STUDIO: Shout! Factory
MSRP: $49.99
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 570 Minutes
•    Cast & Crew Audio Commentaries

The Pitch

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – The Day Off + Looney Toons = Parker Lewis Can’t Lose 

“Help me Marv, O.J. scares me.”

The Humans

Starring: Corin (Stargate SG-1) Nemec, Billy (The Crew) Jayne, Troy (Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad) Slaten, Melanie (Rugrats) Chartoff, Maia (Adventures in Babysitting) Brewton, Abraham (ER) Benrubi, Taj (Just Us Girls) Johnson, Timothy (Son of the Beach) Stack, Paul (One Tree Hill) Johansson

Created by Clyde (Dexter) Phillips and Lou (The Tick) Diamond

Directed by Bryan (24) Spicer, Rob (The X-Files) Bowman, Larry (Desperate Housewives) Shaw

Facebook: The Early Years

The Nutshell

Season Two of this cult television series furthers the adventures of Parker Lewis, high schooler extraordinaire, and his best buds Mikey Randall and Jerry Steiner. Always on the run from Principal Grace Musso and her crony Frank Lemmer, they get into hijinks, eat at the Diner, and try to find love. The video quality is crap but the show is mostly enjoyable, and the set features a few reflective notes in the form of audio commentaries. 

The Lowdown

When Parker Lewis Can’t Lose first premiered, it was on the still in its infancy Fox Network, and ended up going head to head with constant comparison Ferris Bueller, now a network TV spinoff from the much loved John Hughes film. Bueller the TV show tanked after 13 episodes and so Parker Lewis Season Two found itself without such direct competition. Season Two is usually when a show hits its stride, and this is no exception. The smart comedic writing and inventive wide-angle camerawork, coupled with actors settling into their characters made this the best season of the oft-remembered (sometimes as a punchline) series.

Siskel and Ebert gave this movie three stars.

Cool guy Parker (Nemec) Lewis and his best buds Mikey (Jayne) Randall (the rocker) and Jerry (Slaten) Steiner (the nerd) go to Santo Domingo High School, where they deal with eating machine giant Larry (Benrubi) Kubiak, perpetual foil Principal Grace (Chartoff) Musso and her gothic sidekick Frank (Johnson) Lemer. Parker’s family owns a video store, and his younger sister Shelly (Brewton) is always trying to sabotage Parker at every turn. The stakes would be high, but then, we know he can’t lose. Season Two’s 25 episodes cover a range of topics, revolving mostly around love, friendship, and finding one’s place in the world. Some plots are sitcom clichés, but they are almost always sprinkled with a wink and nod that would bypass the story. Introduced at the beginning of the season blowing into town is new Diner manager Nick (Johansson) Comstock who parses out sage advice in a sort of parody of The Fonz/previous wise bartender/restaurateur characters from other sitcoms. Also about halfway into the season Parker is given a serious girlfriend in Annie (Jennifer Guthrie) Sloan. The episodes that begin to develop their relationship are well done and tackle things like asking a girl out or teenage sex in a humorous but mature manner.

Being referential and silly is what makes this show enjoyable. Old movies, Looney Toons cartoons and The Marx Brothers serve as main influences, something that permeates the show both visually and aurally. The writers apparently had a “go as crazy as you like and we’ll reign it in later if need be” policy, and the directors would always try to cram as many events or characters into a single shot as possible. Many actions would be sped up or given special effects (that were pretty cool for their time) to add to the cartoonish feel, only accentuated by access to the Warner Brothers sound effects library. There is a smart and inventive show here that became an inspiration for other cutaway gag-heavy comedies with a moral core like Scrubs or Better Off Ted. No gag is too random, and guest appearances by the likes of Elvira or Curtis “Booger” Armstrong are used much in the same way Family Guy or Robot Chicken use their references now, a quick throwaway that you can’t believe they brought this actor in to do.

“Kid, you’ve got a future in subtlety. And I know subtlety.

The show is certainly dated, and was obviously not intended for viewing on anything but a tube television as evidenced by the clearly seen edges of the wide angle lenses used so often on the show (something that was outside the title-safe area of the screen and would be cut off on older televisions). But it has its charm if one can get past the crazy hair, even more insane clothes and obscure early-90’s pop culture. The show certainly became part of that culture with phrases like “tres”, “coolness”, and “not a problem” that my older brother probably still says. I’ve heard Parker Lewis Can’t Lose used as an example of “remember that crappy show” anti-nostalgia, and it is this reviewers firm belief that while the show has its flaws, it is certainly better than memory serves if one is looking for a show that was experimenting with the bounds of television without being too high concept. Season One may have been the ramp up, and Season Three may have been the ramp down, but here in the middle it’s perfectly pleasant. Pump up your shoes, synchronize swatches, sit back and enjoy.

The Package

Parker Lewis Can’t Lose: The Complete Second Season comes spread across four discs in two thin cases housed in a cardboard slipcase. The packaging is simple and efficient and each case has a list of episodes and brief synopses. Shot on film, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose certainly shows its age when presented on DVD. The transfer is pretty low-fi, and if I had to venture a guess, I’d say the original film source was Super-16 dubbed to tape. The tape masters have probably been deteriorating in a studio vault somewhere for almost 20 years, and I’m sure Shout! Factory did the best they could under the circumstances. Parker Lewis fans just want the series out on DVD, there’s little-to-no demand for a complete remastering of a show like this.

Citizen Kanadian

All 25 episodes are included, with four audio commentaries (one on each disc) featuring a variety of the talent in front of and behind the camera. The season premiere features commentary from Director Rob Bowman and Writer/Producer Lon Diamond. This commentary carries the most meat in terms of what went into making any given episode of the show, and it is fascinating to hear Bowman go on about how he and the other directors would compete to come up with the best new camera tricks and effects. Commentary from Diamond and series creator Clyde Phillips with Producer Robert Lloyd Lewis is found on Disc 2 episode “Aging Gracefully” though it’s not much more than “remember that?” and laughing at old jokes. Disc 3 episode “Civil Wars” features a group of the show’s stars, including Nemec, Brewton, Johnson and Mary Ellen Trainor, who played Mrs. Lewis. Their remarks stick to “Look at that hair!” and “You can see my pimples in this shot” information. Finally, the Season Finale, “Diner ‘75” features commentary from Diamond, Lewis, and stars Billy Jayne and Troy Slaten. Jayne sounds like he’s been eating nothing but cigarettes the last 20 years, but the track has a lot of good information on the sound design of the show and how many camera moves were written into the scripts. Obviously missing from the features are any signs of cast members Abe Benrubi or Melanie Chartoff and it would have been nice to have any kind of additional features, especially a look back at specific memories of Season Two, but I guess this is the best we can expect for an almost 20 year old show of this pedigree.

6 out of 10