Behold the programs that must gaze upon 21 Jump Street with envy.
Photo: Universal / Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012
Some items of ‘80s nostalgia (Transformers, Micky Rourke and 21 Jump Street) fit perfectly on the big screen. But these shows from the era of Reagan and Rubik’s are best left on the smallest screen you can find.
1. My Two Dads
You're a judge. There is an orphaned girl with two potential fathers. You could request a paternity test. Or you could do the logical thing: Award custody to both men while encouraging them to live together in a building that you own. (The law advises that, right?) This scenario is laid out in the opening credits as a sax wails, possibly to distract us from the fact a child is coming to terms with the fact that her mommy's dead, yet slutty.
2. Charles in Charge
"I want... I want... I want... Charles in charge of me." With a theme that works equally well for a sitcom or an S&M dungeon, it is the story of a college student forced to work as a live-in babysitter, with Scott Baio playing Charles and Willie Aames as best bud "Buddy" Lembeck. Off camera Baio is known to have dated at least one of the "children" he minded (Charles in charge, indeed). Perhaps to compensate for his pal's wanton ways, Aames became super Christian, starring in Bibleman. And the Lord saweth Bibleman and He was not pleasethed, for since then Aames has divorced and gone bankrupt and now works on a cruise ship.
He's a "man", but he's also an "imal." Dr. Jonathan Chase can turn himself into any creature he chooses, a gift he uses to fight crime/entertain at Bar Mitzvahs. Behold what happens when he selects "panther" in a process that is on the one hand slow, but on the other unconvincing.
4. Small Wonder
It's not easy being a kid, particularly when your sister's a robot your dad made. Get ready for hilarity in the above clip, when Daddy reveals he's created another robot child, a development that must make his son think, "Wow, my father really does not like having sex with mom."
What happened after MASH? In the case of Alan Alda and most of the cast, they found other jobs (they'd already been in a show about the Korean War that lasted longer than the actual Korean War). Harry Morgan stuck around though; in a nice bit of foreshadowing, his first line is "Mind if I switch the TV off?", as that's what America soon did to his show.
6. We Got It Made
Yes, this was a real show. Wouldn't it be great if you had a maid who was sexually desirable? With that "maid", you'd have it "made"! Or is it the other way around? Oh, what does it matter when you're two sassy bachelors living together and you're hiring a housekeeper! Who's good-looking! Woo! (Note: While this sounds like the sexually harassing-est comedy ever, the tension swiftly fades as we watch and realize that the two men, despite having "girlfriends", are either gay or totally asexual.)
7. Joanie Loves Chachi
Joanie really did love Chachi. And vice-versa. How do we know this? Because they frickin' serenade each other in the opening credits. The spin-off of Happy Days about two kids in love trying to make it with their band had a story that carried over to the off-screen world: Joanie was at least quite fond of Chachi, as Erin Moran dated Scott Baio before he went on to nail Pamela Anderson and virtually every other woman who spent time in Los Angeles throughout the ‘80s and early 90s. (Feel free to re-read #2 on this list if you must, Mr. Short-term Memory.)
8. Double Trouble
"I'm sure I can get him to say yes!" (Cut to-) "He said no!" That's just one of the comic exchanges you get from Kate and Allison (played by real-life twins Liz and Jean Segal) in this tale of two sisters where one's all this way and the other's all that way and it's just... "He said no!" Man, that's good stuff. Not to be confused with the 1992 film with the same title starring Peter Paul and David Paul as "Peter Jade" and "David Jade" or the Stevie Ray Vaughan band or, if you really want to get the full twin experience, watch Jean-Claude Van Damme as his own brother in Double Impact again.
9. BJ and the Bear
It began in 1978 but ran until 1981, so it makes the list. Trucker BJ rides around with his monkey named Bear (though, tragically, not a bear named Monkey), living a lifestyle the theme song specifically mentions allows one to avoid "property tax". Sadly, the show offered few other accounting tips, though it did feature Sheriff Lobo, who was given the spinoff series The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. Bizarre footnote: 1978 also saw the premiere of Any Which Way But Loose starring Clint Eastwood and “Clyde,” as the American Dream briefly changed from "Make a better living than my parents and have a family" to "Get a huge rig that I'll share with a creature who likes to throw poop."
10. Cop Rock
This musical about police debuted (and vanished) in 1990, but once you hear the arrested criminals "rapping" before Randy Newman appears at his piano you realize this is a show truly of the 80s, if only because the network execs must have done nostril-melting amounts of blow to think it was a good idea. When, in actuality, it was a great idea. Seriously, search YouTube for clips of this musical abomination and you’ll be uncomfortably entertained for minutes on end.