Coach: Season One
Over the years there have been more situation comedies on television that most people can grasp. In this large group some have become national treasures, others relegated to something most people would never watch. In between there are certain series that may have not been the crown jewel of the network but the quality of the series makes it a cult favorite. Standing on of the best of this category is Coach. Like most series of such standards the premise is simple yet it sets the stage for humor. Coach Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) is a man who wants little from life; coaching a successful football team, a calm love life with his girlfriend and no surprises from his adult daughter. The series depicts amidst the laughs just how these straightforward goals elude him. The team he is currently charged with coaching, the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles, has a illustrious past but recently has fallen to being the season losers. Hayden has to somehow bring the team back from this extended slump back to their glory days. His girlfriend Christine Armstrong (Shelley Fabares) is a strong willed career woman that expects her man to be more than something setting on the sofa watch football. His daughter Kelly (Clare Carey) has mostly lived apart from Hayden since he and his wife divorced. Now, she has come to Minnesota and much to Hayden’s chagrin, is dating an older man, Stuart Rosebrock (Kris Kamm), who just happens to be on the faculty at the college. For some help with his personal and professional problems Hayden has a small group of friends and coworkers to lean on. There is Assistant Coach Luther Horatio Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) who may always mean well but more often than not his assistance only serves to worsen the situation. Also on board is Dauber Dybinski (Bill Fagerbakke) a jock that perhaps should have been a little more careful wearing his helmet when he plays football. With a brain trust like Luther and Dauber around Hayden has no choice to but to end for himself. There is even a bit of a thorn in Hayden’s side care of Coach Judith Watkins (Pam Stone) who coaches the womens teams. She is always able and more than willing to point out any and all shortcoming in the Coach.
Much of the first season deals with Hayden’s attempts to keep the two women in his life, Christine and Kelly apart. For some reason he does not want his 18 year daughter to know that he is dating and Christine is adamant about him telling his daughter that they are together. Albeit, this is a typical sit-com forced situation but in the hands of the writers here there is a new feeling to the humor. Hayden also faces the dilemma that most fathers, me included have to face. His little girl is now growing into full adulthood and he is just not ready to realize that Kelly is dating an older man. Complicating one episode in the middle of the season is the appearance of the coach’s ex, Beth (Lenore Kasdorf). Since Hayden is not exactly the open communicator that Christine would like she is overly anxious to get a glimpse at her boyfriend’s former wife. Not all of the episodes concentrated on the Fox family. In one, ‘Gambling for Meat’ Hayden has to suspend Luther for betting on a game, against the team no less. Luther, being less than sharp thinks he is fired and takes another job.
What made this series so memorable is the fact that the characters, for all their zany situations, are real. It is not a stretch to consider a man devoted to football at the expense of his family. Just look in any home during Super Bowl Sunday and you will see the prototype for Hayden sitting on almost every couch in the nation. The series takes the usual formula used in countless sit-coms, zany neighbors, disgruntle spouse and rebellious teen and gives it a little twist that sets this series above the rest. The personal problems Hayden faces stem from him being a man that truly loves the game of football. He knows that he is the man that can restore the Eagles to glory but having to divide his attention between the woman he loves and his daughter just about drives him crazy.
Like so many success stories the cast is what really sets this series apart from the pack. Craig T. Nelson has been a working actor for decades. He may be best known for his part in Poltergeist but his career has brought him to every sort of role. He even did voice work for the lamented midnight flick, Flesh Gordon. Here he gets to show a lighter side to his talent. He is a really funny comedian with impeccable timing and a knack for physical comedy. He has an every day man quality about him that helps the audience to accept even the most implausible of circumstances. Shelley Fabares started out as the daughter in the 50’s stable, the Donna Reed show. She also did a stint as a pop music princess but here her ability in comedy shines. Her chemistry with Nelson is excellent, every little nuance perfectly set. Jerry Van Dyke has lived most of career in the shadow of his more famous brother Dick. This series demonstrates that physical humor must be a genetic trait. Van Dyke has a rubber face, stammering voice and body that is able to withstand the most painful looking pratfalls. He brings to Luther a simple man that shares the love of football with his friend and boss, Hayden. Luther may mess up more than most people but he has a heart of gold. Coming in at an impressive 6’6" Bill Fagerbakke is a huge hulk of a man. The blonde hair actor plays his character with compassion and never likes his limited intelligence get in the way of his good intensions. I was first impressed with his acting abilities in the ABC mini series ‘The Stand’ and saw what a good dramatic actor he was in ‘Oz’. Here he does what he was born to do, make us laugh and sympathize with his character.
Universal continues to open their extensive vaults of television series to bring the first season of this show to DVD. There are two variations of the set released, the regular one and a limited edition. The limited edition is packaged in a faux football playbook binder. Universal does try to think up novel ways to market sets and this one is fun. Since they are both the same price you should seek out the limited edition while it is still out there. The full screen video is acceptable. There are some slight signs of age with a few white flecks now and again and some of the color palette is muted but over all the video meets the standard for 80’s television sets. The mono audio is clear and gets the job done. For extras there is an episode from the second season as well as a little retrospective of 80’s television. This series is something the whole family will enjoy time and time again.