The TV Series
Rarely seen since its original broadcasts on ABC in 1982-83, Happy Days spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi doesn't exactly seem like the kind of show fans are clamoring to have on their DVD shelves - yet here it is, all 17 episodes on three discs! CBS/Paramount's announcement (or warning?) of this show's imminent arrival on home video came as one of the oddest of 2013, considering how they aren't even halfway through putting out parent series Happy Days on disc (although - fear not, Fonzie lovers - the "jump the shark" fifth season is penciled in for a May 2014 release). Joanie Loves Chachi capitalized on the heat that erupted when Scott Baio and Erin Moran's onscreen romance carried over to their real lives. Sure, it made for a few juicy teen magazine articles, but was that reason enough to have a sitcom built around them?
Back when it premiered in March 1982, I can remember being entranced by the opening credits of Joanie Loves Chachi - although like many kid-age viewers I got bored with the show itself and quickly tuned into something more worthwhile like Bosom Buddies. It begins with Scott Baio, sitting alone at the piano in a deserted restaurant, warbling a soppy ballad called "You Look At Me." Erin Moran enters and joins in, making googly eyes at him. Soon - as if by magic! - the duo are onstage fronting a small rock combo. Al Molinaro and other cast members gaze adoringly at them. As the song reaches its stirring crescendo, audience applauding enthusiastically, we can only conclude that Joanie and Chachi are triumphant - in love and music.
In its own corny way, the opening credits set up the promise of Joanie Loves Chachi (young love in the big city!) remarkably well. The rest of the show, however, came as a routine carryover of the yuks-plus-nostalgia formula already set forth on Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. In the show, Happy Days' resident lovebirds Chachi Arcola (Baio) and Joanie Cunningham (Moran) have moved from Milwaukee to Chicago with vague plans to marry, all the while fronting a rockin' band that makes anachronistic bubblegum music fit for a Leif Garrett b-side. They already have the perfect venue in which to play - the stage at the Italian restaurant run by Happy Days' Al Delveccio (Molinaro), newly married to Chachi's saucy mom, Louisa (Ellen Travolta). While Joanie is studying at college and living at her own place, Chachi earns his keep at his parents', all the while attempting to take the band into the big time with the help of his strident Uncle Rico (Art Metrano). Chachi's dorky cousins Mario (Derrel Maury) and Annette (Winifred Freeman) have less-flashy roles in the group, which is rounded out with zonked-out drummer Bingo (Robert Pierce).
Strange as it seems, the decision to have Joanie and Chachi headlining their own series was a sound one - Baio and Moran were both appealing, energetic performers with good comic timing and nice chemistry. The problems came with the central "rock band" concept (although Moran could carry a tune nicely, Baio couldn't sing), and the palpable sense that the Happy Days production people were being stretched too thin with two simultaneous series. The initial four Joanie Loves Chachi episodes coasted by on sheer novelty and Baio's dreamy teen-idol looks (annoyingly, the studio audience screams every time he first appears). Very quickly, however, it became apparent that it takes more than a captive audience of Teen Beat readers to sustain interest over the long haul. When the show returned in the Fall of 1982, the musical angle was slightly de-emphasized in favor of hoary plots that usually involved Chachi getting into trouble over his jealousy with Joanie. The tired humor and half-assed '60s setting (those hairstyles!) gets propped up by guest spots from some of the Happy Days gang - although it's strange that Joanie's best friend, Jenny Piccalo, never makes an appearance here. So, for the curious, it really is that lame, although people interested in the Happy Days crossover aspect will find it amusing. Besides that swoony opening credits sequence, some of my favorite moments came in First Love, Last Love, a clip show containing some of Baio and Moran's better Happy Days moments, and Christmas Show, in which the band's tour bus gets snowed in en route to an important holiday concert.
Like a lot of spinoffs, Joanie Loves Chachi went down as a noble experiment done in by bad ratings. After two half-seasons as a cut-rate '60s Donny & Marie, Joanie and Chachi went back to Milwaukee for the struggling Happy Days' last year, with their wedding serving as the series finale. As for Happy Days' ratings, it tumbled in the year-end rankings from #18 to #28 during this time. Ouch.
Joanie Loves Chachi: The Complete Series Seasons 1 & 2 consists of the following 17 episodes, spread over three discs:
CBS/Paramount has packaged Joanie Loves Chachi: The Complete Series Seasons 1 & 2 in a nifty, hinged standard-width clear plastic case with episode titles, descriptions and original airdates printed inside with restaurant-themed graphics.
When Joanie Loves Chachi's first episode was re-broadcast on TV Land in the '90s, I remember noticing how soft and muddy the image was - unfortunately, it looks like CBS/Paramount used the same, second-hand masters on this release. Filmed, then transferred to videotape, the 4:3 image sports slightly faded color, a lack of clarity, and muddy dark levels. I only noticed video artifacts on one episode (First Love, Last Love). Compared with the sharp, clean image on the Laverne & Shirley DVDs, however, it comes as a disappointment.
The unexceptional mono mixes from the original series are dutifully repeated here (what, you were expecting Joanie and Chachi's discography in stereo?). On a few episodes, copyright issues prompted some musical performances to be removed or replaced (details here). English SDH subtitles are also supplied.
"You look at me, and suddenly I'm captured in your eyes." Another violation of the golden sitcom rule of Supporting Players Never Star, the short-lived Joanie Loves Chachi balanced tired, music-filled yuks with the real-life sparks between Scott Baio and Erin Moran. The (long-awaited?) 3-DVD set is strictly all right, but for the curious - hey, it's here. Rent It.