I’ve watched Happy Days through season 1, and half way through season 2 — as far as S02E12, Open House. For reasons that I will explain in a moment, this is a good time to stop and take stock.
When Happy Days launched, it was basically about Ritchie Cunningham, the Good Kid in the suburbs. At least, that was the plan. Although Ritchie is sympathetic enough, he is quickly overshadowed, in very different ways, by two other characters.
For me, the most likeable character in the series up to this point is Richie’s dad, Howard Cunningham. I’d expected a typical overbearing sitcom father, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Instead, he’s infallibly understanding, giving Ritchie plenty of space to make mistakes, and tolerant of those mistakes when they inevitably happen. He’s believable because he’s not a font of fatherly wisdom — it’s rare that we see him sit down and have a heart to heart with Ritchie. Instead, the relationship between them feels real and warm.
But if Howard is the character that I find most appealing, there’s no question that the original 1970s TV audience skewed in the opposite direction, making the Fonz the star of the show. Back in the early part of season 1, Fonzie was still being presented as a slightly pathetic figure — the high-school dropout who is cool on his own terms but ultimately stuck in a dead-end job and without a peer-group of his own. That’s particularly clear in Fonzie Drops In (S01E07), in which he tries re-enrolling in high school but can’t cope with it. But by the middle of season 2, the balance has changed: the cool is what primarily defines the Fonz, and the cautionary aspect of his character has largely evaporated. Other aspects of his character are still in evidence — most notably in Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas (S02E11), where Fonzie is left with nowhere to go on Christmas day but is too proud to admit it. But this has become an undertone rather than the melody line.
The show is gravitating towards the Fonz, and the Cunningham family are receding to become his supporting cast.
That’s how things stand 12 episodes in. The next episode is, apparently, where it all changes — and not necessarily for the better. Fonzie’s Getting Married was filmed before a live audience as an experiment. It was evidently a successful one, as the show permanently switched to that format at the start of season 3. I’ll be interested to see what I make of it.
But I think I’m going to miss the show that I’ve been watching, which I guess is more or less at an end by this point.