When it was originally on: 1977-1981
Original network: ABC
Where you can stream it now: Unfortunately, this one isn’t streamable. (Please let me know if you found offers I didn’t). My family has the DVDs though.
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen the first 2-3ish seasons. Season 3 gets weird and I fell off the wagon, but the first two are quite good.
What IMDb says: The soap-operish antics of two families: the Campbells and the Tates.
Why I picked it: I’ve already talked about how I love comedic takes on dramatic genres, and one of the most blatant satires in this vein is Soap. The thing about this pilot is that it has to set up so much more story than a half-hour comedy pilot usually would. In most cases, if you just introduce a small handful of main characters and their day-to-day challenges, that’s good enough. But Soap takes the same twists and turns of an actual soap opera. It has two families worth of characters to introduce while most sitcoms would only have one. It’s just a steeper hill to climb compared to most comedy pilots, especially of this era. I’m curious to see if and how Soap manages that.
What I liked: I think they did a really great job of using humor as a way of revealing character rather than simply writing jokes for the sake of writing jokes. Nowhere is this more evident than Benson, one of my favorites. It would be easy to just have Benson say “I don’t like Chester” (and they do) but what really cements this attitude is Benson’s repeated attempts to make food that Chester either doesn’t like or is bad for Chester’s health.
They also do a really great job of setting up storylines that can go interesting places later. Danny’s in the mob. Burt killed Mary’s first husband but the rest of the Campbells believe it to be a suicide. Corinne and her mother are both having affairs with the same tennis pro. Chester is also having an affair. And a lot of this is revealed rather organically without too much reliance on soap opera style monologues. The one exception to this is Burt revealing that he killed Mary’s first husband, which I don’t mind too much. It works largely because the writers aren’t just using this device as a crutch for every other secret that needs to be revealed to the audience over the course of 22 minutes.
What I didn’t like: For the most part, the show does a pretty good job of introducing us to all the members of the Tate and Campbell families, but there’s one exception to that: Jodie. I honestly can’t even remember if Jodie got any dialog in this episode. Instead he is defined exclusively by Burt and Danny arguing about whether or not he’s gay (or a “fruit” because 1977). Unfortunately, since neither Burt and Danny comes of as particularly trustworthy, I’m still left in the dark about whether or not Jodie’s gay. (He is, but I only know that because I’ve seen other episodes).
It would be completely fine to raise this question and not answer it until later IF we had actually learned any other defining characteristics about Jodie, but we don’t. If you’re not going to let your gay character be any deeper than their gayness, can’t you at least let them have their gayness, even in 1977?
I also don’t think The Major is adding near as much comedic value as the writers thought he would. So there’s an old man running around who thinks he’s in WWII. Is… is that actually a soap opera trope I’m unaware of? More often than not, the Major’s appearances in this pilot were just a distraction from characters and storylines I was more invested in and he was never funny enough to justify that distraction.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! The pilot sets up plot lines that I’m curious about and it was funny enough that I trust those plot lines will only get funnier.