Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Classic TV: Mork & Mindy (1978)

To think that a mere episode of Happy Days touched off a cultural phenomenon.

Viewers were introduced to a wacky alien named Mork (Robin Williams, ex-The Richard Pryor Show), who wanted to bring back a human to his homeworld, Ork. Of course, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) would have none of that, but it turned out to be a sort-of dream. Or was it?

It wasn't long before ABC decided that Mork merited his own series, set in the present day, hence the debut of Mork & Mindy, which premiered in September 1978, airing on Thursdays, occupying the slot formerly held by Welcome Back, Kotter. Instead of returning to Milwaukee (although he'd do that early on for a 1-shot), Mork now settles in Boulder, Colorado, his egg-shaped spacecraft crashing in a wooded area. Ultimately, he finds shelter with Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber), who just came out of a bad relationship. Mindy's father (Conrad Janis, ex-Quark), a music store owner and orchestra leader, wasn't too keen on the newcomer at first, which was normal, but his mom, Mindy's grandmother (Elizabeth Kerr), didn't seem to mind.

Still, Mork had a mission, to observe life on earth, and report telepathically to Orson (Ralph James), whom he'd often greet with "Your Immenseness", implying that Orson was a rather large being, a subtle jab at film legend Orson Welles, whose girth had grown in recent times after his movie career had ended.

By the end of season 3, however, Mork & Mindy had become husband & wife, as they had--predictably---fallen in love. In a bizarre twist, it would be Mork that became pregnant with child, and, bizarrely, on Ork, children begin as fully grown adults. In this case, Mork's offspring, Mearth, was played by comedy legend Jonathan Winters, whom Williams looked upon as an idol. The series ended after 4 seasons, but ABC, unwilling to let go, decided to green-light an animated version for the Saturday morning crowd, and commissioned Ruby-Spears to produce the cartoon, which retconned Mork & Mindy to high school. Predictably, the unofficial 5th season was a dud and the series finally came to an end. The cartoons have been tucked away in Paramount's vaults ever since. I have a review of the cartoon on my other blog, Saturday Morning Archives.

Dailymotion takes us back to season 1 and "Mork Goes Public", in which Mork decides to reveal himself and collect a reward from a magazine in order to help Mindy pay her college tuition. Jeff Altman guest stars. Seeing Mindy pretend to be a "Catwoman from Mars", albeit in a costume inspired by Filmation's 2nd Batman series, is worth the price of admission alone.

Last I knew, the Hub had the cable rights to the series, so check your listings.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

Like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, this was appointment TV for the whole family. Remember back in the day when shows rarely went off schedule - if it was Thursday (at 8PM) it was Mork & Mindy!

We loved watching the show at first and Robin Williams was just plain hilarious! I think he was the only comedian who could pull off the role.

Originally Mork was supposed to be a dream sequence Richie had, and by episode's end a subdued Robin Williams was merely a lost driver asking for directions. When the spinoff came along, the syndicated repeats altered it so that Mork was real and disguised as his doppelganger to make Richie think it was just a dream. Got that? It seemed confusing to type that!

Trouble is the show dragged on too long and the plots became too ridiculous even by its own off beat standards. I hated that Mindy's dad & grandmother were gone, the deli owners (brother & sister) were in, and then... Mearth.

Don't get me wrong, I love Jonathan Winters! He was an immense talent and it's obvious that Robin Williams was greatly influenced by him. In fact, Robin himself mentioned how cool it was to work with his idol and other castmembers mentioned the dual insanity on the set was something to behold! But I hated that M&M ended up married (they really didn't seem like they should have gone in that direction) much less have an adult baby. Then there was some time traveling storyline in which the apartment got trashed by an enemy alien who wanted to destroy them. We gave up by that point. I would have preferred Mork just time out his mission and return to Ork with a better understanding of humans on Earth.

Don't even get me started on the animated series. Oy!

hobbyfan said...

I think they married off Mork & Mindy 1) to save the show's ratings from falling off and/or 2) to appease the usual head-in-the-sand Conservative Christians in the South who'd be complaining about them cohabitating without being married. Either way, it was jump-the-shark city.

As memory serves, Gina Hecht & Jay Thomas, who played the deli owners, lasted only one season (season 2).

I think they storyline about aliens trashing their home might've been the coda to the series in season 4.

ABC made one big mistake moving it to Sundays for a while. What were they thinking?

Ever since the series ended 30 years ago, ABC's been trying to recapture the magic with another alien sitcom--The Neighbors being the latest attempt--without success.

Just think. Back then, ABC cornered the market on cool alien characters, if ya catch my drift....

magicdog said...

I'd never heard of anyone beingupset that they were living together. After all, they lived like roommates. Three's Company already broke ground there so it shouldn't have been that big an issue.

hobbyfan said...

True indeed, but Three's Company had drawn the ire of the zealot groups because of the adult content of the scripts, something that wasn't a problem with Mork & Mindy, thankfully.