8 Simple Rules: Season 2
There are a lot of reasons that a reasonably successful television series would risk jumping the proverbial shark and institute major format or cast changes. Usually there is the old standby of artistic reasons. The writers or producers want to try for a different demographic resulting in the changes. Then there is a cast member leaving for greener pastures, a star of a popular series may naturally want to give feature films a whirl. Of all these reasons there is one that stands apart as the most regrettable possible; the death of one of the stars. In the case of the sit-com ‘8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter’. The series had a very successful freshman season but shortly into filming season two the star of the show John Ritter suddenly died of an aortic dissection on September 11, 2003. Out of respect for a talented comic actor and long time American television favorite the producers decided to sir his finale episodes as a testimony to this extremely gentle, funny man. In interviews after the tragic event his cast mates related how the tears seen in the episode depicting the death of Ritter’s character, Paul Hennessy, were real, the cast and crew truly felt the lost a member of the family. Kaley Cuoco who played the oldest daughter related a story of meeting Ritter during her audition and he fell right into a fatherly mode telling her to cover up her skimpy outfit. As she spoke to the interviewer you could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Most remember him from the classic sit-com ‘Three’s Company’ but John Ritter entertain audiences for many years both in TV and films. There was something about his personality that jumped off the screen making the audience like him as if he was a friend always there with a smile and reassuring word. Instead of just closing the series the producers took a huge risk and changed the direction of the series infusing a greater touch of human drama than a sit-com typical has in order to explore how a family reacts to the sudden death of the husband and father.
The second season started out pretty much as a continuation of the first; a light hearted look at the eternal battle between teenage daughters and their father. Bridget Hennessy (Kaley Cuoco) is one of the prettiest and most popular girls in school which is a source of constant aggravation for her father Paul (Ritter). Adding to his quagmire is the fact that his younger daughter Kerry (Amy Davidson) has begun to broaden her world from the diligent student to one with growing popularity on her own. Caught in the middle his Mom, Cate (Katey Sagal) who understands her daughter’s need to exert their individuality but also sympathizes with Paul’s over protective imperative. Trying to profit from the disruption is the youngest of the kids and only boy Rory (Martin Spanjers). At the close of the previous season Bridget had started to date the son of the obnoxious neighbors but he was a student at the naval academy so it became her first serious long distance relationship. Used to always going out she is tempted by the new guy in school complete with motorcycle and a bad boy reputation. In the fourth episode her father goes out to pick up batteries and has a fatal heart attack in the store. Considering this is a light hearted sit-com they handled this all too real theme extremely tastefully with just a touch of properly placed and fully appropriate humor. All at once the series became about a family facing a drastic and tragic loss but the cast and crew were up to the challenge.
This also provided the opportunity to make some changes in the cast. Cate’s recently divorced father Jim (James Garner) to move in to help out. In order to provide a new direction for humor the looser cousin, CJ (David Spade) also moves in. Initially CJ’s free spirited and lackadaisical attitudes were a bad influence on the Hennessey kids but through the course of the season he begins to mature and is able to help Cate out. Everyone has to undergo change this season. Cate begins to recover from the initial shock and begins to consider dating again. Kerry becomes more popular and even winds up dating Bridget’s ex boyfriend which completely alters the dynamic between the sisters. Life goes on in the household and the family gets by.
As the series was able to move past the death some familiar plots and themes were able to be presented. In one episode Rory inadvertently brings home a drug sniffing dog that reacts to a joint in Kerry’s bag. This not only offers the usual afterschool just say no talk but helps to show some of the potentially negative side of new found popularity. Bridget gets to grow beyond the ditzy blond persona when she gets the lead in the school’s production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. At first she thinks it about reading a teenage girl’s diary but when she discovers the try depth of the story she raises to the occasion much to the pleasant surprise of everyone. The family dynamic shifts when the family joins the local YMCA. Bridget gets a job as a life guard and much to her grandfather’s ire the guys flock around her making passes. Jim decks one of the men and Cate has to show him Bridget can defend herself because of her upbringing. The series was forced to drastically change but all things considering it continued to deport itself well