Written by El Articulo Definido
In 1989 The Simpsons aired their Christmas special, and for many, this was something totally new, a depiction of a dysfunctional nuclear family that seemed more familiar to many families than what was depicted on typical sitcoms. In the beginning that show had dysfunction, but its popularity was largely due to its heart.
However, when that show was aired, not once do I remember it being compared to, what seems to me, its obvious predecessor, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. With Season One released as a Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection by Time Warner last week, it has become apparent to me what an overlooked treasure this show is.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home was originally aired in 1972 and features the voice of Tom Bosley as Harry Boyle, an understanding father trying to understand a vastly changing world. His neighbor is conservative, way to the right, terrified of the communist threat to America, and thus runs a crack outfit of pseudo militants, The Vigilantes, bent on bringing justice and safety to their quiet neighborhood. And so, The Vigilantes stand as a great example of just one extreme.
His children, however, go to the opposite extreme. The two oldest children, Alice and Chet, serve to show the bleeding-heart liberalism that was prevalent in the 1970s. Just one example, is in an early episode in which the family suspects Harry of cheating with his secretary. They don’t believe him when he denies it, yet they try to understand why he would cheat, rather than chastise him for doing so. Of course, not once do they consider that he didn’t. In response Harry utters, “I get treated better around here when they think I’ve done wrong.” The largest, most prevalent theme when dealing with the kids is that Chet, at 22, refuses to get a job.
Is it a case of history repeating itself, as more and more kids are frightened of entering the workplace after college? Of course, it doesn’t help that there are few jobs waiting for them.
The youngest son, Jamie, who is voiced throughout the season by both Willie Ames and Jackie Earl Haley, seems to be a prototype for Family Ties’ Alex P. Keaton, and sign of what is to come in the ’80s. The young, entrepreneurial Jamie is constantly trying to sell whatever services he has for a little extra change, and even tries to barter up the value of a lost tooth, asking why the Tooth Fairy doesn’t account for inflation.
In the middle of all, is Mom. She is a mom of the past, dependent on house and husband, but is ruler of the roost at home. However, she is always supportive of both the kids and Harry. She is the sole voice of reason, even when no one is listening.
Overall, it is a very unique family dynamic that encapsulates the feelings of change spreading through the mass consciousness at the time. Alongside of all of this social commentary is an animation style that fits the show so well. It is very pared down, putting less emphasis on backgrounds, and more emphasis on characters, and with this minimalist approach the viewer is left with a less-is-more feeling.
In the end, the best way to describe it is as Family Guy living next door to American Dad with the heart, emotions, truth, and honesty of the first few seasons of The Simpsons. For those who remember this show, it is worth the purchase as a reminder of the past, and a reminder of the present as it holds up remarkably better than many sitcoms of the ’70s. That, in my mind is due to the themes taking precedence over the visual commitment of painting the ’70s. It’s just a family, dealing with the issues of their, and our, times.