I just found one of the best videotapes ever.
I'll tell you why: it's six hours uncut, from December of 1980. Meaning there's a glorious post-70's bounty of antiquated products displayed for sale on it, advertised in the corniest ways possible and recorded with the scratchiest film available. I was in bliss when I found this stuff!
Truth is, though, when I borrowed it from my dad's vast collection I was taking a gamble on its content. Its only label said "Chico and the Man." I had no idea what that meant and it could have been one of three things:
1) An old western set in Mexico.
2) A crime drama starring Cheech Marin as a hard-boiled cop.
3) A WWII documentary (well, he's got tons of those...)
But it was nothing of that sort...turns out, Chico and the Man was a sitcom about Ed Brown, a grumpy old guy (The Man) and his Hispanic assistant (Chico, played by Freddie Prinze) working in a mechanic's garage. It's kind of surprising this was here--Dad hardly taped anything from network TV and I don't think he watched much of it. Instead he focused on older shows from his younger years, plus newsmagazines and the aforementioned documentaries. He's also a big fan of classical music, so any old film with a dramatic sweeping music score is on a VHS.
I don't care for old movies or 1950's TV shows. But I don't really watch sitcoms anymore either. The small-set-and-laugh-track format belongs to the past in my opinion. I no longer like claustrophobic setups where three women never venture out of their kitchen for several months, and it's a similar deal here--Chico and the Man are always in their dingy, grimy garage (in fact, they literally live there--the Man sleeps upstairs, Chico sleeps downstairs in a carpet-lined VW van). Despite these limitations, there was an effort to depict a world that existed outside of the garage with the constant introduction of new characters through the series' run....Scatman Caruthers as the garbageman, Della Reese as....someone I forget, and on and on. As bad luck would have it, the show was really going to need those other characters.....
The first episode on the tape--and the one I chose to review today--doesn't have Chico in it at all. Instead a 12-year-old boy named Raul is hanging in the garage, and since this is the first episode I saw, I assumed this was Chico. The second episode was the pilot, though, and Prinze strutted in identifying himself as THE Chico, correcting my assumption. My immediate question was...why wasn't Chico in the first show? Why was some kid in his place?
I had to look the show up on Wikipedia to get the full story. Freddie Prinze was not only a talented comedian, but also a junkie. It's been suggested that if you make a flipbook out of frames from Season 1 to Season 3, you can watch Freddie's body deteriorate (sounds like a fun craft...do it!) It got so bad that Prinze took his own life before the end of season 3 was filmed, which caused a big problem for a high-rated sitcom that had his character's own name in the title. In this sense, Chico and the Man was the 70s' "Eight Simple Rules."
A TV show has two options whenever a major character quits or dies. They can either pull a "Two Darrins" and sneak in a replacement actor, or they can just write the character off by having something happen to him offscreen. Chico and the Man had been built around the performance of Prinze, so the first option wouldn't work. But neither would the second--his name was right there on every episode! What could they doooooo??
The chosen solution was to change the dynamic of the show entirely by having Mr. Brown visit Mexico over the summer break and come back in the fall premiere with an adopted boy. Then all they could do was pray to God people would like the "new" show just as much as the "old" one. They didn't, and the Raul episodes make up Chico and the Man's final season.
But the ads are the main reason I'm writing this up. The tape was full of them, unusual for someone that was vigilant in removing the advertising from anything he recorded. My guess as to how this happened under Dad's watchful eye and trigger finger on the "Pause" button: Chico must have come on weekdays at a time period in which Dad was not home, so he had to set the timer (presumably by flicking 20 switches and turning a crank--we are talking about the old days). The KPTV announcer says to "stay tuned for Bugs Bunny," so a few commercials for children's products spilled into Chico. Like "Bank Shot".....
LOOK at this gloriously primitive thing. I don't understand people who don't share my joy in the unearthing of lame old ads...how can you watch these kids go ape over an unplayable "billiards sim" like this and NOT be amused?
There are many more hilariously tacky ads to come--this tape did not disappoint in the least.
The first episode on the tape reveals the weirdest thing about Raul: his aunt is Charo.
Yes, Charo, Spanish superbimbo star of 10 Love Boat episodes and one recent Geico commercial. And I don't mean Charo played his aunt as another woman...I mean she played herself. On this show, Charo was literally Raul's aunt, and Ed Brown seemed to take it in stride. She just walks into this episode and Brown says "Oh, hello, Charo."
Before that, though, two delivery men walk into the garage and leave bunches of flowers for an unexplained reason. It turns out the flowers were for Charo and they're from her fiancee. She explains in the best Spanish-to-English translation she can butcher that she became engaged to the man when she was only eight years old. See, in Spain all marriages are prearranged, just like in Canada all the marriages are prearranged, and in anyplace else that isn't America. To seal the uneducated deal, Mr. Brown remarks that "that's unfair! The Constitution makes it illegal to tell a person who to marry."
"Oh, but I hat too! When we war cheeldren,
our famalees decided that we would be married, but not until we
war grown out."
"You mean, grown UP."
"No, no. HE grew up. SHE grew OUT." *prerecorded laugh*
This is the first breast joke of 1,700. By the way, Charo's main claim to fame was swiveling her hips while yelling "GOOCHIE GOOCHIE!!" Does that work? See for yourself....
That's not everything the sixth-grade-level geographical knowledge of the writers cooks up. Charo's fiancee is also "EH MATADORRR!" A bullfighter. Y'know, what they all do in Spain, in addition to eating spaghetti, organizing crime and stomping on turtle shells...wait, that's Italy.
"I betcha I could be a bullfighter!" says Raul. "Watch me yank this red tablecloth without disturbing the plates and cups on top of it!" He succeeds....well, not really. We see a cut to a pair of hands and arms in closeup, yanking the tablecloth away. I don't think they're Raul's, but the canned audience utters sounds of astonishment anyway.
Let's take a brief break for ads......
SONG OF THE SOUTH RE-RELEASE: Could this tape get any better? This is an honest-to-goodness trailer for Song of the South, in one of its last American releases. This, if anyone out there doesn't know by now, is the one remaining animated Disney film that was never released on VHS in America, and its DVD chances don't look good either. What they're nervous about is the happy-go-lucky portrayal of the South in the 1800's, the hotbed of slavery. People who want the film released have pointed out that Song of the South isn't really as racist as some thnk it is. Others have pointed out that it only has 25 minutes of animation and is actually a slow-moving live-action film, and is only this overrated because Disney won't let us have it. Both camps are pretty much correct.
TOYS R US ROLLER DISCO GIRAFFES: This is copyrighted 1979. Apparently the ad was reused for the 1980 Christmas season, when disco was beginning to die off. Geoffrey soon lost his family in a tragic Cabbage Patch Doll sale stampede.
THE VARIOUS MACHINATIONS OF K-MART: Make "beautiful" rugs with the amazing Speed-Tufting Kit! The Bottle and Jar Cutter recycles bottles and jars into BEAUtiful glassware! You gotta see this junk. I don't care if you're on dial-up...if you are, then WAIT for it!
Back to the show. Charo's prearranged Spanish bullfighter fiance is coming to the garage to meet her! Brown utters a surprisingly aware remark: "Here? In the garage? Why didn't you just agree to meet in a hotel room?"
Charo's answer is that "No vay! He ees a
Spanish gentleman! If we meet in a hotel room, he will looze
respect far me!" Brown doesn't buy it. "Just think, all
over America, thousands of couples are having fun losing respect
for each other."
"Yoo Amerikans! All you think about is zex!"
"What, don't you think about sex in Spain?"
"No! In Spain, we learn about zex by watching thee bulls have leetle bullets!"
I'm learning so much about Spain from this episode......
The bullfighter, whose name is Antonio, arrives
with extremely over-the-top flamboyant acting. He presents his
bride with a gift--bull's horns.
"Ahh, thees is bootiful! Are they real, or are they falzies?" remarks Charo ironically.
Raul wonders if Antonio can teach him the
basics of bullfighting. "But ov caurrrrse!" accents
Antonio, and hands Raul the bull's horns. "You shall be thee
bull, and I the mataDORRR!!" Ah, so you have to learn to be
a bull before you can learn to be a bullfighter. There's another
thing I learned!
To get a cape, Antonio performs the yank-the-tablecloth-under-the-dishes thing, this time onscreen. I guess now we know who those hands belonged to.
Raul holds the horns in front of him and charges at Antonio. Antonio stands aside and whirls the cape away just as Raul reaches it. "Ah, you see how easily I---EEYAAAAAA!!" A kid is different from a bull, and Raul decided to give it a second try rather fast--this time from behind. Antonio is gored! (Kinda....the horns just barely touch him, but we're using our imaginations.)
TOM PETERSON'S CHRISTMAS GIFT: Until now, the 1980 video section of For Portlanders Only has been sparse, and this tape should fill some room. This is a more localized ad, and normally I only store that kind of thing on FPO, but it's also here too because what it's offering has to be mentioned. Tom Peterson was always giving away bizarre Tom Peterson-themed merchandise with any purchase--a watch with Tom's head on it, a free Tom Peterson haircut to give you Tom's magnetic hairstyle, etc. In 1980, he was giving away free lessons at...wait for it....Microwave Cooking School. Which I'm sure in 1980 sounded absolutely space-age.
RHODES BREAD DOUGH: We open on a shot of a
miserable family with a whiny-voiced wife weakly passing around a
meatloaf. Even the dog doesn't want it.
By comparison, we're then shown a much happier family--who is also eating meatloaf. How contradictory--you guys just spent the last few seconds convincing us how BAD meatloaf is.
But no.....the meatloaf is welcome merely because it's being served with Rhodes Bread! Simply buy the dough, stick it in a bread pan, and within hours you have fresh bread! The most unbelievable part is how the ad ends, and you'll see I'm not making this up:
"Honey, let's run away together!"
"But what about the kids?"
"Leave 'em! They've got Rhodes!"
Yes, if you want to abandon your family, Rhodes is the BRAND to BUY!
RONCO RECORD VACUUM: You couldn't ask for a more dated product. Stick your LPs in the Record Vacuum and all dust is sucked out, giving you a clean, crisp play with only MINIMAL scratching noises! Actually, I believe there was already a device to prevent record dust. It was the slipcovers that the records came in. But given the shoddy way many dummies out there handle today's smaller and more sensitive disc media, I'm sure people were just as bad in the age of disco and needed a Record Vacuum. Ronco to the rescue!
CREST CAVITY CREEPS: You can find a couple of these on YouTube, but overall they're rather rare, as the campaign lapsed out in the early days of the VCR. A blank tape cost a lot more then than it does now, and most adults were reluctant to waste one on a children's program. But now the Internet has preserved another one, thanks to Chico and the Man. WE! MAKE! HOLESINTEETH!
Back on Raul and the Man, Charo is not so thrilled about marrying Antonio anymore. After the faux-vicious gore incident, she tried to get him to lie down, but "hees idea of resting in bed and mine are toetally deefrent!" Seems he's not the gentleman he claimed to be, and now Charo has to get out of this arrangement. Brown could care less, but Raul gives him "sad puppy eyes" until he bends into coming up with a scheme to rescue her.
What's the way to get Antonio to run off? Make
him think Charo's cheating with Brown! Raul keeps an eye out for
Antonio, and on his signal, Brown comes down the stairs in a
bathrobe. Knowing the mataDORRR is watching, Brown and Charo
throw fake woo-coo at each other.
"Ahhhh, meestar Brown, you were magneeficent!"
"Ah yes, but the night before was just as special...and the night before, and the night before, and the night BEFORE!"
"You are zee best lover ever!"
"But what about your fiancee?"
"He shall never know! I shall sneak back to you evar-rry night!"
Then they do the tango. Really; see for yourself.
Predictably, it doesn't work. Antonio comes out
and says "If you can turn on an old duck like this, think of
what you can do for ME!"
Brown: "You're going to marry her even though she's cheating on you?"
Antonio: "Heeey, it iz the Seventies!"
What could stop the marriage now? Perhaps
Antonio's demand for "a check for one million posadas as
dowry!" Whaddya know; he's only marrying Charo for her
family's money (because Charo's parents once owned half of
Spain---yeah, I think they're making this up too). Charo
confesses that "we lost evarything yearz ago!"
That changes Antonio's mind, but not his plan. He pulls out a different contract and says "Then I shall marry ze loaded Carmalita Fernandez! I made an arranged marriage with HER when I was NINE!!" With that, he stomps off.
MEMORY MATCHING GAME: Why would you need to buy this? It'd be easy as pie to make your own with a few index cards and modest art skills. Also note: ads targeted at children were a lot more "genteel" in the older days. Those snarky Frosted Mini Wheats kids that I grew up seeing would be run out of town in 1980.
TRAILER FOR "POPEYE: THE MOVIE": I was hoping I'd find enough 1980 trailers to make a "1980 Movie Trailers" page, but there's just this one. And it was the first in a long, awful string of live-action movies based on things that were never meant to be acted out by real people. Thanks for "The Grinch," Popeye!
WAFFLEOS: The 60-second Waffleos commercial
(also from 1979) is a good one, at least for breaking cereal-ad
convention in several places.
Cowboy: "An' Waffleos is fortified with all sorts 'a good things!"
Girl: "Like what?"
It would have been perfect if his horse hadn't clarified what he meant.
EYEBROW TWEEZERS WITH A LIGHT: Speaks for itself.
The final scene in this episode is Raul saying
"look, I'm getting better!" and yanking the tablecloth
again. This time, he DOES do it onscreen, so perhaps he is.
He's no match for Brown, though....who, thanks to backwards-playing technology, can actually yank the tablecloth back ONTO the table.
"How'day dooo daaat?" wonders Charo. She's probably still wondering.
Chico and the Man doesn't appear over
the air very often, but you can see more episodes (with Chico
actually in 'em) on AOL's In2TV website. If you can get the site
to work, that is.
If not, Lowercase I Network has plans to rerun the series in the near future and come one step closer to rebranding themselves as 70's rerun heaven.
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