Thursday, September 12, 2013

Parker Lewis Can't Lose Season 1

Some shows disappear into obscurity for good reasons, and others get forgotten when they truly shouldn't.  Parker Lewis is definitely in the latter category.  I was nine years old when the show premiered, and I'm willing to admit that my initial attraction to the show had everything to do with cute guys.  Corin Nemec's dimples and Billy Jayne's rock star looks certainly got my interest and made me want to watch, but the quality of the show is really what held me there, and what makes the show enjoyable even many years later.

It was a prime time show, but would have felt just as easily at home on Saturday mornings thanks to its cartoonish feel. Creative camera angles, zany sound effects, and the trademark pixelized wipe leading to and from the commercial breaks gave the series a distinctive feel.  If the creators of Scrubs didn't watch this show, then it's just an extreme coincidence that they happen to create a single camera show with a lead character who frequently narrates to the audience and is known for flights of fancy.  While Parker Lewis certainly takes a large amount of influence from Ferris Bueller as a high school kid who always outsmarts his principal and is one step ahead of his younger sister, the show didn't take long to develop into its own unique twist on things.

The influences don't end there.  Jerry, Parker's freshman sidekick, wears a trademark grey trench coat that he can pull anything out of at a moment's notice.  Sound familiar?

But more than anything the show is just smart, funny, and at times really heartfelt.  While some of the early episodes rely a little too heavy on Deus Ex Machina to get everything back to normal at the end of the half hour, many of them are actually resolved logically if not always realistically.  Parker has cameras set up all over the school and seems to be able to convince news crews to record whatever he wants in order to assist in his latest scheme, but all that leads to the cartoonish quality of it all.  He's Bugs Bunny in brightly colored shirts, and it works.

The one character who is probably written the most inconsistently throughout the first season is Larry Kubiac.  They clearly wanted to use Abraham Benrubi as often as possible, and I don't blame them, as he's a great actor and has that wonderful imposing frame.  But he switches from being a bully (sometimes with a soft inside, sometimes not), a Of Mice and Men Lennie simpleton who only wants to eat, and a good guy who is more intelligent than his appearance suggests depending on what they need him to be that episode.  While it certainly shows off Benrubi's range it makes it a little confusing.  Especially when the rest of the show has a clear continuity, with references made to events in past episodes throughout the season.  I'll be interested to see when I get to my season 2 re-watch if they settle on a personality for him.

Like most first seasons, this one takes a little while to get its footing, but once it does it comes on strong.  I was particularly impressed with one of the later episodes that faced video game addiction.  I was ready to be annoyed with it, certainly.  So many 90s sitcoms had a "video game addiction" episode because it was the new popular media that people didn't understand.  This one starts off pretty similar - Jerry is shirking his school work and his commitments to his friends because he just can't stop.  The guys try a few different things to make him break the habit, and when none of them work, they finally gather up his cartridges and handhelds and plan to run them over with a steamroller.  Realizing he has a problem, Jerry volunteers to do it himself.  Having done so, Parker applauds his self control - and hands him a Game Gear.  He points out the benefits of video game playing, and their other best bud Mikey points out that it's not the game's fault, it's the person playing.  While the turnaround comes pretty late in the episode, I was glad to see them admit it all the same.

There's also no denying that this show is dated.  The clothes, the hairstyles, the fact that the guys wear swatches, the constant use of video tape and the fact that Parker's parents own a video store place it firmly in its time period.  Like a lot of early Fox shows, they also make references to the network and the other shows that were on at that time.  But I don't think any of those would make it impossible for someone to get into it now.  The show really has its own language, and there's a surprising number of guest stars here that help keep it surprising and entertaining.

My memory tells me that the show started to get lame once they gave Parker a steady girlfriend, which happens toward the end of the second season.  I have a sneaking suspicion that was just young me being jealous though, so I'm looking forward to watching those episodes and seeing how well it holds up.


  1. +JMJ+

    I really wish I could watch this one again! I got to watch the Pilot a short time ago and loved the straight-up shot of 90s nostalgia. =D

    What I noticed then that I didn't notice originally was how closely Parker resembles Ferris Bueller in spirit. (You may recall that we discussed this on Twitter?) I don't blame the producers for being inspired by Ferris, as I myself was convinced as a child that a movie with a title like Ferris Bueller's Day Off could only be a sequel and that there was at least one more Ferris Bueller movie out there . . . somewhere. =P So anything that starts out as Ferris FF is okay by me. But yes, I do believe that Parker Lewis Can't Lose eventually broke out of that box and found its own voice.

    Another thing I noticed for the first time as an adult was a slight frisson of attraction between Parker and Miss Musso. Ooooh, scandalous, right? =P But tell me I'm not the only one who saw it!

    1. I'm not sure what's worse - not having access to the seasons at all, or knowing that once I reach the end of Season 2, I'm not going to be able to get Season 3 because they didn't release that one on DVD. I guess I will have to measure that disappointment when I get there. (I was recently very disappointed to find out Just the Ten of Us never got any kind of DVD release, so I feel your pain!)

      I'm afraid I didn't see anything really between Parker and Miss Musso, but I did seem to notice more just how googly eyed Lemmer is for her at times. As scandalous as it would be, that pairing would still make more sense than the Jerry/Shelly one they tease at a couple times in the show.

    2. +JMJ+

      When the Just the Ten of Us episodes which had been on YouTube were pulled, I had hoped it was because a DVD release was imminent. Yeah, well, I'm still waiting . . . Now, I get why media companies don't want us watching stuff for free when they go to the trouble to put out quality DVD packages, but in that case, YouTube was the only alternative and they weren't losing any money.

      I guess I should clarify that I don't think Parker and Miss Musso would ever have done anything about their chemistry. But Parker strikes me as someone who enjoys a challenge--and Miss Musso definitely gives him that. I don't recall any of the girls he does date being interesting to him in the same way, though my memory could be faulty. On Miss Musso's end, I think she is more aware that if Parker were about a decade older, she'd be all over him. BUT, yes, I really should watch the entire first season again myself just to be sure. =)

      PS -- Before I forget again, "Bugs Bunny in brightly coloured shirts" is a perfect description of Parker! =D

    3. It's worth pointing out that there was a Ferris Bueller TV series, which premiered on NBC in the exact same fall 1990 season as Parker Lewis. Despite Ferris premiering a month earlier, it was cancelled after 13 episodes, with Parker crushing it in the ratings.

    4. I could have sworn I mentioned that in my review, but I guess I forgot to. They made a few sly references to the other show during the first season, making no secret both its original influences and its competition.

  2. +JMJ+

    So I finally watched that YouTube clip of the Ferris Bueller TV series . . .

    My first thought--which I'm sure was everyone else's first thought--was: "They're not even trying to make the guy look like Matthew Broderick." And then of course we get the bit with the chainsaw. =P I do like the meta-ness of it, but I find the "real" Ferris kind of smarmy. Who doesn't prefer Broderick?

    I also snickered at the idea that Jennifer Grey's real-life unfortunate nose job turned her into Jennifer Aniston . . . but that's about it. (And Grey also tops Aniston in the portrayal of the same character.)

    Anyway, I'm not surprised at all that Parker Lewis emerged the winner.


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