Phil Rosenthal, in his memoir and most recently in his podcast interview with Marc Maron, likes to talk about his first writing job in Hollywood. It was on a sitcom called A Family For Joe, starring Robert Mitchum as a homeless man who is recruited by a family of adorable orphans to pose as their grandfather so they won’t be taken away by child services. (I wrote that description several ways, and in none of them did it sound like anything but a parody of bad family-friendly television. Insensitive take on the hot-button issue of homelessness + killing people’s parents to set up a comedy with family-friendly lessons? Yes, it’s 1990 all right.) He talks a lot about how bad the show was, how it de-fanged Mitchum from the very first shot, how nobody on set seemed to know or care about Mitchum’s glorious career. But I’d never seen the thing until someone put up a few episodes on YouTube. Then I discovered the show not only had Mitchum, but a young Ben Savage and a young Juliette Lewis – who a couple of years later would be in Cape Fear, a remake of one of Mitchum’s movies.
It’s every bit as bad as Rosenthal’s description makes it sound, so the one thing to enjoy is how much Mitchum clearly does not love the adorable orphans and how completely he signals his boredom with the whole thing. Rosenthal says that he tried to introduce The Night of the Hunter to the cast and crew and was depressed when they laughed at it. But the show itself only works if you assume Mitchum is really playing the same guy from Night of the Hunter and is plotting to murder all these people after the cheesy synth music dies down and the credits roll.