This is the first in a series of articles in which I will match characters from classic TV shows (mostly sitcoms) with varieties of wine (like I did with Star Wars here). I’ve been thinking about this for a while, have discussed it with friends and family, and finally decided to marry two of my favorite things: wine and the “magic box.”
Why TV? I grew up on TV. I know TV. Simply stated, I heart TV. Whether an escape from the rigors of junior high politics, an educational offering on the ill effects of drugs (thanks Saved By The Bell “Jessie’s hooked on caffeine pills” episode!), or simply giving me a big hug when I had an otherwise bad day, TV has always been there. TV listened. TV advised. TV cared.
Us “Gen-Xers” didn’t have the abundance of networks available through cable and satellite today, but we were never at a loss for something to watch. While cable existed, it 1) didn’t have the saturation it enjoys today and 2) was fairly expensive. Even those with cable didn’t have the channel choice available today. DVRs were so far in the future we couldn’t imagine a device would come along that would record TWO shows at once while you were watching another recorded show. VCRs were useless for recording television, because quite frankly, the only way we (or our dads) could manage to get anything recorded was by waiting for a program to come on and push the “record” button. We had to be diligent with our viewing choices. What we watched meant something.
There were three major broadcast networks (although we did get a fourth when FOX came along). There were also (mostly) independent (or small conglomerate) entities that operated television stations on the UHF spectrum, although the number of available UHF channels varied depending on the size of market you lived in. These stations aired reruns of some of the true TV classics (Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Lone Ranger, The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, Lassie, Flipper, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and so many more), as well as classic movies—mostly Westerns or World War II films (almost all of which starred John Wayne). They also offered reruns of some newer network programs (like Bosom Buddies). Our generation’s ability to watch shows and movies that our parents and grandparents watched connected us to the first “TV generations.” We were also witness to a living, breathing, evolving history of television broadcasting. It was great and getting better…
At some point in the late 70s to early 80s, we were handed the golden television goose: first-run syndication. First-run syndication was in place before this period (particularly with game shows and daytime talkers), but this was the age where “filler” programming was produced for sale and air on a market-by-market basis. These shows typically aired sometime late afternoon/early evening on Saturdays. I’m talking about shows like Charles In Charge, Out Of This World, and It’s A Living (and yes, all three of these shows are on my radar for future articles).
One of my Favorites
I vaguely remember Bosom Buddies from its first run. My family didn’t really watch it from the beginning, but when it hit syndication (and I had a TV in my own room!), I was hooked. This show came on everyday—sometimes two episodes in a row! I was in TV junkie heaven!
What was not to like about Bosom Buddies? The premise was fresh and the cast was brilliant. I mean, Hanks and Scolari—’nuff said, right? Perhaps the cool thing about this show was that it showcased the varied talents of the cast. These folks were old Hollywood-esque. They were not merely actors, but entertainers—they sang, danced, juggled, and mimed. They were a talented bunch, to be sure. Watching Bosom Buddies is a master class in comedic storytelling (with a touch of drama mixed in, as was the custom on older sitcoms), cast chemistry, and performance in half-hour increments.
If Bosom Buddies characters were wine:
Like a Chardonnay, Kip/Buffy could give you two totally different “looks.” Not just in dress, but character. Kip was a flippant, cheesy jokester most of the time. But every now and again, he’d let his guard down and show a serious side, like when he said, “I am ready, Sonny. I am ready for those you and you alone kind of words,” or got the “love dot” tattoo to prove his commitment to Sonny.
Chardonnay in the bottle can sometimes show a “Kip/Buffy-“like disparity in character, depending on the style. I actually don’t like to use the word “Chardonnay” when pouring for guests, since it seems that many people have a preconceived notion about what a Chardonnay is or should be. Often times, Chardonnay is “overdone” and ends up tasting like the winemaker threw some grapes, a cup of sugar, and a couple of sticks of butter in a blender, hit the “mix” button, and called the resulting juice “wine.” But when it’s done well (and oak is o.k. when restraint is exercised), Chardonnay can show a brilliant, crisp, straightforward, refreshing fruit character that lets you know where its heart is.
One last note on Kip/Buffy: While the stick Kip whittled in “Who’s On Thirst?” (Season 2, Episode 16) is no soccer ball with a face painted on it, Hanks managed to give an eerie foreshadowing of one of his future projects during that episode. Coincidence? Probably.
Henry was a heart-on-his sleeve romantic who usually played second fiddle to his buddy Kip—just like Merlot plays second fiddle to other red wine varieties. That said, Peter Scolari’s turn as Henry and Hilde was brilliant. It was easy to dismiss Henry as an intelligent, sensitive, and charming “boy next door” who while nice, was a bit of a one-dimensional dreamer who wouldn’t prove particularly “adventurous.” But what about his turn as “Hank” in “Macho Man” (Season 1, Episode 4)? He rode (or tried to ride) a mechanical bull, talked like a straight out of central casting redneck farmhand, and managed to upset every single one of his friends. What an ass! Just like Merlot, even when he tried to shake it up, Henry couldn’t be anything but himself (or convince anyone else he could be anything but himself), ’cause that’s all he knew how to be.
Amy was big, bold, and loveable, just like a great Cabernet. Sure, she clung a little too much to the idea that she could change Henry’s mind about her and take their relationship to the “more than friends” level, but she was always there and always made a difference. Amy was a steadfast, committed friend, even if she did forego the battleship tattoo across her chest that would have proven her love and commitment to Henry.
Cabernet Sauvignon is much like Amy—big, bold, and commands attention. And if you like red wine, you can’t get enough of it. Even if it comes on a little strong at first, you keep going back for more and are happy with each subsequent serving. Not always what you’re looking for, but both Amy and a good Cab are always welcomed.
Blond, bubbly, and luscious. Have I described the legendary sparkling wine or 1980s wanna-be dancer (who passed the time waiting for her big break by working as a nurse—really)? We’ll go with both and say that Sonny was a special, special television character in many a teenage boy’s life.
Like a fine Champagne, Sonny (…Sonny, Sonny) goes right to our er- (heads?) and keeps us wanting more…
Penfolds 2004 Block 42
Ruth Dunbar, trailblazer extraordinaire. She was an ad executive in the 1970s and a woman? All that bra burning paid off for that fiery “gingy!” Ruth was a cult of personality that screamed moneyed elite (her strangely proper, but not-quite-British accent didn’t hurt that supposition, either). And oddly enough, Ruth is a little similar to Holland Taylor’s Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men. And despite a 20+-year break in cherry supporting roles on TV sitcoms, she pretty much looks the same.
So what’s with this very specific wine match for Ruth Dunbar? Well, the Penfolds Block 42 is a limited-release wine the likes of which we’ll not see again for a while. Sold in ampoules that retail for $168,000, these things are rare—only twelve of them were released. At that level of “full-time fancy,” both Ruth and the Block 42 are in such rare company you might think they were at a loss for friends, despite all the buzz around them. Come to think of it, Ruth herself told us as much in “Only the Lonely” (Season 1, Episode 14), when she invited Kip and Henry to her apartment for an intimate evening in (not that intimate—I said Ruth and Evelyn were similar, not carbon copies). Oh to be so much in a class of your own that it’s difficult to find friends.
Isabelle was a singer with a voice (much like a well-made Pinot Noir) that was smoother than Elvis on the velvet. We didn’t see her sing a whole bunch, but she sure looked like one of Tony Orlando‘s Dawn band mates. Down-to-earth or full on, over the top fruity, both Isabelle and Pinot Noir have two sides, but you never mistake either for anything they’re not.
Pinot Noir and Isabelle are both much better serious than silly, as Isabelle proved in “The Show Must Go On” (Season 1, Episode 16), when several attempts to rock out Neil Sedaka‘s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” (with the “Is-ettes,” conveniently comprised of Amy and Sonny) failed. Her final attempt (which cost Kip and Henry a good bit of their dignity when they agreed to keep doing odd jobs at the club to give Isabelle another chance on stage), stripped down to her, the piano player (apparently every club in the early 1980s employed a piano player), and that oh-so-70s-80s-ish camera work with stage lights, Isabelle sang the song beautifully.
Lilly only appeared in seventeen of the show’s thirty-seven episodes and those seventeen episodes were quite enough. I can’t imagine what demographic ABC was shooting for when they cast her in the show, but as manager and “den mother” of the Susan B. Anthony Hotel for Women, she worked, even if she didn’t bring too much to the table (remind you of a particular wine?).
Lilly was a sassy old broad who said what was on her mind, even if it was predictably “shocking” (just like the White-Zinfandel guzzling cougars I discuss here). Kinda like White Zinfandel, Lilly was part of the story, but didn’t move it along too much, and we certainly didn’t miss her when she wasn’t around.
There it is. Discuss as you see fit. We’re always up for debate about TV.
Cheers from the Corkpit,