Thanks to Netflix instant streaming on the Wii, I can watch any episode of Charles in Charge at any time. And I have done some watching…
Not many have written about this show, but I have seen quite a bit of it, both now and back in the day. Surprisingly, I enjoy it more now than when I was a kid.
The show originally ran from early 1987 to 1990, but reruns ran for years afterward. KTLA carried the show until at least the fall of 1995, since the last time I saw it was when I had just started 3rd grade. My brother said it might have run an episode as part of its 60th anniversary marathon a couple years ago.
What makes the show worth watching? Nostalgia? Not really, since it’s not any less funny now then it was when I was a kid; I think I appreciate the humor a lot more now. Kitsch? That would only make sense if the show were enjoyable in a so-bad-it’s-good way. Despite whatever critics and observers say, I still think the show is enjoyable on its own merits. The 80’s fashions and fads add a dimension to it, but at its core its basically an old-fashioned tv sitcom like many before and after it.
What sets it apart? The cast is the first thing. Scott Baio manages to sell the character of Charles pretty well, especially considering some of the off-the-wall stuff that goes on. Wille Aames’ “Buddy” character also holds up surprisingly well, an archtypal “lovable loser.” The show also avoids one pitfall common to many sitcoms in the 80s and 90s: it seldom made the mistake of taking itself too seriously. For the most part, you didn’t see “very special” episodes or hear serious music at critical moments. There was also light swearing and occasional (oblique) references to sex, both of which surprised me. This is not the sort of show you’d see on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, which seem to try to portrey teens and adolescents as lacking the slightest concept of sex, drugs, or any of the things adolescents are exposed to in real-life.
Another thing the show got right was that the characters were mostly likeable. This is a common weakness in many of today’s sitcoms. The later seasons of “Friends” are a good example. The characters seemed to regress into childhood, becoming increasingly nasty, selfish, and immature. Shows like that tended to have their humor undermined by gaping character flaws. Maybe Bill Waterson was right when he said the sitcoms are often “a half-hour volley of vicious insults”.
But back to Charles. Long story short, Scott Baio made the show work. He portrayed a character that was at once funny, likeable, three-dimensional, and sympathetic. If you have Netflix, try an episode or two via instant streaming (the entire run is available for streaming). If you keep an open mind and reasonable expectations, you might be pleasantly surprised. Just skip the first season unless you’re a fan; it really wasn’t as funny as the later ones.