Point out “Pleased Days” to TV viewers of a sure age (raises hand) and the very first thing they bear in mind is perhaps not an episode or a scene or a catchphrase however a lunchbox. I’m particularly considering of a cool Thermos-brand one — that includes Henry Winkler because the present’s pop-phenom greaser, Arthur Fonzarelli, a.ok.a. Fonzie, a.ok.a. the Fonz — which luckier ’70s children than I acquired to schlep their PBJs to highschool in and which is now in the collection of the Smithsonian.
To recollect “Pleased Days” is to recollect your youth, which was additionally the operate of “Pleased Days” when it premiered in 1974. Nicely, at the least it type of was. Ostensibly the present appealed to grown-ups who have been younger throughout its time interval — roughly, the mid-50s to mid-60s, over 11 seasons. However a few of its most ardent followers have been the lunchbox-toters toddling down another person’s reminiscence lane.
Now “Pleased Days” is 50 years outdated. Or is it? Time will get fuzzy while you enter the “Pleased Days”-verse. In some methods the collection by no means ended; it was simply handed down via the tradition like a classic varsity jacket. It was repurposed as a nostalgia object by the Spike Jonze video for Weezer’s 1994 single “Buddy Holly.” In 1998, “That ’70s Present” set its personal reverie, like “Pleased Days,” amongst a gang of teenage pals in Wisconsin. Final 12 months, that collection’s sequel, “That ’90s Present,” created a ’90s model of the ’70s model of the ’50s.
If all this math is an excessive amount of, all you want to know is that there are solely ever two durations in pop-culture nostalgia. There may be Then (easy, harmless, enjoyable), and there may be Now (scary, corrupt, complicated). Finally, Now turns into one other Now’s Then, and the cycle repeats. “Pleased Days” was nostalgic as a result of the youngsters weren’t smoking weed. “That ’70s Present” was nostalgic as a result of the youngsters have been smoking weed. We rock across the clock and across the calendar, returning ever once more to the start.
“Pleased Days” didn’t invent this type of rosy retrospective reminiscence. However as a mass phenomenon, it was the present that cut up the atom of nostalgia and acquired us unstuck in time.
The creator of the extra well-known “Pleased Days,” Garry Marshall, was requested to develop a interval comedy for ABC. (A part of the considering, he once recalled, was that you simply couldn’t make an “trustworthy” present about ’70s teenagers that might cross the community censors.) He based mostly the premise on his personal youth, transposing his Bronx neighborhood to Milwaukee.
The present was additionally half of a bigger counterprogramming resolution to lean into feel-good, escapist sitcoms to counter CBS’s dominant lineup of socially related comedies (“M*A*S*H” on battle, “All within the Household” and “Maude” on tradition battle, “The Mary Tyler Moore Present” on feminism).
Within the Cunningham family, mom Marion (Marion Ross) whipped up biscuits and customary sense, whereas father Howard (Tom Bosley) chuckled in his cardigan sweater in regards to the children as of late. Their naïve teen son Richie (Ron Howard) and his pals Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most) schemed to get their arms on a set of wheels and to “go all the best way” with gum-snapping women. (Richie had a youthful sister, Joanie, performed by Erin Moran; his older brother, Chuck, performed by a number of actors, went the best way of Amelia Earhart someplace in Season 2.) Any hormonal antics often ended with a healthful lesson and perhaps a milkshake getting dumped in somebody’s lap.
“Pleased Days,” in a method, was the ’70s utilizing the ’50s to repudiate the ’60s, or at the least the divisive aftermath of them that fueled the one-liners in Archie Bunker’s front room. It mythologized Center America as a good place the place children necked in parked automobiles and everybody was primarily good and blissful, the place household life was a pleasant tussle, not a battle. The premiere 12 months, 1974, would see Richard Nixon’s resignation and the start of the Gerald Ford years. “Pleased Days” was a guess that the TV viewers needed a breather from controversy.
And what brings a divided nation of TV watchers collectively? TV. By 1974, tv was lastly sufficiently old to turn out to be nostalgic for itself.
So “Pleased Days” was a present about TV, or at the least in regards to the first TV technology. America first met Ron Howard as a toddler star of black-and-white TV, as Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Present.” The first pilot of “Pleased Days” aired in 1972 as “Love and the Tv Set” (later retitled “Love and the Pleased Days”), an episode of the ABC anthology “Love American Fashion” in regards to the Cunninghams’ turning into the primary household on their block to get a TV.
(This early model, curiously, was far more Norman Lear-like than the eventual collection. Right here, Chuck Cunningham — an amiable jock in “Pleased Days” — refuses to say grace at dinner as a result of he’s questioning faith, whereas Howard Cunningham, performed right here by Harold Gould, is shocked to see “a coloured man” — the mail man — sitting in his chair on the household’s TV-viewing celebration.)
The Nineteen Fifties have been when TV began telling American households easy methods to be American households. The story could have been a lie — and should have neglected a variety of precise households — however individuals needed to consider it.
The Cunninghams of “Pleased Days” spend their evenings watching Uncle Miltie and professional wrestling. When Richie needs to purchase a used jalopy, Howard factors to the Nelson boys of “Ozzie and Harriet”: “David and Ricky don’t have a automobile.” Within the Season 1 finale, Howard decides to construct a yard bomb shelter as a result of he was upset by an Edward R. Murrow particular on the Chilly Battle.
The Cunninghams reproduce the ’50s sitcom nuclear household, however additionally they replace it, only a contact, discovering a compromise place between the Nelsons and the Bunkers. Marion is a dutiful homemaker, however she speaks her personal thoughts. Howard is an old school grump, however he’s too good to ever go full Archie. The youngsters insurgent, a bit, however they’re pushed by hormones, not beliefs. In a second-season episode in regards to the election of 1956, Richie defies his Republican father to help Adlai Stevenson — however solely to impress a lady.
Just like the previous itself, “Pleased Days” is healthier fondly remembered than rewatched. The primary few seasons are the present at its finest, candy and fluffy and enjoyable. Winkler, specifically, is astonishing. His early appearances have little dialogue; he does his speaking principally with appears to be like and gestures, like a leather-jacket mime.
However because it grew to become successful, “Pleased Days” changed into a crowd-service machine. The ever-more common Fonzie grew to become the Monster That Ate Milwaukee. A Season 5 episode wherein he water-ski-jumped over a shark grew to become a metaphor for the purpose at which an excellent present goes unhealthy.
Actually, there was an entire college of fins within the water. There have been melodramatic particular episodes. The catchphrases metastasized (“Aaaay!” “Sit on it!”). Marshall, appearing on his son’s request that he add an alien to the present, forged the frenetic Robin Williams in a visitor spot as Mork from Ork, who would later head up “Mork & Mindy.” (“Pleased Days” additionally spun off “Laverne & Shirley” and “Joanie Loves Chachi,” amongst a number of others.)
The collection’s legacy, although, is greater than the sum of its sharks. It harnessed the cultural pull of reminiscence, and it anticipated how the previous would turn out to be extra inescapable the extra of it was captured on video.
Supercharged by TV, American nostalgia developed layers, like a front room wallpapered as soon as a decade. The 2020s look again to the Nineteen Nineties which regarded again to the Seventies which regarded again to the Nineteen Fifties. Of the numerous causes that nostalgia by no means ends, the largest could also be that it’s chasing a fantasy, which is all the time at the least one technology out of grasp.
That is additionally what makes it potent, and never simply as leisure. The Nineteen Fifties have been lionized by conservatives within the Reagan Eighties; the imagined previous is what places the “Once more” in “Make America Nice Once more.” (Nostalgia isn’t robotically reactionary as an artwork kind — “Pleased Days” was mildly ’70s centrist if it had any ideology in any respect — however it’s a harder match with the progressive excellent of society advancing over time.)
The current can’t compete with a reminiscence, particularly a selective one. Because the critic John Leonard wrote, reviewing the “Pleased Days” premiere in The Occasions below the pen identify Cyclops: “The fifties have been additionally a time when Joe McCarthy’s jugenbund ran round firing the academics in our faculties and the actors on our screens; when Egypt and Israel had one other battle; when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary; when Adlai Stevenson was ridiculed by Richard Nixon for proposing an finish to A-bomb and H‐bomb testing. Pleased days!”
“Pleased Days,” atypically, as soon as made this level itself — via, of all characters, Mork. In 1979, with “Mork & Mindy” now a large hit, Robin Williams returned to “Pleased Days” for a fifth anniversary special, wherein Mork traveled again in time to go to an period “when life was less complicated, when issues have been humdrum.”
A lot of the episode is a typical clip particular. Mork makes use of telepathy to summon characters’ recollections, within the type of scenes from the sitcom’s first 5 years. Nevertheless it takes a flip on the finish, when he studies his findings again to his Orkan superior, Orson (voiced by Ralph James).
The “Pleased Days” period, Mork says, was “an exquisite, naïve and romantic time.” However he provides that, when he reads his hosts’ minds, “All of them appear to dam out one factor”: McCarthy, the senator from the Cunninghams’ dwelling state of Wisconsin who spent his early Nineteen Fifties whipping up a pink scare in Washington, D.C. “I suppose that’s why it’s so romantic,” Mork says, “as a result of they by no means bear in mind the unhappy issues.”
Within the 5 many years since 1974, TV nostalgia has turn out to be extra plentiful and extra complicated. “The Marvel Years” was bittersweet (and ultimately acquired its personal reboot to diversify and complicate it). “Freaks and Geeks” gave us adolescence as fondly remembered torture. “Mad Males” savored its midcentury swellegance whereas telling us that nostalgia is “the ache from an outdated wound” and that the concept of the harmless previous is a superb American gross sales job. There may be even a sort of TV anti-nostalgia, seen in reclaimed-pop-history tales like “Pam & Tommy,” which flatter viewers members with their superiority to the unevolved denizens of the previous.
The reality on the coronary heart of all these exhibits, although, is similar because it was within the days of Richie and the Fonz. Half of what makes our bygone blissful days blissful is what we bear in mind of them. The opposite half is what we overlook.