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Happy Days Season One Episode One All The Way

Happy Days is one of those shows that has just become ingrained in our popular culture in ways that many people may not even realize. When a show has turned a corner where it has been around too long and as a result the episodes become more and more ridiculous, we say it has jumped the shark. This is a direct reference to an infamous Happy Days episode. And the show did become a mill for catchphrases and ridiculous setups. Many people don't realize that Robin Williams' character Mork from Ork was introduced in Happy Days (in an episode that turned out to have been a dream, or was it?). Given how very schlocky the show became, one might be surprised by the early episodes.

The show actually began as an unsold pilot, that was recycled as a standalone episode in the anthology show Love, American Style. This episode was seen by a little known indie director by the name of George Lucas (that's not sarcasm, this was way before Star Wars) who was casting his next movie American Graffiti. He saw Ron Howard in that pilot and cast him in his movie, which was a very similar premise. This made ABC decide to take another look at Happy Days, and it was picked up.

Like I mentioned before, this first episode, and in fact all of season one and most of season two, don't feel like the rest of the show. While the show was always set in the late 50's/early 60's, later seasons felt like a very modern version of the period. These early episodes made more of an effort to replicate the period. Where later Fonzie was a catchphrase machine who was center stage in most stories, here he was someone who was mostly silent and on the periphery. He didn't even have his black leather jacket yet, instead going for a less dangerous looking tan windbreaker. The opening song is even different, using Bill Haley and the Comets' Rock Around the Clock, which would later be replaced by the Happy Days theme song.

The story has to do with Ritchie getting set up on a date by Potsie with Mary Lou, a girl who has a reputation. Potsie says she even once dated a sailor. Potsie has also scored Ritchie a copy of I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane so that Ritchie an read it to Mary Lou to get her in the mood. Ritchie does his best to put the moves on her, but Mary Lou doesn't do more than kissing. Ritchie first lies to everyone about having gone all the way, but his conscience gets the better of him and he comes clean. There's really not much story there, and the episode does rely heavily on nostalgia and getting the details right to make people remember what it was like at the time. Fonzie doesn't speak until the end, there not a catchphrase to be heard, and no ridiculous situations to be seen. What the episode has that is missing from later seasons is charm. I can understand why the focus of the show changed, but I do think it's a shame that it gave up the things that to me make it special in order to serve up broader comedy. Of course, this season served as a template for things like The Wonder Years which came later and did a better job of sticking to its premise. And not many shows are as good as this episode, even for a single season.


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