If "Silver Spoons" isn't the quintessential 1980s show, I can't imagine what would top it. It had it all: Pac-Man, wisecracking best friends, comedic adult romance, Menudo, a well-stocked bar of "very special" episodes, Mr. T, cutting-edge fashion, and a star who single-handedly and quite willingly held up his end of the teen heartthrob movement for a handful of years. All that was missing was a cameo by Ronald Reagan and a glittering mound of cocaine.
The first season of "Silver Spoons" was the exploratory year. Here we meet Edward Stratton III (Joel Higgins), a man-child millionaire shepherding his own toy company with the help of his lawyer, Leonard (Leonard Lightfoot), and secretary Kate (Erin Gray). Into Edward's life comes Ricky (Ricky Schroder), the 12-year-old son he never knew about. Fresh from military school, Ricky needs a home, forcing Edward to confront his childlike ways to become a father while Ricky finally gets to feel domestic stability for the first time in his life. Together, they hop into a corvette and travel across America solving mysteries.
OK, maybe the show didn't go that far, but it sounds much better than, "and they learned life lessons together every week, in just under 24 minutes."
When I was a younger lad, "Silver Spoons" enchanted me with its depiction of ungodly financial security and, of course, the Stratton family home; a Xanadu for the prepubescent boy with its hodgepodge of arcade games, toy trains, duck phones, giant crayons, and car-shaped beds. The show was an evening sitcom aimed at the emerging pre-teen market of household programming, distancing itself from the competition in the way it combined unabashed fantasy with formulaic portraits of family values. It was a comfy program that relished the time period and the stagy quality of the writing.
To revisit the show now brings up feelings of cheery retro joy and a whole bunch of wincing. "Spoons" was never a subtle show, but at times the program comes across like a pop-up book, with the cast whipping their arms around and shrieking their dialogue at the top of their lungs. Higgins is the worst offender here; he's 100% Hormel ham as Edward, mugging around the frame like someone gave him the hotfoot, bellowing every line - lessening the need for closed captioning.
That bigness helps "Spoons" through some dry patches, when the show felt the burden to dictate principles to the audience. Nothing grinds "Spoons" to a halt faster than the lesson segment, typically in the final two minutes of the show. Only then do the characters calm down and interact like humans. However, coming after the circus of the first two acts, the switch in speeds always disrupts the flow. Pronounced displays of ethics were a staple of the era, but for "Spoons," it always felt like a weight the show didn't need; as though the series was apologizing for being so carefree and almost violently broad.
Truthfully, the pointed finger of shame was only in effect for such limited amount of scenes, it hardly snuffs out the rest of the fun. The first season showed the program getting its feet wet with comedy; trying to settle on a tone that the rest of the series could follow. The ambiance found here in these 22 episodes was one of wacky, chasing Ricky and Edward as they stumbled into concern and slapsticked their way out of it. "Spoons" had an impressive verve to it, even when the jokes were vaudeville-embarrassing or just plain stupid. The series had a small-town-theater "never say die!" posture that was rare in the era, and that pluck steers much of the first season away from the disaster is occasionally finds looming on the horizon.
But let's get serious here, nobody at the time or now is watching "Spoons" for the writing, direction, or toys. Outside of Gray (the Monica Bellucci of her day), America gathered to view one element only: The Ricker.
Schroder is the east coast-accented quarterback of "Spoons," carrying his team to, at least during the first season, an off-the-charts adorability quotient that helped to digest the syrupy material. Later seasons would turn the young actor into an alpha teen star, but in these humble beginnings he was this mop-topped blonde sniper, armed with dimples and one-liners, and he was very good at his job. The DVD is a tart reminder of the power a great child actor can hold when wielded properly. Bravo to the rest of the cast for having the decency to stand out of his way.
EPISODE LIST (synopses taken from the DVD packaging)
Millionaire Edward Stratton III, an overgrown child, learns that he has a son, Ricky, from a previous marriage
Edward dances to the Pac-Man theme and Jason Bateman is introduced as Ricky's nemesis, the rolling ball of antagonistic smarm named Derek (think Eddie Haskell with a hard-on). Bateman would go on to steal most of the laughs this first season.
"Boys Will Be Boys" (10/2/82)
Kate tells Ricky that Edward's relaxed attitude toward discipline does not mean he doesn't love Ricky.
Ricky makes an Idi Amin reference that makes the audience giggle.
"Grandfather Stratton" (10/9/82)
Ricky asks Kate about his grandfather and learns that he and Edward haven't seen eye to eye in years.
John Houseman jumps aboard the beloved "Spoons" train as Edward Stratton II. I'm sure his casting meant much more at the time than it does today.
"Me and Mr. T" (10/16/82)
Ricky gets a black eye when he stands up to the school bully. Edward hires Mr. T as his bodyguard.
The hero to kids everywhere, Mr. T makes an early appearance on television. Even more entertaining than seeing T in his prime is watching his surprisingly deft touch with comedy.
"Takin' a Chance on Love" (10/23/82)
Ricky gets his first taste of puppy love when a new girl transfers to his school. Ricky probes Edward about his true feelings for Kate.
Future "Can't Buy Me Love" star Amanda Peterson guest stars as Ricky's object of affection.
"Evelyn Returns" (10/30/82)
Evelyn, Ricky's mother, returns to challenge Edward for custody.
"The Great Computer Caper" (11/6/82)
In order to impress Arnold (Gary Coleman), the school newspaper reporter, Ricky hacks into a government website and downloads plans for a top-secret plane.
Coleman stops by from "Diff'rent Strokes," and Ricky taps into secret government military plans after three attempts on his Commodore 64. Man, computers were awesome back in the day.
"I'm Just Wild About Harry" (11/13/82)
While out with Derek on a late-night expedition, Ricky captures and brings home an orangutan that he wants to keep as a pet.
A rare first in comedy history: here the orangutan does not equal laughs.
"Honor Thy Father" (11/20/82)
Ricky saves his grandfather from embarrassment when his dad Edward refuses to speak at a banquet in honor of his father.
"Father Nature" (11/27/82)
For Rick to become a member of the Badger patrol, he and Edward will have to spend a weekend in the woods.
Another sitcom staple: the "outdoors" represented by loose artificial turf laid on a soundstage floor.
"A Little Magic" (12/4/82)
Convinced that Kate and Edward should be together, Ricky decides to play matchmaker.
Who is this riding with Edward on the train? Sharon Stone! Here playing Kate's rival for Edward's attention, Stone puts on her best Betty Boop and takes a first step towards the rest of her career.
"Falling in Love Again" (12/11/82)
Kate goes on a grudge date to make Edward jealous. It works, and Edward professes his love in the middle of Carnegie Hall.
This episode introduces the character of Bob Danish, who the producers clearly thought highly of for a brief period of time, since they bring back the man for another mediocre appearance later on in the season.
"The Best Christmas Ever" (12/18/82)
Edward and Ricky spend their first Christmas together by playing Santa to a family with a young boy.
Joey Lawrence, in the prime of a young chubby-cheeked life, guest stars in this oddball episode where an unemployed family lives in a Stratton-property cave waiting for a miracle. It's holiday goodwill taken to an absurd extreme.
"The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" (1/8/83)
After Derek saves Ricky's life, Ricky is forced to pose as Derek's date at a co-ed party.
The show's finest first season episode. Here we see "The Ricker" in action, meet outstanding sidekicks like nerd extraordinaire Freddy (Corky Pigeon) and Texan stud J.T. (Bobby Fite), and spy Ricky in drag. I'm not sure life gets better than this.
"Twelve Angry Kids" (1/15/83)
Ricky and Edward are sued for a false whiplash claim. Leonard and Ricky convince the judge that the case be presented to a jury of peers - other kids.
If you're not convinced the show was aimed at pre-teens, try to sit through this episode.
"The Toy Wonder" (1/22/83)
Edward wants to hire a 12-year-old girl as a toy consultant, but she'll only take the job on one condition - that Ricky become her boyfriend.
Allison Smith, who would go on to star in "Kate & Allie," guests here as the ball-busting toy critic.
When his band needs to raise money for a trip to Washington, D.C., Ricky commits Edward to buying 1000 bags of popcorn, without his approval or knowledge.
One of the few episodes to deal with the "burden" of being a rich kid.
"Junior Businessman" (2/12/83)
For a school assignment, Edward lets Ricky manage an ice cream parlor for a week.
If you believe "Silver Spoons" behind-the-scenes gossip, actor Leonard Lightfoot needed to be replaced in a hurry. Enter Franklyn Seales at high-strung business manager Dexter Stuffins. The comedic potential of the show goes through the roof with the new addition.
"Three's a Crowd" (2/19/83)
Ricky is miffed when Kate joins his ski trip with Edward.
"The Empire Strikes Out" (2/26/83)
Edward is bummed out when a toy he created fails in the marketplace. Ricky has a difficult day at school.
"Won't You Go Home, Bob Danish?" (3/5/83)
A man from Kate's past intentionally crashes his small plane on the grounds of the Strattons' estate in order to impress her.
Bob Danish returns. I have no idea why.
"The X Team" (4/30/83)
Kate catches Ricky and his friends watching an X-rated film during a sleepover.
Take a trip back to the days when soft-core porn on cable was the most desirable thing a young boy could imagine. Also recall those blasted parental locks that ruined the fun.
The 22 episodes of "Silver Spoons" are presented in full frame, recreating the broadcast television ratio. For an aged series like this, the video quality leaves a lot to be desired, with smearing and assorted video limitations disturbing many of the episodes. Some clean-up was needed here to bring the series to DVD properly. It seems Sony didn't put in that effort.
With a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio mix, "Spoons" offers a soundscape comparable to broadcast television. Dialogue doesn't need much help in the audio department, but it registers crisply on the DVD.
Nothing. Derek would be so pissed.
Later years would usher in the more memorable retro episodes (Whitney Houston, breakdancing, fluorescent new wave fashions), along with more vibrant support from Alfonso Ribiero and Franklyn Seales. However, it is comforting to watch these 22 episodes again and see "Silver Spoons" grow its iconic personality so quickly, becoming a classic nibble of 80's cheese right out of the box. Obviously, the show is best with the leniency of rose-colored glasses, so make sure you have a pair before you sit down with the set. That's the only reasonable way to process this frantic valentine to wild actorly gesticulation and filthy rich fantasy living.
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