EW Online rates this week’s Nickelodeon TV marathon
All this week, Nickelodeon is trying to lure you away from network reruns by airing marathon, eight-episode runs of ”Leave It to Beaver” (Monday), ”The Brady Bunch” (Tuesday), ”All In the Family” (Wednesday), ”The Wonder Years” (Thursday), and ”Rugrats” (Friday). (Each will air from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.)
A motley assortment, this, yet one that runs in chronological order, from the oldest to the most recent shows. May I begin by warning impressionable young eyes away from ”Leave It to Beaver”? This 1957-63 sitcom is a baby-boomer favorite, but, having seen a few episodes recently, this baby boomer is here to tell you that the show is overrated, no doubt from rosy nostalgia. A paragon of ’50s straightness and squareness, ”Beaver,” starring Jerry Mathers as schlumpy, poky, little Beaver Cleaver, is one of those shows that made people believe that there was a time in America when Dad always knew best and Mom wore high heels and pearls when serving dinner. Seen now, the show is excruciatingly slow, the acting is so wooden it gives oak a bad name, and it is never funny for an instant. The most interesting character by far is a neighborhood teenager, Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond), friend of the Beav’s older brother, Wally (the bee-stung-lipped Tony Dow).
Eddie is amusing because he’s an insincere wise guy, fawningly polite to the Cleaver parents one minute, creepy and looking for trouble the moment no adults are in sight. Imagine James Dean with no backbone — a suburban snake — and you’ve got Eddie, a forerunner of punks to come, even unto ”Beavis & Butt-head.”
As for ”The Brady Bunch,” well, aren’t you sick of them? The show was hokey junk to begin with, and when it morphed in the ’90s into a so-square-it’s-hip icon, it was funny for about 90 minutes, or whatever the length of the first ”Brady Bunch Movie” was. Now, it’s just chirpy stupidity again. Ditto ”The Wonder Years” — it’s too familiar, too sticky-sweet. And ”The Rugrats” — I doubt even real rugrats have the interest to watch eight episodes straight through, given how often Nickelodeon has rerun these clever cartoons.
”All In The Family,” however — now HERE’S a show whose time has returned. Producer Norman Lear’s series premiered in 1971 and spent the rest of the decade testing the limits of TV’s permissiveness. Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker got away with politically incorrect remarks that would never air on a new sitcom today. They may pass gas and use coarse language on ”South Park,” but no show presents bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism with such bold rudeness as ”Family” did. The thing was, Lear didn’t underestimate his audience: He knew they’d hear Archie’s white, working-class insults as the bile they were; reversing the old maxim, we laughed AT Archie, not WITH him. Which is what makes watching Wednesday’s marathon the sole treat of Nickelodeon’s stunt — it offers the lure of the once common, now forbidden.