With fall shows wrapped, Mad Men and Game of Thrones winding down, and the Louie and True Blood season premieres still weeks away, it’s the perfect time to curl up in front of your television set or computer (which actually seems really uncomfortable) and indulge in a little vintage TV series binge.
While most of your old favorites are probably available to you on DVD, Netflix, or Hulu, several noteworthy classics inexplicably and unjustly aren’t. In some cases, no one even had the foresight to record every single episode back when they originally aired and then do their duty to mankind by illegally uploading the series onto YouTube or selling bootleg copies through shady-looking websites and, honestly, that’s just infuriating. If Emily’s Reasons Why Not – a 2006 Heather Graham snoozer that only aired one episode – is on DVD, then surely the following superior series should be released.
Head of the Class
Head of the Class originally aired from 1986 to 1991 on ABC and was co-created by Michael Elias, one of the writers of Steve Martin’s The Jerk. It was part of the Welcome Back, Kotter tradition of sitcoms about amiable teachers who possess the miraculous ability to bond with a multi-ethnic coterie of spirited youngsters through sarcasm and un-teacher-like coolness. Mr. Moore, played by Howard Hesseman, who at the time (and maybe even right now) was best known as Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinnati, taught the geniuses of Millard Fillmore High’s Individualized Honors Program (poindexter Arvid, chubby computer whiz Dennis, 10-year-old annoying-girl-extraordinaire Janice, Republican-in-training Alan, guy-wearing-a-leather-jacket Eric, and pretty girls Simone and Darlene). He was also all mixed up in their personal lives in that way that we love to see in sitcoms but would probably be wildly inappropriate in real life.
Head of the Class was broadcast during the tail end of the Cold War and, in its third season, made history by filming a three-episode arc in Russia (then, of course, the Soviet Union). Though it’s important for that reason alone, the show also featured a guest appearance by a very young Brad Pitt, and if that doesn’t warrant a DVD release, then I don’t know what does.
Long before the ill-fated ABC drama of the same name debuted, the Disney Channel aired a series called Flash Forward (that was in no way similar or related to ABC’s) and it was an important part of every kid with cable’s life (Disney was a premium channel in those days, as you’ll remember). The 1996 sitcom chronicled the 8th grade adventures of two long-time best friends, Tucker and Becca, played by Ben Foster and Firefly’s (or if you’re really cool, Space Cases’) Jewel Staite. Foster’s goofy, class clown Tucker (a character that was so vastly different from the dark, brooding roles that he’s taken on as an adult) was always good for a couple of laughs and the unresolved sexual tension that he had with Staite’s Becca was on par with Mulder and Scully’s or Sam and Diane’s.
Flash Forward was the Disney equivalent of all of those beloved ’90s Nickelodeon sitcoms and has some nostalgic value but it was also a legitimately entertaining comic take on the highs and lows of adolescence (slam books, bullies, parties, trying to get your picture in the yearbook as many times as possible) and would definitely resonate with today’s kids just as other one-season wonders like Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life have.
Beetlejuice should be streaming on Netflix and the fact that I’m not watching it right now is a total travesty. A loose adaptation of the Tim Burton movie of the same name, this cartoon about goth chick Lydia Deetz and her ghoulish BFF Beetlejuice aired Saturday mornings from 1989 to 1992. Burton executive produced and the show had all of the comic morbidity that we’ve come to expect from him. I watched Beetlejuice every Saturday as a kid, so I obviously want to see it released in one form or another for selfish sentimental reasons but with Burton’s name more bankable now than it’s probably ever been, it’s almost stupid that this isn’t available. Can you imagine how well a Beetlejuice DVD would sell at Hot Topic?
Of all of the series on this list the fact that this one is unavailable makes the least sense. It was created by David E. Kelley! Even if it were crap – which it wasn’t – you’d think that Kelley’s name and the goodwill garnered from his recent hits, The Practice and Boston Legal, would necessitate a release. Airing for four seasons from 2000 to 2004, the FOX drama tackled the grittier side of the public school system (teenage drug use, underfunding, stairwell sex scandals, suicidal teachers) and its cast was an interesting mix of young and seasoned talent that included Rashida Jones, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Rapaport, and Chi McBride. Boston Public never received the same sort of acclaim as other Kelley series like Ally McBeal or Picket Fences but the writing was just as tight, deftly balancing moving human drama with subtle humor.
The DVD release delay seems to be a recurring theme with Kelley’s work. I don’t know if the guy wants his shows to have a mythological quality – that “you had to be there” mystique – if it’s laziness, a hatred of DVDs, or something completely out of his hands (a conspiracy, perhaps?), but Picket Fences, which ran for four seasons, has only had its first season released and Chicago Hope, like Boston Public, isn’t available in North America.
I’ve never seen a single episode of Ed but just through cultural osmosis I know that it’s about small town life and that the titular character, portrayed by Tom Cavanagh owned a bowling alley. I also know that Justin Long, Michael Ian Black, and Ginnifer Goodwin – all actors that I thoroughly enjoy – were a part of the cast. Lastly, I know that I really want to watch it but can’t because it isn’t on DVD and every time I type the show’s title into a Netflix search, hoping that it will be there, that stupid Matt LeBlanc movie about a chimpanzee pops up.