I have fond memories of each of them, despite their short lived runs and downward flight into obscurity. I doubt that many of you have heard of them, much less recall seeing even one episode. If you are like me though, get ready for a solid dose of nostalgia.
Square Pegs (1982 – 1983)
The first one on my list is one I identify with very well. No, I was never a geeky teenage girl desperately trying to be popular. I was however, outside of the “cool kids” circle when I was younger. I have suffered my share of teasing and was effectively ostracized from all available cliques during that time. I look back on it all as a character building exercise. Companies pay good money for that sort of thing these days. Anyway, it felt good to watch this show and know that I was not alone in the quest to fit in at all costs.
The show featured a very young Sarah Jessica Parker. Can you imagine her as just some unpopular geek? Actually, not that much of a stretch when you think about it. Her co-star on Square Pegs was the lesser known, but equally talented, Amy Linker. You may remember her from…well, nothing probably. Oh wait, do you remember D.A.R.Y.L.?
Square Pegs was a very good show in my opinion. It’s a shame it only lasted the one season. From what I understand, there was a lot of strife on set that contributed to its early demise. It did have a great theme song by The Waitresses and a pretty diverse set of guest stars over those twenty episodes, though. These include Devo, John Densmore, Tony Dow (of Leave it to Beaver fame), Martin Mull, Steve Sax (along with his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates), and Bill Murray. Not too shabby…imagine if it had gone on for several more seasons.
It’s Your Move (1984 – 1985)
This show is so obscure, even I keep forgetting the name and had to look it up. I do remember watching it of course. I don’t know if it was the show itself or Jason Bateman’s character that I loved. Bateman played a very intelligent smart-ass kid, named Matthew Burton. His battles with Norman the neighbor from across the hall, who was also dating Matt’s mother, were awesome. The neighbor incidentally, was played by David Garrison. David was a professional neighbor it would seem, as he played that same role in Married With Children.
What killed this show ultimately, was that it was only popular with kids like me. We all wanted to be the really smart kid that got away with extremely elaborate schemes. He was Parker Lewis before he couldn’t lose, and Ferris Bueller before he needed saving. Alas, the network desired to make the show appealing to all audiences. They decided to change the format in mid-season by having Matthew’s mother discover what he was doing. With her wise to his tactics, the show lost it’s entire premise. The rest of the season was about a normal kid, doing nothing special. Sure enough, the show was cancelled without delay.
Misfits of Science (1985 – 1986)
I don’t recall which came first…my love of this show, or my love of Courtney Cox. I actually believe it was the show that introduced me to her beguiling presence. I remember watching the Bruce Springsteen video a thousand times after I found out she was in it. Most of the world knows her through Friends, of course. Personally, I had completely lost interest by that time. This was all about a teenage crush for me. There was Courtney and there was the real world 8th grader Shannon (I was in 7th). Which one did I have a more realistic chance of dating? Tough call.
Oh yeah, the show was awesome. I mean, I think it was…well, maybe not. It was a superhero show before they became so insanely popular.
Unfortunately , it was also filled with your standard 80’s cheese. I so wanted to be Johnny B with his electric powers, shooting lightning at bad guys and whatnot. There was that, and also to have Courtney…I mean Gloria pining after me. Hard to believe, but I really wanted super powers and that whole James Dean tortured soul thing when I was an adolescent.
This show was sort of like the X-men or Heroes with the freaks saving the world, and themselves, from the people that hate and fear them. When the show got cancelled, it was like a kick in the gut for me. I couldn’t understand why people didn’t like it as much as me. Well, I just watched an episode for the first time since the originals aired…I get it now. Dear god, I just realized there is a book about the show, though. “Misfits of Science: An Oral History“, should be worth checking out! Update: I bought the oral history and it has great insight into TV in general and cool stories from show business, not just in regards to Misfits. I recommend you hit that link and kindle it 😉
As for me and Courtney, I stuck with her through the Alex P. Keaton years. After that we just grew apart.
The Greatest American Hero (1981 – 1983)
Last, but in no way least, is the cult classic “The Greatest American Hero”. This was another one that connected with my teenage desire to be a superhero. I used to daydream all the time that I was the one who found the suit. Of course, I figured out how to fly and use all the other features of the thing without that damn instruction book. What superhero suit delivered by aliens needs a manual anyway? How ridiculous.
There are some really cool trivia items about this show, in addition to the hugely popular theme song. For one, Warner Brothers/D.C. Comics once sued over the apparent infringement of the Greatest American Hero on their fabled Superman character. I mean really? This fumbling, bumbling goofball who can’t figure out how to fly is a close copy of Superman? They did not win the suit and Ralph Hinkley was able to keep his.
Speaking of Hinkley, the show came out around the time John Hinkley, Jr. tried to kill President Reagan. The producers actually changed his name in the show for a time because of that. It eventually reverted back to the original, though. Ironically, the pilot episode featured our hero Ralph preventing the assassination of the President.
The coolest bit of trivia though, is the reason I’ve included this show with the others. I mean, there really isn’t any actor in the Greatest American Hero that went on to fame by other means. However, William Katt who played Ralph Hinkley…aka Ralph Hanley…aka The Greatest American Hero…was very nearly Luke Skywalker. An alternate universe has Willam Katt as Luke and Kurt Russell as Han Solo. Check out their reading/audition for the movie. I’m absolutely fascinated by the prospect of what could’ve been…
Thanks for reading, Chico