The Caste System Of TV - Macleans.ca

The Caste System Of TV

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I’ll have more to say about season 1 of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, and the visual and comedic cliches that this show invented and are still in use today, closer to the release date. I will say that the show remains a whole lot of fun, and that the DVD appears to be free from the issues that have plagued recent Shout Factory releases: the music seems to be in place where I have been able to make comparisons with the aired versions; the episodes appear to be original-length (there’s one episode that’s shorter than the others, but I checked the broadcast version posted on YouTube and it was the same length), and the picture quality is acceptable for a 1990-1 show that was shot on 16 mm film.

There’s a making-of documentary lasting nearly a half-hour and multiple episode commentaries; the participants include creators Clyde Phillips (now running Dexter) and Lon Diamond, line producer Robert Lloyd Lewis, who seems to have been as responsible as anyone for getting this show to look so good on a tiny budget (he went on to do the same job on Weird Science and Dexter), the show’s chief director, Bryan Spicer, and just about every major cast member except, strangely, Melanie Chartoff.

As I said, I’ll have more comments on the show later, but one thing that I found refreshing on revisiting it was that it’s almost free from the main cliché of every high school show that followed it: the “caste system” or “social hierarchy.” Not that caste systems don’t exist in high school (there’s some truth in every cliché), but it’s become almost an absolute rule that high schools are divided into different classes, that certain people or groups of people are outcasts, and that High School Is Hell. This wasn’t always the rule in high school stories; one person who helped to make it the rule was John Hughes, who, of course, was sort of ripped off by the premise of Parker Lewis. But Parker portrays a high school that’s not only fun, but where the characters’ problems mostly have nothing to do with the issue of what group or clique you belong to. (There is an episode about Parker’s evil sister joining a Heathers-type group of mean girls, but that’s one episode, not a series-long idea.) The premise is that a cool popular kid, a rebel and a nerd not only hang out together and are “best buds,” but nobody thinks this is weird or unconventional. Mikey and Jerry would fit right in with, respectively, the Freaks and the Geeks, but they’re not outcasts.

Not that this show didn’t use clichés, but the high school cliché it uses is an older one: the kids team up against the forces of authority that want to stifle kids and make them boring. (Any Canadian who grew up reading the Bruno and Boots books will find that Parker’s friendship with Jerry reminds them a little of Bruno and Boots’ friendship with Elmer Drimsdale.) Not that every high school show has to be like that, but not every high school show has to be about kids instituting class divisions and making outcasts of anyone who’s different, and yet almost every high school show today is like that. Let’s have some older clichés for a change.