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DVD Review: Wait Till Your Father Gets Home – The Complete First Season

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In my mind, there is a realm where childhood memories are so vague that, as the years pass, I wonder if they even took place at all. Were they real, or composites of things that coalesced into a story, or were they merely products of my imagination?  One such example was Chiliwack's 1981 hit, "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)."  I specifically remember this song when it was out, but I never knew its name. So, because the hook was so similar to The Doors' "Touch Me," I simply morphed the two together until I saw the video one day on VH-1 Classic. It confirmed my belief in the song's existence, but also made me wish the song never was.

Another such memory, but from even further back, was a prime-time cartoon called Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which ran on ABC from 1972-74. Almost 35 years later, all I can remember is that it featured the voice of Tom Bosley and a snippet of the theme song, because my sisters and I used to sing it whenever our mother would give us that particular warning (my girlfriend, on the other hand, remembers the song almost word-for-word).  

As it turns out, the show did, in fact, exist, and today, Warner Brothers releases the first season of the Hanna-Barbera show on DVD. The show stars Bosley as Harry Boyle, a 47-year-old Everydad living in the suburbs with his wife, Irma, and their three children, who range from eight to 22 years old. Most of the episodes deal with Harry's attempts to make sense of his children: Chet, a 22-year-old slacker hippie; Alice, a Cosmo-spouting teenager; and Jamie, an 8-year-old who is always looking to profit from a situation.  If that's not difficult enough, he also has his über-conservative neighbor, Ralph Kane, to deal with.  

So how has the show held up over the years?  Not as well as I had hoped, I'm afraid.  It's easy to compare Wait Till Your Father Gets Home with the superlative King Of The Hill in its portrayal of a hard-working, middle-class man struggling to deal with changing times.  But where King's humor is sly and subversive, Wait employs standard sitcom plots and tired jokes about inflation and "these kids today."   It's a Hanna-Barbera show, after all, so even though they're dealing with the issues of the day, like women's liberation, the Generation Gap, and civil rights, it's still done, for the most part, at the level of The Flintstones or The Jetsons. The annoying laugh track, even more pointless when dealing with a cartoon, doesn't help things, either.  

But there are several highlights that make it worth watching.  Played by veteran comedy writer Jack Burns, Ralph gets the best lines.  A typical Nixon Republican, Ralph sees Communism in everything that isn't his definition of "American", and organizes a vigilante posse of the other neighborhood wingnuts to weed out the infiltration with disastrous results. He's part Archie Bunker and part General Ripper from Dr. Strangelove, shifty-eyed and spewing bigoted comments about minorities, and his ludicrous paranoid conspiracy theories provide every episode with a few genuine laughs.

As with his future role as Howard Cunningham on Happy Days (both shows received their start through the groundbreaking Love, American Style), few actors have been able to play the exasperated television dad as well as Bosley, even with the weak dialogue, and he handles it in a manner that fathers everywhere can understand.  Like Hank Hill, Harry Boyle is on the conservative side of middle-of-the-road.  He is constantly flummoxed by his children's liberal, modern ways, but he doesn't agree with Ralph's jingoism, either. 

And there were also several episodes that tackled difficult topics very well, most notably when Chet gets drafted.  Done without the laugh track, the show dealt with Chet contemplating desertion in a manner that was very sensitive to the many families that were going through the same situation.

But for all its admirable qualities, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home pales in comparison to the other groundbreaking topical shows of its day, like All In The Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show because the humor lacks the bite, referring to gloss over the issues rather than attacking them head-on.  The four-disc set contains all 24 episodes of the first season, as well as two features, one explaining how the show reflected the turbulent times, and another about the history of the show and the reason for the sparse animation style.   

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