After helping to make Cheers one of the most justifiably adored sitcoms of all time, the producing trio of David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee were given the opportunity to create an all-new ensemble comedy of their very own ... and the guys didn't stray too far from the formula that made them so successful.
Their new series would be called Wings, and it would take place in a very small commuter airport on Nantucket Island. (Given that the Cheers watering hole was located in Boston, the convenient geography allowed for a handful of special guest appearances; Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and Normie (George Wendt) show up in Wings's second season.)
Purely formulaic sitcom material all the way, with just an extra dose of unexpected wit and a rather impressive ensemble cast, Wings was a big hit right out of the gate, and it managed to run for eight (gradually worsening) seasons before flying off into the sunset. And now, with the release of Wings: The Complete First & Second Seasons on DVD, fans and newcomers can enjoy some of the series' best moments.
Starring Tim Daly as Joe Hackett, owner of and pilot for Sandpiper Air, and Steve Weber as his free-spirited younger brother, Wings is an exceedingly conventional sitcom by just about every conceivable measure ... but every once in a while, the writers would toss in something surprisingly strange, unpredictable, or sweet, thereby elevating Wings into something a little bit smarter than your average laugh-track yuk-fest.
Daly and Weber maintain an affable chemistry together, but it's the supporting cast that keeps the show swimming along. Crystal Bernard, as southern belle lunch-counter owner Helen Chapel, has both Hackett boys vying for her attention. Sandpiper's ticket-seller is an oddly acerbic (and therefore generally amusing) older gal called Fay; the mechanic is a robot-voiced doofus called Lowell (Thomas Haden Church); the competition comes in the form of rotund Roy Biggins (David Schramm), owner and sleazy operator of Aeromass Air. (Despite appearing on the DVD case, eventual series regular Tony Shalhoub only appears in one episode -- as a waiter in an Italian restuarant.)
Putting aside the stock stories and age-old sitcom schpiel (which, I must admit, Wings employs in spades), there's a lot that works here, although I doubt anyone argue that Wings ever approached the sitcom superlative that is Cheers. With a lesser cast, I suspect that Wings might have lasted all of two seasons. Plus I'll admit a small amount of affection for the quaint little airport setting; Wings doesn't move outside of its mini-airport set very often, but "Tom Nevers Field" does begin to feel pretty quaint and inviting after watching four or five episodes.
Over the first two seasons of Wings, there's a "love triangle" back-story involving Joe, Helen, and Brian, but most of Wings episodes are stand-alone affairs. Fans of the format can expect numerous double entendres, tons of snarky sarcasm, and a standard amount of mistaken identities, quickly-remedied arguments, and generally simplistic misunderstandings. And yes, there are Christmas episodes, too. Plus the first two seasons feature some "oh my gosh, that's ...!" -style cameos, so keep your eyeballs peeled for some solo-episode silliness from Megan Mullally, Craig Bierko, David Ogden Stiers, and Abraham Benrubi as a massive high-schooler coming out of the closet.
Collected in their original broadcast order (and content), the episodes are as follows:
Legacy -- Laughter lands on Nantucket Island when estranged brothers Joe and Brian Hackett reunite to run a small commuter airline together. They prepare for take-off with a quirky crew of characters, including their childhood friend Helen, their rival Roy Biggins, the outspoken Fay and one-of-a-kind maintenance guy, Lowell. (Original airdate: 04/19/90)
Around the World in Eighty Years -- Anxiety is in the air when Helen, a cellist, scores a symphony audition in Cambridge. Meanwhile, Fay convinces a retired pilot to reach for the sky and continue his dream of flying solo around the world. (04/26/90)
Return to Nantucket Part 1 -- Despite a thick fog, Brian finds Sandpiper Air's one and only plane to Boston to meet his ex-wife Carol on her layover. Will he rekindle an old flame ... or crash and burn? (05/03/90)
Return to Nantucket Part 2 -- Brian's ex-wife Carol wreaks havoc on Nantucket, as she comes between the brothers and accuses Helen of being jealous of her. This unexpected love triangle has Joe and Brian staring sibling rivalry square in the eye. (05/10/90)
There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket -- Brian tries to spark Joe's lame love life by setting him up with the island's most infamous playgirl. Soon, the brothers ends up on a double date with disaster! (05/17/90)
All for One and Two for Helen -- When Brian plans to seduce Helen, she sees red ... while Joe sees green. But when Joe spies on them, Helen decides to give both brothers a lesson in love and friendship. (05/24/90)
The Puppetmaster -- Determined to get Helen to drop her "no dating pilots" rule, Brian hires an actor to play a charming pilot bent on winning Helen's heart. But his plot backfires when Helen ends up with a ring on her finger ... and Brian ends up with mud on his face. (09/28/90)
The Story of Joe -- Cheers regulars Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin fly Sandpiper Air on a fishing trip to Nantucket. Meanwhile, an airline magazine reporter interviews Joe, but finds Brian's stories more newsworthy. (10/05/90)
A Little Nightmare Music -- Aspiring cellist Helen hits a sour note when she performs an impromptu audition for a visiting Minneapolis Philharmonic conductor. She's ready to give up on her dream ... unless Joe and Brian can get the critical conductor to sing a different tune. (10/12/90)
Sports and Leisure -- After ruining the gang's fishing trip, killjoy Roy asks Joe for tips on how to make more friends. He gets a chance to test his new charm at the group's weekly Trivial Pursuit game ... but playing nice may be harder than it looks. (10/19/90)
A Stand Up Kind of Guy -- Even though he does not remember the groom, Joe agrees to be the best man at a high school classmate's wedding. Now, he's throwing the bachelor party and hosting the wedding weekend ... for better or for worse. (10/26/90)
It's Not the Thought, It's the Gift -- In an effort to win her affection, Joe and Brian compete to give birthday girl Helen extravagant gifts. A deceptive and generous Brian seems to have won the contest, but Joe's heartfelt gift ends up being the icing on the cake. (11/09/90)
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Policewoman Scorned -- After he's nailed for 42 unpaid parking tickets, Brian sweet-talks the tough-but-lonely policewoman and ends up arresting her attention and then some. But to get out of this relationship, he'll need to call for some serious back-up. (11/16/90)
High Anxiety -- When Joe's high blood pressure keeps him from flying, laidback Brian takes over the captain's seat. But soon, the brothers have a confrontation that could ground Sandpiper Air forever. (11/23/90)
Friends or Lovers -- Now that high blood pressure has grounded Joe, he points out that Helen's "no dating pilots" rule no longer applies to him. Will they decide to give romance a chance? (12/07/90)
There's Always Room for Cello -- Roy's 17-year-old son, who's a high school football star, arrives and asks Helen for a cello lesson. He tells his dad he has a secret crush on her, but his secret is much bigger than that ... he's gay and afraid to tell his father. (12/14/90)
A Terminal Christmas -- It's Christmas in Nantucket, and the gang helps Fay finally deal with the loss of her husband years earlier. (12/21/90)
Airport 90 -- Helen develops "flying fever" and convinces Joe to set up a flight school. But when she tries to avoid Joe's long-winded safety lectures, she takes the plane up with Brian ... causing both of their fates to hang in the air. (01/03/91)
Love is Like Pulling Teeth -- After Helen's wisdom teeth are pulled, Joe must pull a fast one to be in two places at once ... taking care of his girlfriend and attending Brian's huge bash to view the season's biggest basketball game. (01/10/91)
The Tennis Bum -- Brian challenges Fay to a friendly tennis game, but he's no match for the sporty senior. And there's no love lost when he challenges her to a rematch. Meanwhile, Roy tries to convince Helen that "Audrey," his new male pilot, is really a female in disguise. (01/24/91)
My Brother's Back - and There's Going to be Trouble -- When Joe throws his back out, he reluctantly leaves his brother in charge of the airline. Brian's flying high with creative P.R. ideas, but runs into turbulent times when he "misplaces" their one and only plane. (01/31/91)
Plane Nine from Nantucket -- The brothers have a close encounter of the hilarious kind when they spot a UFO. Brian wants to tell the world, but Joe's afraid of hurting the airline's reputation. Brian lets the alien out of the bag anyway, and a group of UFO experts go with the guys hoping to catch another sighting. (02/07/91)
Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places -- When Joe and Helen get their signals crossed on Valentine's Day, they may have to kiss their romance goodbye. They agree to meet at their "special place," but end up on opposite ends of the island. (02/14/91)
Love Means Never Having to Say Geronimo -- Brian meets the woman of his dreams and decides to take the ultimate leap of faith ... by agreeing to exchange wedding vows while jumping out of a plane. Then, the impulsive bride convinces Joe and Helen that it's time they take the plunge, as well. (02/21/91)
All in the Family -- Young pilot Kenny idolizes Brian and his way with women ... until the Romeo seduces Kenny's mother. On the date, Brian is bored out of his mind and must find a way to let Mom down easily. Meanwhile, Joe and Helen test their relationship when his little black book opens a can of worms. (03/07/91)
Mother Wore Stripes -- Brian creates a mother of a problem when he arranges a family reunion with his and Joe's long-lost mom ... against Joe's wishes. Soon, the brothers learn the truth about why mom bailed on the family. (03/14/91)
Murder, She Roast -- When Brian stays with Fay temporarily, he relishes in her home-cooked meals and hospitality ... until he watches a fugitive-at-large TV show and sees the "Culinary Killer," a serial murderer who bears a striking resemblance to his hostess. When Fay plans his farewell dinner, he asks Joe and Helen to join him for what may be his last supper. (03/21/91)
Duet for Cello and Plane -- Joe's tired of playing second fiddle to Helen's cello playing, as she prepares for a once-in-a-lifetime audition with the Maine Symphony. She gets the gig, and must decide between her love for music and her love for Joe. (03/28/91)
Video: The episodes are presented in their original full-frame format, and the picture quality is just above average. Colors looks a bit flat and sketchy, but not bad enough to ruin the show.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, with optional English captions.
Extras: Not a one.
Normally I have next to no patience for sitcom material, but there's just enough wit, character, and creativity to make Wings worthy of a visit. Well, the first three or four seasons, anyway.