In my short sojourn into the pastel world of Very Special Blossoms, I have encountered two overarching themes, one I expected, and one I did not, and then there was the theme I expected but did not find. That last one would be the whole reason, at least from a pop culture standpoint, of the Very Special Episode. I thought that every one of the ten episodes on the DVD would be about things like teen drinking, teen pregnancy, and teen sharkpunching. While some of them, notably “The Joint” and “Intervention,” definitely qualify (and a couple more are in the neighborhood), Very Special lessons were rather thin on the ground.
I went into this looking for embarrassing bits of early ‘90s cultural ephemera, and in that desire I was never left wanting. Movie and TV characters often dress in exaggerated versions of whatever is current, producing an inaccurate picture of the style of the time. Not so Blossom. The fashions are as tragic as you dimly remember, and all the more damning was that people actually looked and dressed like that. Some of the wardrobe is slightly overdone, and someone who dressed that way would have been mocked as looking like Blossom, but that happened. I was there, man.
The unexpected theme was Blossom’s infrequent flights of fancy. It was more common in the earlier episodes in my admittedly tiny sample, with Phylicia Rashad stopping by to explain the menstrual cycle, Alf hanging around to discuss the afterlife, and Reggie Jackson talking about the merits of a little under-the-shirt-over-the-bra. These guest stars were an interesting time capsule of who was relatively popular (but not so popular they couldn’t be roped into a guest role on a sitcom), and provide a bridge to the much better shows that would come along in a decade. The final Very Special Blossom I will review on this site, “Blossom – A Rockumentary” (s2 e9) had all three in spades, as though it was trying to show me the ideal Blossom episode.
The entire twenty-two minutes are framed as Blossom’s fever dream. She has a bad TV flu in which she is supposedly running a temperature, yet is bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and has sinuses as clear as an LA skyline after a good rain. Her father does what every good parent did in 1991, which is to provide four VCR tapes in those partly clear cases from the video store. For those who were born after 1990, there was a time when, if we wanted to watch a movie, we had to have either taped it off the TV previously, or go to a store to rent it. Also, they were big, grainy, and needed to be rewound. Anyway, all of the movies Nick rents for Blossom are rock- or mockumentaries about rock bands (mockrockumentaries?). Blossom passes out watching Madonna: Truth or Dare and the rest of the episode is her dream.
Truth or Dare was fucking everywhere in 1991. The voyeurism at the time seemed bracing, new, and yeah, probably a little naughty. Now? It’s just warmed-over reality TV to aggrandize someone who never needed any help in that department. In the interests of full disclosure, I somehow escaped 1991 without ever having seen Truth or Dare. This is probably because it was released a couple years after the height of my Madonna fandom. By then, I was a much older and refined gentleman, having discovered Nirvana, The Cure, and women who didn’t look like elbow skin. My point being that while I probably missed some of the more subtle homages to the film, that’s not really the point here.
The “lesson” Blossom learns here is to not be a selfish rockstar. But since that was only a dream, it’s not really much of a lesson. Soon as she wakes up, she doesn’t have a record contact, sycophantic relatives, or the mountains of drugs I was positive were just offscreen in every shot, and so the lesson doesn’t apply. Much more importantly, it showed what we thought was cool in 1991. It’s difficult to describe the baggy ponytailed nightmare Blossom envisions, as the longer I gaze into that high-waisted kneepadded abyss, the more it gazes back. And really wants me to listen to Boys II Men.
Much more telling are the cavalcade of stars who appear to shower praise on Blossom’s hallucinatory alter-ego. Don King, Tori Spelling, Dick Clark, the Davids Faustino and Cassidy, Phil Donahue, Dinah Manoff, Martha Quinn, and Wolfgang Puck all appear as themselves. The most bizarre “self” cameo comes from actor Jere Burns, currently doing stellar work on Justified and Burn Notice. Here he’s identified as “Kirk from Dear John,” which was his then-current role on the Judd Hirsch sitcom. And yes, there used to be Judd Hirsch vehicles back in the ‘90s. Maybe more telling are the actors they couldn’t swing but are mentioned. Blossom dumps Johnny Depp over the phone, and Tori Spelling whines that Blossom was dating Luke and Jason at the same time. While it’s not odd that they couldn’t score a big movie star like Johnny Depp, it’s tough to remember there was a time when a show couldn’t book Luke Perry and Jason Priestley. Jami Gertz, of Lost Boys and Twister , shows up in two references. One is a tongue-in-cheek list of Blossom’s influences (Katherine Hepburn, Madame Curie, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, and Jami Gertz) as well as a reward for Grandpa Buzz (a big house and a picture of Jami Gertz). I’m not really sure waht to make of that, except to point out that I consistently mix up Jami Gertz and Jennifer Beals.
One guest star deserves special note. Playing Blossom’s boyfriend, the biggest movie star in history, the Charming Derek Slade (and yes, this is how he is credited) is a young Neil Patrick Harris. This is before Harold and Kumar put NPH on the road to his current status as universally beloved icon and everyone’s gay best friend. No one is immune to the NPH charm, not even Blossom. His voice is about an octave higher, and though he is not the unchained awesome he would later become, he still delivers a better performance than you’d expect, effortlessly upstaging both Mayim Bialik and Ted Wass in his portrayal of a shallow narcissist.
Well, that’s it. I have run out of Blossom to write about. Television still has a ton of painfully earnest lessons to teach me. I plan to move on to Lifetime movies next and see how many alcoholic moms I’ll find.