Friday, December 10, 2021

Two Classics Reborn: Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Diff'rent Strokes & The Facts of Life (2021)

 The third installment of Live in Front of a Studio Audience, hosted & co-executive produced by Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel, dropped on Tuesday, revisiting Diff'rent Strokes & The Facts of Life. While there is much crowing over the casting of (much) older actors to essay the roles of the youth characters from the original shows, that's the point of the joke!

For years, in radio, and in cartoons, a practice still in effect in the latter today, youth characters have been played by adults. Youth-centric shows in more recent times, from Welcome Back, Kotter & Happy Days to today's Riverdale, have used this casting method. Kimmel & Lear decided this was the running gag for the entire show.

Take, for example, Facts, which went on first. While original cast members Lisa Whelchel (last seen on Survivor a few years back), Mindy Cohn, and Kim Fields (ex-Living Single) made bookend cameos, including being interviewed by Kimmel, and with Whelchel singing the show's theme song (originally sung by co-author Gloria Loring), their "successors" were in on the joke, with Jennifer Aniston (ex-Friends) as Blair, Kathryn Hahn (WandaVision) as Jo, Alison Tolman as Natalie, & Gabrielle Union (LA's Finest) as Tootie. As Fields observed, at least this time, Tootie was not zipping around on roller skates. Ann Dowd (The Handmaid's Tale) filled the late Charlotte Rae's apron as Edna Garrett. If they decide to reboot Facts and/or Strokes with a more youth-centric cast for today's generation, Dowd would be perfect to reprise.

Facts revisits a Season 3 episode about a charity auction, and the usual squabbling among the girls over---what else?---boys, with guests Will Arnett (Lego Masters, ex-Arrested Development), Jason Bateman (ex-Silver Spoons, The Hogan Family, Arrested Development), and Jon Stewart, who had a wig over his gray hair, held in place by the retainer his character wears. Arnett & Bateman chewed the scenery. Stewart, asked to play a nerd, went a little too low-key.

Here's Kimmel's post-Facts interview:

The night was filled with fake ads, including Bob Vila and Alfonso Ribiero (America's Funniest Home Videos) doing a parody of those Kool-Aid Man spots, Ribiero using Kraft cheese to parody the "your brain on drugs" commercials of the 80's, and ABC house ads with a blatant impersonator for the late Ernie Anderson.

The only original Diff'rent Strokes star left, Todd Bridges, introduces a 1st season remake that borrows an old sitcom trope, as Willis (a totally unrecognizable Damon Wayans, Sr., ex-In Living Color, My Wife & Kids) & Arnold (Kevin Hart, doing some more scene chewing) are bickering. Emmy winner John Lithgow (ex-3rd Rock From The Sun) fills in as Phil Drummond, the boys' adoptive father, originally played by Conrad Bain. Wanya Morris & Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men perform the theme song. No sign of Kimberly, played by the late Dana Plato in the original series, and, as it turns out, she didn't figure into the original plot. Sorry, boys.

But who does figure into the storyline? Well, wait just one minizzle. Yep, they brought in Snoop Dogg for this spot (you were expecting maybe Dwayne Johnson?). Unlike with Facts, I remember seeing the original episode. The cast did their best, but there were holes. I'm getting the feeling Lear & Kimmel might be hearing from Lorne Michaels about cribbing the fake ads gimmick, which were less over the top.

Rating: B--.

No comments: