Happy Days: Season Three
In the mid seventies there was one show that was a must see for just about everyone, ‘Happy Days’. Just about everybody in the family could find something to like with this series. Event the very picky ‘twenty somethings’ of the time made time to watch. My wife and I would have dinner with friends in the very bohemian Greenwich Village and afterwards we would gather to watch this show. ‘Happy Days’ was a humorous and light hearted look back at life in the fifties. This was nothing like the sit-coms of that decade, most of the time it was a great parody of them. This series was more groundbreaking than most people give it credit for. It changed its format to accommodate the preferences of the audience, it provided positive role models and still entertained and ultimately it gave rise to the phrase ‘jump the shark’. It also gave rise to more than its share of spin offs including ‘Laverne & Shirley’. ‘Mork & Mindy’ and ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ as well as several animated shows. In fact ‘Happy Days’ was a spin off itself starting as an episode of ‘Love American Style’. Now the third and most pivotal season of the series is released on DVD by Paramount.
Primarily the series centers on the Cunningham family. Howard (Tom Bosley) is the father who supports his family as the owner of a hardware store. His wife Marion (Marion Ross) like most women in the fifties is a stay at home mom. Their eldest son Chuck, a minor character in the first two seasons just disappears for no reason. Many wondered if he was locked in the basement or just ran off. Ritchie (Ron Howard) was the good boy, always helpful, a true friend and all round nice guy. The youngest was daughter Joanie (Erin Moran) who is entering her teen years in this season. Almost always in attendance are Ritchie’s two best friends Ralph Malph (Donny Most) who was always thinking up some ill fated scam and sidekick Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) who was not the sharpest knife in the draw. One of the changes in this season was the introduction of a new character, "Arnold" Takahashi (Pat Morita), He owned and operated the popular ten hangout, "Arnold’s" where the guys and girls would gather after school.
This season starts out with a major change, not only in the focus on the characters but also the direction of the series. The character of Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) was originally a very minor role. He was a drop out and former gang member who came around Arnold’s every so often. In the first episode here he moves into an apartment above the Cunningham’s garage. The reason given was the hardware store was in a slump and Howard felt the family needed an extra source of income. Against his father’s wishes Ritchie rents the space to Fonzie. The reason for this was simple. The Fonze had become the very definition of a breakout character. He audience loved his cool almost supernatural manner and wanted more of him. It could get a free play on a jukebox or pinball machine with just a smack of his hand. With his leather jacket over a plain white tee shirt and tight blue jeans the ladies loved him and the guys wanted to be him. Of course it was a brown leather jacket, black seemed too tough for family television. This change in the character structure also resulted in an alteration of the opening them song. Initially the song "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets was used as the series theme. In this season the closing theme ‘Happy Days’ was promoted to main theme and even was released as a successful single. The all important billing order was changed so that Winkler was shown in second place right after Howard. In the opening montage every other shot is one of Fonzie demonstrating his more important role in the stories. Fonzie soon became more of a big brother to Ritchie and a honorary member of the Cunningham family. Only Marion called him by his real name of Arthur, denoting her acceptance of him more as a son than a tenant. May be she felt bad about Chuck, the son then would never mention again.
The look and feel of the series also underwent a major change in the third season. The first two seasons were produced like most sit-coms of the day with a single camera and a post production laugh track added. With the growing popularity the network decided a change was warranted. They switched to the more expensive three camera format. This permitted multiple angles in a single take. This also made it possible to film the series in front of a live audience and does away with the horrible laugh track.
Story arcs that span more than one episode were rare for sit-coms back in the seventies. ‘Happy Days’ had one that ironically foreshadows their infamous jump the shark moment. In the two part episode ‘Fearless Fonzarelli’ the Fonz is upset, sure that he is loosing his defining characteristic, his cool. In order to regain his confidence and social status Fonzie decides to break a world’s record by jumping his motorcycle over 14 garbage cans. This is such a big event that it will be covered by the popular television show, ‘You Wanted To see It’. This faux series was modeled after a real fifties reality show, ‘You Asked For It’. Watching it again you can’t help but to think a couple of years later Fonzie would once again have to prove himself by jumping a great white shark in season five.
This series was good old fashion fun to watch. One of the reasons for this was the way the cast interacted; they certainly looked as if they enjoyed their roles. Ron Howard had literally grown up on television first in Mayberry and finally here. He would ultimately leave to become one of the most successful directors in Hollywood. Here it is easy to see what made him so good behind the camera; he understood the demands of being an actor and was smart enough to look at the behind the scenes work. With his trademark read hair and big grin he was the proverbial nice guy. He had an easy going way of fitting in to his role and make Ritchie a beloved character. Henry Winkler would also go on to a lot of work as a director and producer. Here he was the series. Most people tuned in each week to see the almost magical Fonzie do his thing. Marion Ross was a transitional television mother. Like the fifties housewives she portrayed here she was devoted to her family. She also had an anachronistic touch of feminine independence that gave her appeal to the women of the seventies. Showing a real flair for comedy here was Pat Morita. He was the right combination of grumpy and understanding like anybody who owned a teen hangout would have to have.
Almost anyone would love to explore the television vault over at Paramount. While that opportunity is very unlikely we do have one consolation. They have been releasing season sets of the best they have to offer. Like other series of this time the video is in full screen. The colors are far better than I remember them and make this set worth owning. The Dolby Stereo audio is crisp and perfect. The only extra here is a bit of a cheat. It is the clip show from this season billed as the second anniversary of the series. The phrase ‘entertaining for the whole family’ has been used many time but in this case it is true.