Fond Nostalgia for “Charles in Charge”

CiC

It’s funny that even today when my taste is a lot more discerning, I’m very prone to experimenting with television shows. I’m extremely judgmental towards reality shows, but when it applies to sitcoms or animation, I’m very open minded. If you’ve ever seen an “original” sitcom from Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite line up, you’ll know that you really have to be experimental to watch what they feed their audience. Their sitcoms are shockingly safe, often very bland, and have yet to really break any ground in entertainment. We had a claymation family show, a show about a step mother, and “See Dad Run” which was Scott Baio doing sitcoms again. The show was pretty mediocre all things considered, and I’m not too shocked it’s being cancelled by Nick at Nite.

It’s been the network’s most popular show, and that’s saying a lot about the quality of Nickelodeon’s output with family shows. If you’ve ever seen it, you’re better off just avoiding it altogether. It’s about as bafflingly surreal as the Jim Belushi sitcom, but occasionally had humorous moments that showed the series had pure potential to be pretty good. The only pit fall was Scott Baio who tried way too hard to be wacky and outrageous. I don’t know if Baio made this decision or if the writers forced him to, but Baio takes a lot of shots at being comical and wacky, and fails big time.

Everything else about “See Dad Run” was pretty inspired and had a lot of seeds planted to be laugh out loud funny on many occasions. Yes, I’ve sat through many episodes of the series because it’s a fascinating oddity I couldn’t help watching. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. Baio surrounds himself with funny people in the series, and yet the show never uses them to their full effect. The show seemed built around Baio, which would explain the constant references to John Stamos and Ted McGinley. Unless you’re aware of Baio’s career, you won’t understand these in-jokes.

I’m not particularly someone that dislikes Baio. When was a child I thought Chachi was cool, and “Charles in Charge” has been one of my favorite sitcoms of all time. Yes, it’s very much an eighties series, but I loved it as a kid, and I still really enjoy watching it. That’s a series built around Baio that kept him more of a straight man and moral center, and he worked much better there than he did in “See Dad Run.” What do you do when you want a memorable eighties sitcom? Team up two ex-teen icons, of course.“Charles in Charge” was an eighties gem that managed to breath new life in to the career of Scott Baio. He was paired with Willie Aames who was known for his role in the family show “Eight is Enough.”

When Baio’s “Happy Days” momentum ended, Baio eventually returned to television again as Charles, a lovable and very admirable live in babysitter who roomed in the basement of the house he was employed in. The series managed to live two lives. One on CBS, and then in syndication for its final three seasons, when it was re-tooled with much more success. Charles was a studious and very well read young man who went to college and often cared for the kids of the family that agreed to let him live with them, rather than on campus.From there, Charles often learned about life and would help the kids he cared for, teaching them about following the rules, and avoiding getting in to trouble.

The first half of “Charles in Charge” was a lighter and more dramatic sitcom. Charles cared for the Pembrokes, a trio of upscale children named the Pembrooks, while dealing with his classmate and best friend Buddy. The tone for this half of the series is much different, as star Willie Aames was more of a comedic second man who hung out with Charles in his favorite Pizza place, where much of the series’ scenarios occurred.For Season two when the show was re-tooled, Charles returned from Vacation to find out the PemBrokes were moving away, and he was without a job. Through convenient and lucky circumstance he manages to meet the Powells, a trio of children whose mother and grandfather cared for them while their dad was away serving in the military.

Among the two daughters, one is rebellious, one is a bit of a book worm, and the young son is tough to handle, and Charles manages to break their shells in a matter of a day. Of course, Charles being the lovable character of the show, eventually bonds with the two young daughters and bratty youngest son of the family, and is re-hired as the family’s babysitter. Among the children, were a young Nicole Eggert who later went on to become a “Baywatch” girl. I experienced “Charles in Charge” during syndication here in New York’s WPIX, and watched it every Saturday. I only ever remember seeing Charles bidding goodbye to the kids he cared for, and then meeting the Powells. From there, the show garnered a much wackier and comedic tone, with the Powells being a very different kind of family from the Pembrokes.

They were louder, funnier, and gave Charles much more trouble. Charles and Buddy’s haunt changed from a pizza place to a retro-fifties diner Charles’ mom (Ellen Travolta) owned. To boot, Aames returned as a goofier and more over the top Buddy, who delivered a good portion of the comedy. Lucky for Baio and Aames, they had unique comic chemistry. If you ever saw “Zapped!” this wasn’t their first outing as co-stars, and they made “Charles in Charge” something of a lovable comedy, with Buddy acting as a Jerry Lewis clown who would often play well off of Baio, the straight man. The show would often allow Aames to break loose comically, showing how tough it was for Baio to keep a straight face, most times.

In one episode Buddy runs at a phone to pick it up and completely rockets off the set. The show offered some interesting down to Earth episodes, and some wacky ones. In a two parter, Charles hits his head and becomes Chaz, the very opposite of his character who leaves the family and becomes a complete jerk, and in my favorite episode of the series, Buddy becomes a DJ for a day at the Yesterday Cafe Charles’ mom owns, and does everything possible to fill air time when he’s not playing music.

It’s just insanely funny. The show garnered many guest stars like Matthew Perry, Meg Ryan, and Paul Walker respectively, as well as Mindy Kohn who guest starred as Buddy’s sister who ends up becoming an alcoholic. The show ended in 1990 when Charles went off to college, in a touching finale, and the cast went on to varying degrees of success, including Eggert. Scott Baio went on to co-star in the hit medical drama “Diagnosis Murder,” while Willie Aames left acting behind for the most part and became a hardcore Christian.

Most notably, the producers went on to create two other really good nanny based family shows, that, while just retreads of their former concepts were fun in their own right. There was “The Nanny” for CBS which managed to garner a long life on the network, and most recently the funny “Jessie” for Disney. If you’re anyone who remembers fondly watching Scott Baio teach the meaning of right and wrong, “Charles in Charge” will always have a place in the sitcom hall of fame. I still love it without shame, even with nutty Willie Aames.