This past Friday on the Needless Things Podcast we talked about the pop culture of 1987. We recorded a similar episode last year about 1986 (and will do another one next year about 1988 – see the pattern?) and I accompanied it with posts about the toys, music, television, and movies of the year.
It all started out as one post, but as I poked around my memory (and the internet) I realized that there was simply too much great stuff to include it all in one post. At first glance 1987 seemed a bit leaner in terms of pop culture awesomeness, so last week I attempted to write a single post.
That, obviously, didn’t work.
Roughly 8,000 absolutely incredible movies came out in 1987, so that was one huge post last Wednesday. Today I’m going to take a look at the television of the year and I’m sure I’ll do a toy post, as well. It remains to be seen if there’s enough musical excellence to warrant a post, but if there is, I’ll do it.
1987 brought new television shows and evets that weren’t just momentous for me, but that signified changes in culture in general. Some of the shows stayed on the air longer than others, but they all had a lasting impact on broadcasting as we know it today.
Side Note: I used Wikipedia for this, so it’s possible there are omissions or even inaccuracies.
FOX TV Network Launches – Married… With Children and The Tracey Ullman Show were the debut flagship shows for the brand new fourth network. I don’t specifically remember how the launch was promoted, but I recall the feeling that the other networks – NBC, CBS, and ABC – were old and lame. That doesn’t mean I didn’t watch them still, but I think there was definitely a push that FOX was the cool, hip network.
I think I enjoyed about fifty percent of the sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show. Like many people my age I was mostly there for the animated shorts. This family of hideous yellow people named the Simpsons were hilarious.
Married… With Children was one of my favorite shows for a very long time. It was on the long list of television programs that my parents absolutely hated and forbid me to watch, which I’m sure added to its appeal.
November 22 – I usually format these sorts of posts to be about specific media or items rather than events, but on November 22nd, 1987, something so momentous occurred that I feel like I have to note it here. From Wikipedia:
During a showing of the Doctor Who story "Horror of Fang Rock", PBS member station WTTW-TV Channel 11 in Chicago is interrupted for 88 seconds by a pirate television transmitter overriding the station's transmission signal to broadcast a video of himself in a Max Headroom mask being spanked.
I hope you understand now. Even though I had no knowledge of this event prior to preparing for this post, I simply could not let this unique and incredible incident combining weird sex and Doctor Who go unmentioned.
Side Note: This segment is not included as a bonus feature on the “Horror of Fang Rock” DVD.
The Charmings – I haven’t seen this show since it aired, but I remember liking it quite a bit. It depicted Snow White and Prince Charming’s family waking up in 1987 and dealing with modern life as the pure, innocent fairytale people they are. I think this show could do very well today.
Paul Winfield as the Magic Mirror was the best.
To this day one of my favorite sitcom bits is this exchange:
One of the Charming Kids – “And Dad got so mad he said the “F” word!”
Snow – (gasps) – “Fiddlesticks?!?”
I laughed so hard at that. It’s a brilliant swerve.
Prince Charming’s introduction to CDs is also highly entertaining.
Max Headroom – It’s weird to think that Max Headroom’s biggest impact on pop culture will probably be the weird restaurant server screens in Back to the Future Part II. Back in 1987 this strange “computer generated” character was everywhere. Coke commercials, award shows, and his very own music video and interview show.
The concept was generally presented as humor or satire, but the American television show that it spawned was more of a drama, with actual appearances by Headroom being about as frequent as Lou Ferrigno’s on The Incredible Hulk (from what I remember). At the time it wasn’t what I wanted from the character, but I suspect I might enjoy the show more now.
21 Jump Street - In 1987 this was the coolest show ever in the history of the world. It featured a cast that may well be the most telegenic group of kids ever assembled. To my eleven year old eyes they were the height of suave, young adult sophistication. Peter DeLuise as Doug Penhall and Dustin Nguyen as Harry Ioki were my favorites, but there was no denying that Johnny Depp’s Tom Hanson (Hanson/Handsome?) was the main dude and the king of all that was cool.
In hindsight the premise was brilliant. The main characters were adults, 21 Jump Street from seeming like a kid’s show, but since they were undercover cops posing as high school students it was relatable for kids, too.
This show was another key to the success of the FOX network.
Bionic Six – I’m basically only mentioning this cartoon because of the toy line, which had launched the prior year. The figures were GI Joe sized, but made of a combination of die cast metal and plastic, some of which was translucent to suggest cybernetic parts. It was a short-lived but pretty cool line.
The show was essentially “What if Steve Austin (the six million dollar one, not the stone cold one) had a family?”. It was a great concept, but for some reason I couldn’t ever get into it. Maybe the kids were annoying – that was a common symptom of animation back then.
Side Note: I would totally watch a show about Stone Cold Steve Austin’s family traveling the world and fighting crime.
Werewolf – Oh man. I’ve mentioned this before, but I was super into lycanthropes when I was younger. Not just werewolves, but any human-turns-into-animal thing. But mostly werewolves.
This show – yet another of FOX’s outstanding first-year offerings – was incredible, featuring the most cutting-edge special effects that had ever been seen on screen at the time. The werewolf transformations were flawless and gruesome, and resulted in action-filled gore-fests. The story was tight and riveting, with the main character, Eric Cord’s ongoing search for the progenitor of his lupine bloodline in order to end his curse.
At least, that’s how I remember it. For the same reasons that I have avoided seeing RUN DMC live for the past thrity years, I have also avoided revisiting Werewolf. My memory of both is that were compelling perfection and the absolute height of cool. While RUN DMC might have held up slightly better than I suspect Eric Cord’s quest might have, I like having my perfect memories of both. Especially after trying to revisit other shows I loved like Highlander: The Series and Swamp Thing.
DuckTales – If you asked me conversationally what the best cartoon of the 80s was I would say GI Joe: A Real American Hero. But the truth is that it was DuckTales, the show so good that it spawned an entire era of animation with The Disney Afternoon, which featured some of the best syndicated cartoons ever produced.
Thirty years later, on August 12th 2017, we’re getting an all-new DuckTales series. Woo-oo!
My Two Dads – Most guys my age probably had a huge crush on Stacy Keanan in 1987. I certainly did. But that’s not what’s important here. After discussing the various Alien movies for months this year, I can finally remember where I knew Paul Reiser from before I saw Aliens – this show! He was the lame, anal retentive father figure while Greg Evigan was the cool, laid-back artsy guy. Florence Stanley, one of the all-time great cranks, played the judge that oversaw the unique family and that also ended up as their landlord.
This was destination viewing for me. I watched every episode. When the show ended I was frustrated that they never revealed who Nicole’s biological father was, but looking back I feel like it was the right call.
Also, it was totally Michael.
Spiral Zone – Sixty-five post-apocalyptic episode, Frank Welker, Michael Bell, and an absolutely incredible toy line and nobody ever remembers this show. Probably because it had a shitty Sunday morning time slot on USA, if I remember correctly.
Full House – Without getting into the whole Fuller House thing, I loved this show and still look back on it fondly.
I have to admit to always being confused as to why Dave Coulier’s character, Joey Gladstone, was always treated like such a loser. I knew Coulier from Out of Control, where he was basically a slightly edgier version of the same guy. I thought he was pretty much the height of adult coolness.
This might explain why I didn’t get much action in high school.
A Different World – Without getting into the whole Bill Cosby thing, The Cosby Show was an absolute juggernaut and still stands as one of the funniest, best-written sitcoms in the history of television. It’s spinoff, A Different World, was aimed at a younger audience yet was somehow more mature and intelligent. That’s not to say it didn’t delve into broader territory, but the emotional stakes of the program seemed somehow more significant to me than they did on The Cosby Show.
Tour of Duty – This gets a mention just because my dad, a Vietnam veteran, really liked it. I never could get into it.
Beauty and the Beast – I know I watched at least a few episodes of this one. I think the show leaned just a little too heavily into the romance angle for me to totally get into it. My mom loved it, though. It’s weird now to think of Sarah Conner and Hellboy occupying the same space.
Alternate Take: It’s weird now to think of Pilar McCawley and Clay Morrow occupying the same space.
ALF: The Animated Series – The live action ALF was a phenomenon. While I enjoyed seeing the furry alien interact with the Tanner family, I wanted to see what life on Melmac had been like. It turns out it wasn’t that entertaining. Or at least, it wasn’t to me. Maybe I need to revisit this one someday. It could have been ahead of its time.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – I watched the original Star Trek when it was on and grew up with the original cast movies. My mom took me to see all of them in the theater. Those will always be my sentimental favorite version of Trek, but The Next Generation is the era where I truly became immersed into the franchise. If you want to hear more, check out last Friday’s episode of the NeedlessThings Podcast. And just stay tuned to Needless Things, because I’ll never stop talking about Star trek.
Friday the 13th: The Series – In a time when there was no internet and I was starting to discover just how much my interests separated me from my peers, so I don’t really know how other people felt about a show called Friday the 13th that did not feature Jason Voorhees. But I was disappointed.
Which brings me to a whole other conundrum – if you asked me, I would say off the top of my head that I had not actually seen any of the Friday the 13th movies at eleven years of age. But I very clearly remember being let down by the first episode of the show and wondering why it was even called Friday the 13th. And not in a general way, but in a very specific, “Where’s Jason?” way that suggests I was more than passing familiar with the character. Even sitting here and racking my brain I can’t remember when I first saw a Jason movie, so it might have been earlier than it should have been.
The Friday the 13th franchise is an oddly blurry chapter of my pop culture life.
As far as the show goes, I grew to love it. And in my opinion it still holds up today. Sometimes SyFy will make it part of their 31 Days of Halloween and I am always happy to see it on the air. A DVD set of the entire series was recently re-released at a reasonable price and I probably need to go ahead and pick it up.
Remote Control – This game show was the first regular programming schedule on MTV, making it essentially the beginning of the end. But I was unaware of MTV’s eventual demise at the time and was addicted to it. This is where I was introduced to Adam Sandler, Denis Leary, and the greatest stand-up comedian of all time, Colin Quinn. The show was bright, fast-paced, and heavy on pop culture.
But the greatest part of Remote Control and what will stick with me until my dying day was co-host Kari Wuhrer:
Celebrity crushes come and go, but to this day my heart goes all aflutter for this lady.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I have spoken many times about how I thought that this cartoon was a little too silly and that I was always disappointed that the incredible character designs of the toys were used more for comedy than for action.
As a matter of fact, this show may very well represent the beginning of the transition from badass, action-oriented cartoons to the mawkish fluff that dominates animation today.
Or maybe not. This probably warrants more thought.
Just because I didn’t think the show was perfect doesn’t mean I didn’t watch every single episode (for a while). Read more about my love for the Turtles here!
Creating this article forced me to consider my writing style. I like to just sort of ruminate on things and share my feelings with the assumption that readers will either know what I’m talking about or go and look it up. I don’t know if that’s good, bad, or okay, but it’s how I do things. Nine years into my internet writing career I am starting to question it, as more and more often I am finding that I feel the need to explain things without having any desire to do so.
For example – in theory I should have explained the premise of every show that I mentioned, then shared my thoughts. But I don’t want to do that. I suppose I feel like if people are familiar with My Two Dads they’ll read what I have to say and relate it to their own feelings. If they aren’t, they’ll just move on to Spiral Zone, which nobody remembers.
Anyway, that’s how I roll.
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