The late summer of 1990 found two high school sitcoms premiering: the TV adaptation of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [simply entitled Ferris Bueller] for NBC; and – ten days later – Fox’s Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. Bueller lasted one season [with its finale held back ‘til just over a year after its premiere] and Parker Lewis [which some had though to be an inferior version of Ferris Bueller] went on to run for three wacked out seasons [and 73 episodes]. Not the longest run for a sitcom, maybe, but years ahead of its time.
Parker Lewis Can’t Lose: The Complete First Season, in stores Tuesday, is – after Quark and Sports Night – the sitcom I’ve most wanted to see released on DVD. Why? It’s smart, funny, innovative and had a very “take no prisoners” attitude that not only helped Fox establish itself as the edgier, more inventive network of the early nineties, but provided elements that have become highly influential to many of the sitcoms that came after it [Malcolm in the Middle and Scrubs come immediately to mind…].
With its sound effects; mosaic transitions; innovative use of dolly shots [giving certain characters the feeling of being inexorably – and far too quickly – drawn to some hideous fate]; slo-mo, fast mo and all kinds of other techniques, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was a live action high school show that Tex Avery and Chuck Jones might have created.
The characters were fascinating: Parker [Corin Nemec], the ultimate high school hustler with a heart of eighteen karat gold; Parker’s younger sister, Shelly [Maia Breweton], the second most evil character on the show – and constant thorn in Parker’s side; Mikey Randall [Billy Jayne], the leather-jacketed rocker member of Parker’s alliance of “best buds” – also, the one who loved girls but couldn’t talk to them to save his life; Jerry Steiner, Parker’s junior best bud and general tech whiz/gofer; Principal Grace Musso [Melanie Chartoff], the hottest, yet simultaneously most evil school principal ever – and one determined to bring. Parker. Down.; Frank Lemmer [Taj Johnson], Principal Musso’s “Special Obedience Helper,” and Larry Kubiak [Abraham Benrubi], the 6’7” jock whose lunch was sacred – and whose stomp gait literally rocked the halls of Santo Domingo High.
Each episode opened with a blackout skit [always involving some kind of opening/closing door] arranged around the opening credits before moving into the entirely unconnected episode – and closed with another such blackout gag during the closing credits. Of the first season’s twenty-six eps, my favorites are the Pilot, in which we meet all the characters and Parker agrees to play Cyrano to Mikey’s Christian, but then falls for the girl, Robin Fecknowitz [Milla Jovovich], himself; Power Play, in which Parker finds himself up against Parker 2.0/Darker Parker, Matt Styles [Kevin Wixted]; Saving Grace, in which Ms Musso is subjected to her review on a very bad day, then replaced by Dr. Norman Pankow [Gerrit Graham] – who turns Santo Domingo High into an Orwellian nightmare – complete with an homage/riff/rip-off/parody [you choose] of a famous Apple commercial; and Deja Dudes, in which Ms Musso’s high reunion [she’s a Santo Domingo grad] brings back bad memories – and her decision to find the people responsible – and we meet the 1970 versions of the school’s students [scary stuff, kiddies!]
Parker Lewis was the proving ground for a number of talented directors, including Andy Tennant and Bryan Spicer [who directed nine of the first season’s twenty-six eps]. Guest stars included the aforementioned Milla Jovovich and Gerrit Graham, as well as: Ziggy Marley, Kool Moe Dee, Robin Lively, David Faustino, Ozzy Osbourne, Barbara Billingsley, Jerry Mathers, Charles Rocker, Josh Lucas and Ray Walston.
If Parker Lewis Can’t Lose doesn’t make you laugh, then you probably require professional help [not that that’s a bad thing…].
Features: seven Audio Commentaries [Pilot; Close, But No Guitar; Saving Grace; Deja Dudes; Jerry: Portrait of a Video Junkie; The Human Grace; My Fair Shelly] and a featurette, The History of Coolness.
Grade: Parker Lewis Can’t Lose: The Complete First Season – A+
Grade: Features – A
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Eclipse Review by Sheldon Wiebe
Posted on June 21, 2009