Television Man | by Aidan Morgan
“Oh give me a home where the antennae roam / And the skies are a cathode ray tube”
Oh Game of Thrones. You were the best of shows, you were the worst of shows. You had death and dragons and sex and a terrible episode that took place on a beach. You started off as War of the Roses and ended as Skyrim bonus content, but I’m not mad at you anymore.
Now that GoT has gone north of the wall and left Crave shivering in the cold, I thought I’d take stock of the show and consider its place in the mutating world of television. After some thought and much alcohol I’ve realized its proper antecedent isn’t fantasy television, giant BBC costume epics or even the post-Sopranos era of Peak TV.
The real spiritual ancestor of Game of Thrones is Happy Days.
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Much like Game of Thrones, Happy Days began life as a retooled pilot. Originally titled New Family in Town, the pilot was eventually worked into a 1972 episode of the ABC anthology series Love American Style. “Love and the Television Set” revolves around Richie Cunningham’s quest to employ his family’s brand-new television in a bid for erotic satisfaction — more or less a 1950s version of Netflix and chill.
Somehow ABC decided the sexual frustrations of Ron Howard under the crushing conditions of consumer capitalism would make a solid foundation for a series, and for its first two seasons, Happy Days functioned as a bittersweet and quasi-realistic examination of the nascent Baby Boomer generation. Faced with falling ratings, creator Garry Marshall reworked the show into a multi-camera sitcom, shuffling Richie into the background and placing Arthur Fonzarelli at the forefront. Happy Days became a jokey fantasia of ’50s America.
By the last few seasons, the show had abandoned its original premise. The Fonz made deals with the devil, met angels and aliens, and gained quasi-magical powers over jukeboxes and motorcycles. Joanie and Chachi left early ’60s Milwaukee and magically leaped into early ’80s Chicago for their own show. Richie Cunningham left to become Serious Director Ron Howard.
Happy Days became a terrifying prison world in which the remaining characters were forced to mug and grin for the camera, dimly aware the modern world was happening just outside Arnold’s windows. At the very end, when Tom Bosley broke the fourth wall and faced the audience directly to thank us “for sharing our Happy Days,” the relief was palpable.
Then Ted McGinley destroyed the set with a blast of fire, picked up Henry Winkler in his talons and flew off over Burbank.
Put down these words you’re reading and nose your way over to Cinemax. Sebastian Guiterrez’ Jett, starring Carla Gugino in (yet another) star-making turn as a career criminal trying desperately to reclaim her life from various crime bosses, is some of the nastiest and most stylish fun you’re going to see this year.