Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jumping the Shark vs. Riding the Bull

Important question for the ages: which Happy Days daredevil gimmick episode is worse?

The infamous Jumping the Shark episode?

Or the episode they did the year after, where Fonzie rode a killer bull?

I'm actually leaning toward the latter. Jumping the shark is really stupid, but at least it's a decent stunt. The bull-riding is just the standard intercutting of a guy riding a bull with close-ups of Henry Winkler rocking up and down.

What amazes me is that they actually did an episode that was almost identical to the JTS episode. That must mean that at the time, Jumping the Shark was actually popular with the public; shows don't repeat stuff like this unless it's popular.

Also, this allows me to bring up one of the long-standing TV rules that I just made up a minute ago: any episode set on a dude ranch is a weak episode. Maybe there are exceptions, but it seems to me like every time any show does an episode where the characters "go to a dude ranch" or "save a dude ranch" or do anything related to the intersection of dudes and ranches, that episode will not be worth watching. (City Slickers wasn't bad, but that was a movie.) Happy Days went to a dude ranch and the Simpsons went to a dude ranch and Malcolm in the Middle went to a dude ranch and Father Knows best went to a dude ranch and even Duckman went to a dude ranch and I don't recall any of these episodes being very interesting.

I think this is because a dude ranch is impossible to care about -- no offence to all the dude ranch fans out there, but in the context of a TV episode, it's just a place where city people go to play-act at being cowboys, like that ranch in Crawford. The only place whose fate I could care less about is that sanitarium for rich hypochondriacs that Maureen O'Sullivan ran in A Day at the Races. (Who else was secretly rooting for the bad guys to turn that place into a gambling casino?)

Update: Two corrections from comments:

1) The ranch in City Slickers was not of the dude variety.
2) The dude ranch episode of Malcolm in the Middle was actually one of the better episodes from the show's famously uneven later years. So there's an exception to the rule right there.


Anonymous said...

I say jumping a shark. It was clearly used to tie in to the popularity of Jaws.
And riding a bull is more rooted in reality. And as you said "going to a dude ranch" is a standard, if not memorable, plot device.

Tony C.

Anonymous said...

It would have been more logical if they had reversed it -- then the season-opening two parters would have gone from the parking lot jump to the demolition derby to the bull riding to the shark jumping, which would have taken the show further and further from reality in a straight upward line (Happy Days in the late 70s being one of those rare pieces of pop culture that was so hot for a certain moment that they could have done a two-parter with Fonzie jumping the Snake River Canyon on a tricycle and it still would have done a 30 share).

As for the dude ranches -- not many around Crawford (our family used to have a ranch about 15 miles away). The land's really best for dairy cattle and farming. If you want a dude ranch, so south towards the Austin-San Antonio area, where they also have the (scandal-plagued) tie-em-up-and-shoot-em exotic game ranches. Now that would have been an interesting two-parter for the Fonz on Happy Days.

Anonymous said...

One quibble...the rancher in City Slickers specifically said it was NOT a dude ranch.

"If you thought this was a dude ranch, I hate to disappoint you. This is not pretend. This is a real working ranch. We've gotta move these animals from here to our ranch in Colorado..."

More on point, I have to agree with the first commenter that the shark-jumping is worse. The reason people mark the episode as the turning point is because it's so divorced from reality--I mean the original reality of the show.

Anonymous said...

While I can certainly agree that episodes set on dude ranches are generally huge mistakes, what would we say about series set on dude ranches? Here, I'm thinking about the "Hey Dude" of my childhood.

Kenny said...

I haven't seen the other dude ranch episodes you mention, but I must take issue with your appraisal of the Malcolm in the Middle dude ranch episode, which I thought was exceptional and one of the late season standout episodes of the show.

As I recall, you're not particularly fond of Malcolm, but "Boys at Ranch" was both a strong episode individually and a notable step in its characters' evolution. The dude ranch setting was less contrived than in other shows because Francis had been working at the ranch all season and the family had yet to visit him there.

This episode also centered on Francis' increasing maturity: In contrast to Francis' adventures in military school and in Alaska, where he clashed with authoritarian figures he always compared to his mother, at the ranch Francis was faced with a boss so incompetent that he was forced to take responsibility and do a good job, or at least try hard. The episode deals with Hal's feelings of inadequacy as a father, for being unable to teach Francis responsibility himself, as well as the brothers' feelings of betrayal when they discover Francis is no longer interested in mischief. The ending, in which Francis' innate instinct for mischief both satisfies his brothers and saves Hal and Otto (confirming their belief in his responsibility) is tremendously satisfying and culminates in a brilliant sight gag (the biggest firework literally turns the night sky into day).

Unfortunately, Francis' character growth in this episode was undercut in later seasons when the writers ran out of things for Francis to do at the ranch, and the other boys' age made Francis' subplots unnecessary. Francis was fired (offscreen) when his incompetence led to him losing the ranch's money, and reverted unconvincingly to his immature, irresponsible ways. Despite that, "Boys at Ranch" remains a classic episode that I think ranks among Malcolm's best.

Kenny said...

To Muffin: "Hey Dude" is terrible and any attempt to argue otherwise can be based only in nostalgia and/or irony.

Notable for:

- Ridiculous theme song and title
- Future Marcia Brady / Ben Stiller wife Christine Taylor
- An episode about two characters handcuffed together
- Perfectly encapsulating the phenomenon of bad new characters (i.e. "Poochie" syndrome) by replacing Ted, the jerky, conceited character who was useful in driving plots, with Jake, the super-cool guy who rides in to the ranch literally while playing the drums, who proved to be so cool that he was totally useless in actual stories.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kenny. All of the dude ranch stuff in Malcolm in the Middle was genius. However dude ranch episodes do generally suck.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I stand corrected on City Slickers.

And I stand even more corrected on the Malcolm in the Middle dude ranch episode. I should not have lumped that in with the others. But actually, I did like Malcolm quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

I guess I can't let this thread pass by without mentioning 1960's GUESTWARD, HO!, with Joanne Dru, Mark Miller and Flip Mark (and J. Carrol Naish as an Indian Chief), another sitcom set on a dude ranch. Nothing great here, but the show was based on a very funny book largely authored by Patrick Dennis.

Anonymous said...

BURKE'S LAW once visited a nude ranch, but they never got any further than the front desk.

Mattieshoe said...

Jaime, I'm curous about your opinion on American dad. what do you think of of it?

I like it more then I like family guy.and it can be pretty funny at times.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Mattieshoe wrote: Jaime, I'm curous about your opinion on American dad. what do you think of of it?

I think it's now more or less where Family Guy was in its third season: I don't think it's great, but it has some story/character interest to it and some funny stuff.

I think since FG returned it's regressed to being nothing but cutaways and gags where the only joke is that they won't end, while American Dad -- maybe because it has less freedom from the network or maybe because MacFarlane isn't as involved with it -- has more discipline and is a better show than I originally thought it would be.

Anonymous said...

This is only kind of related, but 'out west' movies from movie series in the 1930's and 40's also are always terrible. "Mexican Spitfire out west", "The Falcon out west", that Blondie movie were they go to the dessert, all are even worse than the rest of the movies in the series. I suppose these movies suffer from the same problems that 'dude ranch' episodes suffer from.