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“Happy Days” was better when it was an ensemble show.

DVD Review: Happy Days – The Fourth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

In 1980 ABC launched the Saturday-morning animated show Fonz and the Happy Days Gang. Unfortunately, the television show Happy Days had become a cartoon five years earlier.

As was common in the seventies and eighties, a series was created, and once a breakout star was established, said star was exploited, even to the detriment of the series. The show from whence the term “Jump the Shark” originated actually did so before that notorious act was carried out. In season three Happy Days became The Fonzie Show, and the innocence of high-school kids in the fifties portrayed so well in the first two seasons was gone. So was the integrity of the show.

One certainly can’t argue with the decision to focus the show on Fonzie (Henry Winkler), as season four was the highest rated in the show’s history. Paramount has now released all twenty-three episodes in a four-disc set.

From the start of season four, it was obvious that the only important thing was to give Fonzie as much airtime as possible, no matter how ridiculous the writing. The season opens with a three-part (or two-part depending how technical you want to get) episode entitled “Fonzie Loves Pinkie” featuring Roz Kelly as his love interest. These three episodes have all the elements of a cartoon and a major-fromage factor. The rest of the season follows suit with contrived episodes that, for the most part, sadly pushes the rest of the cast to supporting roles.

The episode where Fonzie gets baptized certainly takes a religious turn for a show of that era, and does have a surprising level of poignancy. There are also some brief instances of the other actors getting a chance to display their comedy chops, for instance: Ron Howard in “A Place of His Own” and Anson Williams in “Fonzie Hero” to name a few. Nonetheless, the show hits a new low in “Spunky Come Home” which revolves around Fonzie losing his dog.

Winkler was and is a talented performer who portrayed Fonzie with true commitment, but he didn’t deserve to be required to carry the whole show.

The season does include some pleasant guest appearances but most of the following talent is wasted: Marc McClure, Charlene Tilton, Diana Hyland, Nancy Walker, Dick Van Patten, Linda Kaye Henning, Eddie Mekka, and Conrad Janis.

The only listed “Special Feature” in this set is certainly generously titled. Since the third anniversary episode is the standard flashback episode, which was poorly constructed and executed, and was broadcast as part of the season, it seems a bit unethical to call it a bonus feature.

Recommendation: This is trite television that wastes the talents of Ron Howard, Tom Bosely, Marion Ross, Donnie Most, Anson Williams, and others. Happy Days was better when it was an ensemble show. This is only for the true fan.

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