One of the distinctive parts of growing up in Los Angeles is that you will attend school with working actors. Chances are at least of these people will end up with a recognizable face, and if you’re really lucky, one of them will have a certain ironic cache in around twenty years. There’s no easy way to put this, so I’ll come right out with it. I went to junior high with Mayim Bialik. We weren’t friends or anything. She was two years ahead of me, and therefore wouldn’t really have anything to say, other than the same shared jokes every one of Mr. Mertens’s students have. I think we spoke all of one time, and she was nice. Any ninth grader who’s nice to a scrub is practically a saint in my book, so I’m not here to mock her. The important thing for the purposes of this is that I went to school with Blossom when her fashion sense was more or less normal.
If Blossom the show is remembered for anything, it’s for the preponderance of very special episodes that served as something of a spiritual successor to the Afterschool Special. Since I recently wrapped up that series (which took far longer than I thought it would), I thought I’d move on to Blossom. That, and the fact that my cousin bought me a DVD of ten very special episodes as revenge for me getting him those Afterschool Specials. Might as well write about them then.
I remember seeing the pilot back in the day, but not much of it really stuck with me. I was dimly aware of the concept of the Very Special Episode, though it was not much more than a simple pejorative I slapped on anything too earnest. Blossom doesn’t seem to be remembered especially fondly, even by people who were fans at the time although it is not lumped in with other oh-my-god-what-were-we-thinking artifacts like Flock of Seagulls hair and Hammer pants. Part of Blossom’s problem is that it was dated almost instantly. Though it added a video diary gimmick that supposedly all the kids were doing and the writing was peppered with risque jokes, Blossom looks and feels like almost every other sitcom of the ‘80s, which is a problem if you’re debuting in 1990. The sets were all brightly lit facsimiles of an upper middle class home, the acting was self-consciously stagey, and the writing is not up to modern standards. As the final nail, Blossom debuted the same year as Seinfeld, the show that simultaneously exalted and buried the three camera sitcom.
The first Very Special Episode is the pilot, which shows that I was wrong in thinking that the Very Special Episode was merely a later misguided gambit to garner critical acclaim and ratings. Turns out that tackling Afterschool Special type problems were part of the mission statement since the word go, although the term “Very Special Episode” was likely the product of some network marketing whiz. Additionally, though we associate Very Special Episodes with Blossom, these were reasonably common in the ‘80s, with the most famous being the episode of Diff’rent Strokes where Gordon Jump molests Dudley. I suspect Blossom went to the well one to many times and has become the standard bearer for these incredibly uncomfortable half hours. The pilot does manage to be hilariously ironic in that it is about Blossom believing her parents are about to get divorced and finding out that nope, everything is fine. In the rest of the show, the mother is gone. So something went seriously wrong between the pilot and the first regular episode.
Much of the running time is devoted to introducing the cast. Her family consists of her accountant dad, stay-at-home mom, and dim bulb brother (called Donnie in the pilot, later changed to Joey). Her eldest brother Anthony is a recovering alcoholic (“He missed 1989,” quips their father. To which I said, “Good. 1989 sucked.”) Alcoholism immediately perked me up, although I couldn’t understand why Blossom’s brother was the drunk and not her mother. Anthony is the one character who breaks out of the standard sitcom mold, his one scene being a series of philosophical musings, observational humor, and bizarre non-sequiturs. The final character is Blossom’s motormouthed best friend Six. I took one look at her and knew, just knew, there would be a teen pregnancy episode before long.
The episode opens with trouble in the Russo household. The parents fight, and true to the show’s somewhat smutty writing, they’re arguing over sex. Seems as though Mr. Russo is neglecting his marital duties in favor of the office. Here’s where I ran into trouble, because a man who does this is cheating on his wife. There’s literally no other explanation. Ladies, even if you’re four hundred pounds, your husband wants to fuck you. Hell, some guys only want to fuck you once you’re four bills. So whatever the show claims is going on here, Mr. Russo has a little side action. Sadly, when Blossom takes the story of the fight to Donnie-Joey, he immediately suggests that dad is having an affair, placing me in the same corner as a man chiefly known for blurting “Whoa!” at the slightest provocation.
Things compound from there, with Blossom obsessing over whether she’ll date Jimmy Olson (no, seriously, her maybe-boyfriend is Justin Whalin), while her parents have a mysterious appointment with a lawyer. Things look bad until Blossom finally confronts them. They were having problems like every married couple, but the lawyer was just setting up their wills. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to an ass cancer plot.
This Very Special Episode was essentially a plea to young viewers to be little Fonzies and chill the fuck out. All relationships have problems, and some fighting is inevitable. It’s the classic lesson that just because mom and dad fight doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. Well, in some cases, because in my family it meant precisely that. What these shows never mention is that sometimes divorce is the best of the bad options, as opposed to something that should be avoided at all costs. Oh, well. At least Blossom can go upstairs and dance to “My Prerogative” some more.