An Unfortunate Episode: Happy Days “American Musical”

The cast of Happy Days has the Immigration Blues in this unfortunate episode.
Happy Days (Photo: ABC)

Musical Week is a mish-mash of singing and dancing thrown together in a somewhat-but-not-really cohesive pile. Just like this episode of Happy Days from 1981.

Today’s look back at appalling television takes us to May 26, 1981 and the eighth season finale of Happy Days. Ron Howard and Don Most had left the show at the end of the previous season. The series was full-on Fonzie at this point—even though he had literally jumped the shark four years earlier. The cast included Scott Baio as Fonzie’s cousin Chachi and Ted McGinley as Marion’s nephew Roger. The show would last another three seasons, so don’t view this as a last-ditch effort. By the way, Hulu has 25 episodes of Happy Days available for free viewing—why this one out of the show’s 255 episodes made the cut I will never know.

Enough history: let’s get on with the episode. Chachi is working on a history1 paper in the kitchen as Fonzie walks in. The assignment is to write a paper on America as a melting pot with a focus on the immigrants who helped shape the nation. The paper is to touch on these four areas:

  • Economic conditions
  • Political oppression
  • Cultural influences
  • Personal hardships

I don’t know why Chachi is stressing: that’s a pretty solid outline for a paper and it was given to him. Anyway, the Fonz suggests Chachi follows one (hypothetical?) person’s immigration story and how that story meanders through the topic areas. That’s a pretty good strategy. Too bad it is abandoned almost instantly.

We go into a flashback of Great-Great-Grandmother Cunningham’s boyfriend as he flees the Irish Potato Famine in 1845. I’m not sure why Fonzie knows this story in such detail, but that’s the least of this episode’s problems. Scott Baio plays the boyfriend and Erin Moran (Joanie Cunningham) plays his girlfriend. There is some unfortunate accent work which is thankfully dropped in the rest of the episode. They sing a super schmaltzy 1970s-style ballad about their relationship. I guess that qualifies as a personal hardship? Also a personal hardship: how was Scott Baio an aspiring pop star? He is not a strong singer. The song ends, they smooch, and then we return to the kitchen, so exactly zero immigration has taken place. Chachi says he understands why people migrated for economic reasons (Huh?) and moves on to political oppression.

  1. D’oh!  

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About Mike McComb 627 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv