Friday, March 3, 2017

Instant Gratification Theater: What TV can learn from old episodes of "Vinny & Bobby"

One of my new favorite YouTube uploaders gave the world a treasure trove--OK, I'm using the term somewhat liberally--last week in the form of a series of off-air recordings of 1992 Fox sitcom Vinny & Bobby. The show is a failed spinoff of another failed spinoff, Top of the Heap, which was spawned from Married with Children. I was an Al Bundy fan back in the day, but I didn't care for the first spinoff, and I certainly don't have fond memories of the second one. I assumed it was terrible, and I hadn't thought of it in years despite seeing star Matt LeBlanc in other projects recently.

So naturally, I had to watch some episodes.

LeBlanc and co-star Robert Torti, tow young and single guys working in construction and sharing a Chicago apartment,  make a surprisingly amusing team, though in retrospect, it's understandable that LeBlanc was the one to finally make it big. His character is the more likable, regular guy type, while Torti's preening airhead is usually the one causing trouble.

Other familiar faces who show up include Joey Lauren Adams (one of the best things about this--where did she go, anyway?) and the late John Pinette, who plays--wait for it--a fat guy. You get to hear jokes right from his standup act! Fred Stoller is a regular after the first episode or two.

Is this a great show? No, and it certainly is of its time. It was an amusing way to kill some time on a weekend afternoon, though. Here's a few things that today's television might take from this long-forgotten gem--uh, long-forgotten...what's a better about just "show"?

*Hooting and hollering: A huge staple of the Bundyverse is raucous audience reaction. By the end of Married, the crowd went nuts every time Kelly walked out wearing something skimpy, every time Al entered the room, every time Peggy said something risqué...I'm pretty sure even Ted McGinley's first appearance each episode elicited gleeful howls and whistles. Vinny & Bobby continues that proud tradition with heavy doses of both hooting AND hollering.

*Speaking of innuendo, apparently jailbait is funny: I missed the first episode and never quite understood the setup, but LeBlanc's character is a grown man--a young one, but over 18--taking community college courses. Joey Lauren Adams' Mona lives in the same apartment building--I think she's the landlord's daughter--and frequently comes on to him. Adams was 24, but I think her character is supposed to be 16 or 17. It's a weird situation, but LeBlanc's Vinnie is clear about the boundaries, even though Mona's general attitude garners plenty of hoots and hollers.

*Fat and thin=comedy. Pinette and Stoller make an amusing twosome in some scenes.

*Fat and Fat=more comedy. Pinette is paired with  Ron Taylor in the early episodes to give the leads some good old-fashioned fat guy comic background players. Taylor is even bigger than Pinette, which means they really aren't "background" at all.

*Topical pop culture references are the way to go: I saw several jokes about other contemporary TV shows. I laughed out loud when the rest of the gang is watching something and Bobby laments, "I can't believe we missed Jake and the Fatman for this."

Perhaps I really need to go back and watch Top of the Heap to really "get" this show, but I think for now I'm satisfied with my exploration of this little corner of that Bundyverse. I can only hope that the inevitable Married reunion brings back Vinnie Verducci and Mona, at least.

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