Although it made a rather inauspicious debut as a mid-season replacement in 1984, Bill Persky's Kate & Allie was an instant success, combining the socially relevant story of two divorced moms with a somewhat untraditional take on the old sitcom formula. Kate & Allie might not have been a brilliant show, but it was still pretty smart ... and in the world of sitcoms, smart is good enough.
Allie Lowell is a stay-at-home divorcee mom who has a pre-teen daughter and cute little boy. They share a home with Allie's longtime friend, Kate McArdle, who is also a recent divorcee and also has a pre-teen daughter.
That's pretty much it, if you want to be honest.
But back in the mid-80s, when divorce attorneys made more money than crooked stockbrokers, this single-parent dynamic was a pretty darn topical issue. And by planting two perfectly normal single moms into one household, series creator Bill Persky gave himself ample opportunity to air the most common problems that arise when marriages break down.
But while Kate & Allie tackled all sorts of "issues," it did so in a decidedly insightful fashion. You were just as likely to get a "message" from one of the gals' offhand remarks as you were to get it from the predictably happy endings.
But a simple concept and some clever writing will only get you so far, and the reason that Kate & Allie was such a success for six successive seasons (whew) was because of the ladies. As the perpetually bickering, surprisingly quick-witted, and fiercely loyals old friends, Susan Saint James (Kate) and Jane Curtin (Allie) made for a really enjoyable duo.
(If I could take a side-bar for a second, I'd like to shed a small spotlight on the talents of Jane Curtin. The gal never seems to get a whole lot of credit, but when you look over her body of work, it's pretty damn impressive. Frankly I think she's one of the funniest women on the planet, and she does some great work in this particular sitcom. Indeed, she won two consecutive Emmys for her the first two seasons of Kate & Allie.)
So on one hand, K&A is your standard cute kids / funny actors / simple story sort of sitcom -- but there's also something a little bit wiser and wittier going on here. I can speak only for the first few seasons, because I sorta tuned out after that, but I'd call Kate & Allie one of the 'forgotten treasures' of the generally unpleasant mid-80s sitcom wasteland.
Since Kate & Allie began as a mid-season arrival, its inaugural season ran only six episodes. Here's what's on tap:
1. Allie's First Date -- In this groundbreaking pilot episode, newly divorced Allie ventures out into the New York City dating scene for the first time since the breakup of her marriage to a Connecticut physician. (Original airdate: 03/19/84)
2. The Very Loud Family -- Emma must create a school project illustrating "Our Changing World," and so she makes a stunning movie about the influence of her non-traditional family. (03/26/84)
3. Odd Boy Out -- Allie is upset to learn that Chip, the only male in a house with four females, is being teased by his friends. (04/16/84)
4. The Family Business -- Kate is overlooked for a promotion at the travel agency, and stay-at-home mom Allie questions the choices she has made with her life. (04/23/84)
5. Dear Diary -- When Allie moves more of her belongings into the apartment, Kate becomes territorial of her space. (04/30/84)
6. A Weekend to Remember -- Everyone else in the family has weekend plans away from home, and Allie finds herself alone - for the first time in her life. (05/07/84)
Video: The episodes are presented in their original fullscreen format.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles.
A Conversation with Susan Saint James and Bill Persky (5:18) is precisely what it sounds like: the Kate & Allie star and producer as they look back at their mid-season replacement that went on to become a pretty big hit.
Since there's only six episodes included in this season one set, one of the extras is a episode, "Back to School," from season two. Nice little extra value for your money. Also included are a gag reel (10:42) and that 29-minute Great 80's TV Flashback promo piece that's only slightly entertaining.
With two lesser leads, it might have sunk without a trace but (and this was a pleasant surprise) Kate & Allie still holds up surprisingly well, despite the hilariously outdated fashions and the occasional relapse into Sitcom Stupidity. Just goes to show what a little extra effort on the writers' behalf (and a couple of crack comediennes) can do for a sitcom show.