See that cave ’round back? Joey Lawrence used to live there in the lean years.

STUDIO: Sony Pictures
MSRP: $29.95
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 536 Minutes

The Pitch

A boy and his father discover when it comes to growing up, being filthy rich… helps.

The Humans

Rick Schroder (Lonesome Dove), Joel Higgins (Salvage), Erin Gray (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development)

"Look, when you get to be my august age, there are certain places the loofah doesn’t quite reach."

The Nutshell

Ricky Stratton (Schroder) lives a life of luxury in a huge toy-filled mansion. His eternally juvenile millionaire father Edward (Higgins) does his goofy best to raise him, but it’s often Ricky that has to do the parenting. With his devious best friend/rival Derek (Bateman) and his father’s bombshell assistant/love interest Kate (Gray) along for the ride, typical sitcom high jinks ensue.

The Lowdown

Just as The Brady Bunch was the king of 70s child star sitcoms, so Diff’rent Strokes and Silver Spoons ruled the 80s. All three share the same sort of sanitized, carefree home environment, but the level of escapism rose with each series. The Bradys may all be superhumanly good-natured, but they lead a fairly ordinary middle class suburban existence. Strokes plugs wealth into the formula, but maintains a tenuous link with reality through the protagonists’ humble origins and occasional encounters with discrimination. The Strattons on the other hand are so obscenely rich that few outside the Royal Family could relate to them, much less imagine any real drama occurring in their lives. Of course it was the "greed is good" 80s and we all wanted to be the Strattons, so the show enjoyed a long healthy run all the same.

Mr. T’s decision to represent himself early in his career didn’t always pay the greatest dividends.

All three of these shows were in constant syndication during my childhood, and if I didn’t quite see every episode I certainly saw enough for their casts to feel vaguely like extended family. So more than a decade down the road it felt like coming home to hear the familiar strains of the catchy and thankfully unaltered Silver Spoons theme ("Together, we’re gonna find our way…") and see the mansion’s gaudy amusement park living room. As an adult the appeal of a train running past the coffee table has faded a bit, but I still wouldn’t mind having the Pacman machine.

So yes I enjoyed this set, but without the massive rush of nostalgia it would be at best mildly diverting. The show is very rarely genuinely funny, though well enough written/performed not to be annoying either. Which is more than I can say for the studio audience, who in typical 80s style butt in with a guffaw or an "Awwwww" every ten seconds. I’ve always wondered how they can make the entire crowd respond in unison like that. Cattle prods?

"’Is that it’?? Honey, this audition is just getting started. Shut up and put on the cuffs."

Also true to the period, most episodes have a heavily sentimental moment, usually when the lesson of the day is being learned. This is generally sappy stuff, but occasionally an affecting chord is struck, as when Ricky engineers rapprochement between Edward and his estranged father.

Although I generally prefer kids stay far away from comedy, Schroder is a likeable lead and surprisingly effective at times. His voice is a bit of a liability though, cracking frequently and occasionally slipping into a Jersey wiseguy accent.

Higgins and Gray have sufficient comedic chops for the modest material they’re handed. The former hams it up mightily and both looks and acts not unlike Dana Carvey, albeit with a midwestern yokel accent. This show appears to have been the high water mark of his career, as he did precious little afterward.

In 1982 only someone as rich as the Strattons could have afforded an Erin Gray strippogram.

For her part Gray looks… simply fantastic, although the show stylist does her best to keep her innocuous with a depressing succession of dowdy hairstyles and outfits. Thankfully Buck Rogers reruns were also plentiful in those days, so one could still get a look at her true potential. By which I mean of course skintight jumpsuit compatibility.

Finally Bateman is, well, surprisingly similar to the Bateman of today – sarcastic and full of himself. In Silver Spoons he’s rather narrowly defined as a smart aleck jerk, causing one to wonder why Ricky hangs out with him, but the comedic potential is evident. It’s curious that it took until Arrested Development for it to be truly recognized.

There’s quite a parade of guest stars. John Houseman (The Paper Chase) memorably plays Edward’s crotchety father in several episodes, his exceptional diction effortlessly raising the material a notch. One-shot appearances include Mr. T as Ricky’s bodyguard, Sharon Stone as Edward’s bimbo girlfriend, and Strokes‘ Gary Coleman as a nosy reporter.

Amount of homework done the week Zork Uncut and Unrated was released? None.

Prominent among the 80s memorabilia guest stars are the Gorf, Asteroids, and Tempest arcade games, and there are many cameos including Rubik’s puzzles, a mechanical computerized chess game, and the legendary Big Trak. Speaking of computers, the audience is awestruck by the revelation that the whole mansion runs on them. In practice this seems to mean discovering 101 uses for garage door openers. Namely the front door is always opened with a remote control sitting five yards away. Perhaps the two second savings achieved is what separates the upper crust from the hoi polloi. Time to hit Radio Shack.

The set’s best comedic sequence comes in the second half of "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," when to pay a debt Ricky has to go to a party in drag as the unpopular Derek’s date. Sure amateurish cross-dressing is one of the oldest gags around, but it’s almost edgy for this show. The girls hiss "tramp" at Ricky when the class Don Juan (Explorers‘ Bobby Fife) takes an unwelcome interest in him, but after a lascivious proposition he quickly defends his honor with a punch to the gut.

I probably got the biggest kick though out of Ricky’s consultation with his father about a difficult romantic situation:

Edward: "Ah, another case of star-crossed lovers… you know, like Romeo and Juliet."
Ricky (eagerly): "Well how did Romeo and Juliet handle it?"
(long pause)
Edward (nervously): "Well… that’s not important son…"

Reports of Ricky’s easy virtue proved to be greatly exaggerated.

Given the early 80s setting, there’s also a bit of awkward racial humor. Before meeting Edward, Ricky wonders whether his black lawyer might be his father, explaining, "Mom’s a liberal." In the Mr. T episode Edward asserts that his Mohawk is the traditional hairstyle of the "Mandinka tribe," and later a furious Mr. T is placated with a bucket of fried chicken. Well, OK, it’s supposedly fried robin.

The Package

The packaging is an ugly Photoshop hack job that makes Higgins look rather light in the loafers. On the other hand the video quality is excellent, barely showing its age at all.

As with many Sony DVD releases, this set is as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. There are no extras, subtitles or even chapter stops.

Although Silver Spoons stood up for minority rights, other persecuted groups found its tolerance limited.

Silver Spoons The Complete First Season isn’t going to make any new converts. For those of us who grew up with the show, the set is a pleasant enough stroll down memory lane. No one else needs to dip into his or her inheritance, unless you’re a Jason Bateman completist. And if you are, stop wasting time on his minor works and go petition for a respectable DVD edition of Teen Wolf Too.

6.5/5 out of 10
(with/without nostalgia)