Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Four TV debates that need to be resolved right here and now

Dick York or Dick Sargent?



These, of course, are the two men who played Darrin Stephens on the classic 60s sitcom "Bewitched." I used to watch "Bewitched" when I came home for lunch during school. Great show. And Elizabeth Montgomery was pretty.

York was the original Darrin from the show's inception in 1964 until his health forced him to leave in 1969. Sargent took over the role and held it until the series ended in 1972.

There's no debate here. Dick York is THE Darrin. And not just because he was the original. His face was goofy, and he was capable of a whole range of expressions that perfectly conveyed the frustrations of living with his witch wife Samantha and her mother Endora.

There will be no argument over this one.

VERDICT: Dick York

Wilma or Betty?

First off, let it be known that I don't mean this in a perverted way. These are cartoons, for crying out loud. I'm talking about which one was the more appealing wife/mother/character.

(For the record, though, since she looks somewhat like my wife, I would definitely go with Betty if this really were that kind of debate.)

Wilma's character on "The Flintstones" was much more fleshed out than Betty's, largely because she was married to the show's main character. She was smart, devoted, a bit sassy, and she rocked a mean set of pearls every day. Or at least I assume those were pearls around her neck. Maybe they were rocks.

As for Betty, well, she was married to lovable-yet-boneheaded Barney, so clearly she lacked good judgment. Not that Fred was a real prize or anything, but at least at one point in his life Fred was a football star. He had dreams and aspirations. Barney, on the other hand, was just...Barney. As Gertrude Stein once said about the city of Oakland, "There's no there there."

Plus Wilma had flaming red hair, and there's something to be said for that.


Trapper or B.J.?


B.J. Hunnicutt

OK, this one's a little trickier. "M*A*S*H" underwent a series of character changes during its 11-year run, including the transition in the commanding officer from Henry Blake to Sherman Potter, and the shift in not-so-lovable tentmate from Frank Burns to Charles Emerson Winchester III.

But I was always intrigued by the switch in roommates/drinking buddies for Hawkeye from Trapper John to B.J. This shift, by the way, happened because Wayne Rogers, the guy who played Trapper, abruptly left the show after three seasons since he wasn't happy about playing a supporting role. So the producers hastily recruited Mike Farrell to join the cast as B.J.

B.J. was earnest and dependable. In other words, boring. Yes, yes, I know, there were more dramatic possibilities having a married surgeon in the unit who constantly missed his wife (the wonderful Peg). But he just wasn't as funny. Farrell was pretty clearly fine playing the straight man to Alda's zany guy.

Plus, the Trapper character lived on in the early and mid-80s with the spinoff show "Trapper John, M.D.," which I liked. So clearly...

Verdict: Trapper

Arnold or Al?

Arnold (but not really...see below)


"Happy Days" was a defining cultural force of my childhood. For one thing it gave us the Fonz and Richie Cunningham, both of whom were awesome. It also gave us Ralph Malph and Potsie Weber, neither of whom were awesome. So, you know, there was some good and some bad.

One of the more confusing things on the show was who owned "Arnold's Diner" and when. As near as I can tell, it went something like this:

  • The Japanese guy (Pat Morita, who would of course go on to play Mr. Miyagi in the "Karate Kid" movies) was the original "Arnold." Only his name on the show wasn't Arnold. It was Matsuo Takahashi (really). The joke was that when he bought Arnold's Diner, he couldn't afford to buy more letters for the sign to make it "Takahashi's." So he just kept it as "Arnold's," and people on the show called him Arnold...even though it was acknowledged that wasn't his name. Weird, I know.
  • Morita made spotty appearances in the first couple of seasons of "Happy Days." Or maybe he didn't appear until Season 3. I can't get an official ruling on this.
  • In any case, Al Delvecchio joined the show in the fourth season and stayed through Season 10. The explanation was that Arnold went off to get married.
  • Al Molinaro, the guy who played Al Delvecchio, took his character to the "Joanie Loves Chachi" spinoff in 1982, at which point Asian Arnold returned and became a regular character until "Happy Days" ended in 1984.
At least I think that's how it went. The point is, there were two Arnolds. And neither of them was named Arnold.

I almost don't want to have to choose between them, because they were both good. I liked when Al would shake his head and just say "yep yep yep yep yep." And I liked when Morita played up Arnold's comically heavy Japanese accent to the point that even World War II vets who fought in the Pacific were saying, "Hey, hey, pull it back there, Tojo."

Maybe more on the strength of his later work in the "Karate Kid" oeuvre, then, I'm going with Morita. But only by a whisker.

VERDICT: Asian Arnold


  1. As a Happy Days aficionado, this is insanely unbelievable to me. Arnold really wasn't named Arnold? I never knew that. Even in the episode where he got married to Momo (yes, I remember the name of the woman he married) - they referred to him as Arnold. My mind = blown...

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