Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mr. Belvedere Finally Returns

According to The Onion AV Club, Mr. Belvedere is finally making its long-overdue arrival in DVD March 17th, just in time to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Bob Uecker. And so to celebrate this momentous occasion I present the latest installment of the fitfully running..


What if a posh British butler showed up at the doorstep of a two-career family in suburban Pittsburgh and they decided to welcome him as one of their own? What if a drunk Russian cosmonaut showed up at the doorstep of a down-on-its-luck sorority in southern California and they decided to welcome him as one of their own? What if amnesiac Harlem Globetrotters Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal showed up at the doorstep of unsupervised geriatric patients in--what the hell?--Jupiter, Florida and they decided to welcome them as one of their own?

No doubt the creators of Mr. Belvedere arrived at ABC Studios with an armful of such high-concept pitches, only to ultimately settle on the one they lifted wholesale from a 1948 Clifton Webb movie (since nothing connects with the average American viewer like an effete, studio system-era comedy of manners). The resulting series was initially conceived as a star vehicle for Bob Uecker, a one-time godawful baseball player who had found latter-day success as a spokesman for a series of funny 1980's Miller Lite commercials (back when beer commercials made you laugh with them, not make you want to hurl something at them). The theme song was performed by Leon Redbone, a jazz and blues musician who also had found renewed fame in a 1980's Budweiser commercial. In fact, so prevalent were beer commercials in the minds of programmers and viewers alike back in the eighties that one can only imagine what prevented the world from ever witnessing Spuds McKenzie, MD, a sitcom about the new doctor at the veterinarian hospital who--wait for it--is also a former patient.

The basic plot--stranger is taken aback by real or makeshift family only to eventually become a member of said family--is a standard sitcom device, used to great effect in Cheers, Mary Tyler Moore and--most regrettably--Hogan's Heroes. Mr. Belvedere also employed the standard sitcom device of having the main character reflect on what he or she has learned from each episode's events in the form of a diary or confessional. It was a move first popularized by Mork in his reports to Orson, then later revisted when Doogie Howser shared his thoughts on a 12K Commodore computer. But undoubtedly the best use of the "confessional" device came in the final episode of St. Elsewhere, when we learned that not only was the entire series the product of a mentally-handicapped child's imagination, but that the mentally-handicapped child was, in actuality, a character in the alternate-universe diary Roseanne was writing in the final episode of her series, only for Bob Newhart to wake up from that dream next to Suzanne Pleshette...who was, in truth, time traveller Sam Beckett, who sadly just had found out that not only was he never going to leap back into his own body but that he was, in fact, Number One.

In short, Mr. Belvedere was very much a standard sitcom. This is in no way meant to be a slight at the series or those involved. I remember catching an episode or two during my college summers and finding the show humorous enough. I also remember thinking that the actor playing youngest son Wesley could portray the stock wisecracking, conniving child character without me ever wishing any real harm on the character or actor. But Mr. Belvedere was clearly one of those sitcoms that people remember being on the air but don't necessarily remember sitting down to watch, much like Charles in Charge. Sure, whenever you see the name Charles in Charge you involuntarily launch into its theme song ("Charles in Charge of our days and our nights/Charles in Charge of our wrongs and our rights"). But do you ever remember hanging out with your friends only to exclaim, "Holy shit! It's time for Charles in Charge!" ("Charles in Charge of our days and our nights/Charles in Charge of our wrongs and our rights") Do you ever remember saying after your best friend/goofball sidekick did something stupid, "Oh man, you are so like Buddy...from Charles in Charge." ("Charles in Charge of our days and our nights/Charles in Charge of our wrongs and our rights") Do you ever wonder how a person who says he can't recall ever watching Charles in Charge ("Charles in Charge of our days and our nights/Charles in Charge of our wrongs and our rights") not only remembers the name of Willie Aames' character but actually remembers that the character was played by Willie Aaames--without the benefit of Google? Sure, you can understand him fondly recalling fellow cast member Nicole Eggert, but Willie Aaaames?! Perhaps all this is my mind's roundabout way of telling me that this episode of Sitcom Theme Music instead should have been about Charles in Charge ("Charles in Charge of our days and our nights/Charles in Charge of our wrongs and our rights").

But it's about Mr. Belvedere, a pleasant sitcom so standard we wound up discussing everything but Mr. Belvedere...which may be the truest summary of this mid-to-late 8o's show we can give. So sit back and enjoy the opening credits and theme song. Then later ask yourself, "I wonder whatever happened to the actors who portrayed the mom and kids on Mr. Belvedere." Then ask yourself, "I wonder whatever happened to the actress who played the teenage daughter on ALF." Then ask yourself, "I wonder whatever happened to the entire cast of Mama's Family." Keep doing this. Eventually you'll go mad with concern.


FS said...

The daughter from ALF was also on Whiz Kids. With Wojo from Barney Miller! And the kid from Little House on the Prairie!

daria said...

I watched it fairly religiously, because it was on after Growing Pains, and I was a teenage girl who had a crush on that Christian freak Kirk Cameron.

Tony said...

Hmm... I watched it regularly, and I never ever watched growing pains. This means I must have actually turned the TV on to watch Mr. Belvedere, or at lest changed channels. Hmmm.

I seem to recall that the actor playing Mr. Belvedere was the guy who had replaced Tattoo on Fantasy Island. Which at the time was scandalous because he rang that bell by PUSHING A BUTTON, which was obviously totally bogus.

chiasaur11 said...

All I know is that Mr. Belvedere was frequently insulted on Sledge Hammer.

Rays profile said...

Hey, if you want to see Bob Uecker's best work, go see Major League where he plays the radio announcer, Harry Doyle (JUST a bit outside!)

Or catch him in his summer day job - where he's been the play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers since the early 1970s. Why stay there instead of going to a bigger market? He's a Milwaukee native. (Uecker did some games for ABC in the 80s.)

Unknown said...

The only episode of Mr. Belvedere that I recall clearly was one where the dad got a pinball machine, and Belvedere became obsessed with it. "I will be king! King of the bygone era!" he trumpeted.

Toonhead said...

3rd paragraph is pure pop culture reference gold. A nice break from writing copy for a Power Point presentation on parasites.