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Charles in Charge: The Complete First Season

Universal // Unrated // February 14, 2006
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted February 12, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

Sitcoms don't get much more generic, fluffy, and innocuous than Charles in Charge ... and I suppose that's probably why the thing has its fair share of fans, even more than two decades after the thing first hit the airwaves. I can see how a series like this would be the eye-candy equivalent of a comfort food or a warm pair of slippers. Personally, I've got a pretty low tolerance for sitcom treacle, but if you're someone who grew up in love with Charles, then you'll be happy to know that his first season exploits are now available through the pop-culture time machine known as DVD.

Starring Scott Baio as a college student who's also a live-in babysitter for a trio of loud-but-sweet kids, Charles in Charge played for one full season (22 episodes) on CBS before it was dropped from the network. The following season(s) saw the return of Charles on first-run syndication, only there he had an entirely different family to contend with. But since I never saw Charles in Charge during its healthy syndication run, and since I'm presently reviewing the Season 1 collection, the first year is where we'll stay.

I've been sitting here for about five minutes since typing the word "stay," trying to come up with a way to offer a more thorough plot synopsis than the one offered above ... and I'm drawing blanks. Basically, that's all there is: Charles, a goody-goody nice guy, is the live-in man-nanny to three precocious kids. Period. The parents (as played by James "Animal House" Widdoes and Julie "Former Playboy Model" Cobb) exist mainly to toss a few quips into the equation before they head out for a night of dancing or a board meeting or something else that requires Charles to stay home with the kiddies. Said kiddies are: 14-year-old Lila (April Lerman), geeky pre-teen Douglas (Jonathan Ward) and 10-year-old Jason (Michael Pearlman). On the Charles side of the spectrum we have a goofy best buddy named Buddy (Willie Aames) and a stunningly hot girlfriend called Gwendolyn (Jennifer Runyon).

The adventures in the Pembroke house range in flavor from vanilla to diet vanilla, and I'd be lying if I said the 10-12 episodes I watched were laden with serious laughs. (Actually I think I laughed only once, and that was at an Animal House reference). But fans of the series aren't picking up the S1 set because they're expecting huge peals of laughter; they'll be buying it because when you love a show as a kid, you revisit that show for sheer, comfy nostalgia value. And while it truly was a little bit of fun to revisit with Charles after two decades away, it only took those 10-12 episodes for me to say "Well, that's about enough; see you in another 20 years, Charles."

Of course, those who hold Charles in Charge in higher esteem than I do should be quite pleased with this three-disc season 1 collection. Here's a handy-dandy episode inventory, with plot synopses courtesy of the Universal DVD cases:

Disc 1

Pilot -- Charles takes on his first task for the Pembroke family, watching over the three precocious Pembroke kids - Lila, Douglas and Jason - for the evening. But when the girl of his dreams finally accepts his invitation for a date, it's all Charles can do to keep heart and home from falling to pieces before the night is over. (Original air date: 10/03/84)

Extracurriculur Activity -- Charles encourages the Pembroke kids to take on some new exciting after-school activities. But when the kids find frustration rather than fulfillment, it's up to Charles to show them how to make bonus points with the team. (10/10/84)

Another Saturday Night -- Gwendolyn, Charles' girlfriend, goes on the warpath when she discovers that Charles has been spending time at a singles' hot spot with his friend, Buddy. When she and Buddy get into a heated argument, it's up to Charles to cool things off before he loses one of them for good. (10/17/84)

War -- Charles is asked to spend some time with Jane, the pretty girl the Wilsons want to hire to watch their children. But with Jane's easygoing style, the normally mild-mannered kids quickly run wild and develop new ways of antagonizing their two flustered sitters. Meg Ryan guest stars. (10/24/84)

Cousin Elliott -- Charles is on top of the world after winning his softball game, but his good day ends quickly when Cousin Elliott arrives with some extremely lenient ideas about how to raise children. (11/7/84)

Slumber Party -- The battle of the sexes heats up when Charles swears off women after a fight with Gwendolyn, only to discover that Lila has invited over all her giggling girlfriends for an overnight party. Christina Applegate guest stars. (11/14/84)

Discipline -- It's grade time for the youngest members of the Pembroke household, and no one is very happy with the results. When Charles reluctantly goes to Douglas' school to face the boy's teacher, he finds he still has a thing or two to learn about responsibility himself. (11/21/84)

Trick or Treat -- Buddy is afraid he won't be able to mask his nervousness with his date for the Halloween Ball, and he asks Charles for help. But when Gwendolyn spies Charles and the girl together, the guys must come up with some clever tricks to set the matter straight. (11/28/84)

Disc 2

A Date with Enid -- The Pembroke household has a bad case of the rainy-day blues until Douglas meets Lila's friend, Enid, and falls madly in love. Lila and Charles are recruited to help make Enid more attractive, but the situation quickly changes from desire to disaster. (12/5/84)

Friends & Lovers -- In a true test of their relationship, Charles and Gwendolyn decide to "see" other people, but Charles becomes blind with jealousy when Gwendolyn has no problem finding new guys to date. (12/12/84)

Home for the Holidays -- There's nothing like family for the holidays, and Charles has his hands full when his trip home to Vermont is interrupted by a sudden snowstorm. Instead, he's forced to spend a chilly holiday with Grandma Irene Pembroke. Rue McClanahan guest stars. (12/19/84)

Accidental Puppy -- Bruce Springsteen fever is in the air, and Charles, Buddy and Gwendolyn unsuccessfully wait on a curb for two days to get tickets to the upcoming concert. Meanwhile, Jason and Douglas bring home a dog they found, but Charles must convince the boys that they can't keep what doesn't belong to them. (12/26/84)

The Commotion -- Charles is in a race against the clock to finish his assignment for the school paper, but there's not a minute to spare with everyone screaming for attention in the Pembroke household. It's up to Charles to resolve everyone's problems - and fast - if he's going to meet his deadline. (01/02/85)

Mr. President -- Charles hits the campaign trail when Gwendolyn convinces him to run for student body president. After he's slammed at the debate by his opponent, he reorganizes his virtually nonexistent campaign strategy, and in the end the best person for the job wins. (01/16/85)

Jill's Decision -- When Jill rushes to an assignment that could give her a big promotion, Charles scrambles to take care of the kids and still keep his date with Michelle. Later, Charles and Michelle come to the hilarious conclusion that their plans don't have to be fancy to be romantic, while Jill realizes that maybe being a "career mom" isn't all it's cracked up to be. (01/23/85)

Pressure from Grandma -- It's vacation time for the Pembrokes, which means that Charles is in charge of the kids and Grandma Irene for an entire week. When Grandma Irene tries to tempt Charles to join her in a new venture, Charles must decide if he really needs a break from his current job with the kids. Rue McClanahan guest stars. (01/30/85)

Disc 3

Snowed In -- Cabin fever strikes when the Pembrokes get stuck at a movie theater during a blizzard, leaving Charles in charge of the kids and a group of Lila's girlfriends with no heat and no food in the house. Christina Applegate guest stars. (02/06/85)

Charles "R" Us -- Money woes force Charles and Buddy to create a business that will train students to be household helpers. But in the process of training their new recruits, Charles and Buddy discover that they may need a helping hand themselves. Meg Ryan guest stars.(02/13/85)

Charles' Spring Break -- It's spring break and the sunny Florida shores are beckoning Charles and his friends. But when they finally save up enough money to go, Charles finds that there really is no such thing as a true vacation from the Pembroke family. (02/20/85)

The Wrong Guy -- Matters of the heart take an unusual twist when Lila asks Charles for support in dating a boy her parents despise, and Douglas needs some serious advice after he receives his first kiss. Matthew Perry guest stars. (02/27/85)

Mr. Brilliant -- In an attempt to do something nice for Mrs. Pembroke, Charles invites one of her former schoolmates to dinner, despite Mr. Pembroke's hesitation. The meal quickly goes from bad to worse with the arrival of the unpleasant and condescending guest of honor. (03/13/85)

Meet Grandpa -- Everyone is very excited about upcoming vacation plans as Buddy and Charles prepare for their summer jobs at a resort. But when the kids' grandfather arrives with an important announcement, everyone soon realizes that family always comes first. Dick O'Neill guest stars. (04/03/85)

The DVD

Video: The episodes are delivered in their original fullscreen format. Picture quality is actually quite solid for a goofy old sitcom.

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with optional subtitles in English and French.

Extras

On disc 3 you'll find the first episode ("Amityville") from the second season of Charles in Charge, in which the Pembroke family is unceremoniously jettisoned from the equation to make room for the Powell clan.

Also included is a 29-minute featurette entitled The Great 80s TV Flashback, which feels a lot like those VH1 "I Love the 80s"-style nostalgia fests ... until you realize that all the programs being mentioned (Miami Vice, Simon & Simon, Quantum Leap Kate & Allie, Gimme a Break!, Magnum P.I., The A-Team, Knight Rider, Murder, She Wrote, and Charles in Charge) are properties owned by Universal AND available on DVD! What a coincidence!

Final Thoughts

Maybe I've just gotten too old and cynical to appreciate the cornball sitcoms from the 1980s ... and Charles in Charge just might be the very cornballiest. (OK, right behind Small Wonder, anyway.) But if you're a diehard Baio fan and you've been eagerly anticipating the first Charles in Charge DVD release, odds are you'll be pretty pleased with what's offered here: 22 complete (and, as far as I know, unedited) first season episodes, plus one S2 episode and a half-hour nostalgia promo. Not sure how much replay value you'll actually get out of Charles in Charge, but hell, as corny as it is ... it's still better than a lot of the family sitcoms the networks are running these days.

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