So, a couple of months ago, a facebook friend of mine mentioned Blossom in a Big Bang Theory related status update. I’d more or less completely forgotten about Blossom, and I thought I’d check out an episode or two, just to see if I remembered anything. What happened after this is not quite clear to me. All I know is that somehow, over the following two months, I managed to watch every episode of Blossom. Always eager to share my weird guilty pleasures with you guys, my readers, here’s a review of the show. And no, this post is not an April’s Fool. I really did watch all five seasons of Blossom.
A Very Special Show
I did not embark on my Blossom-watching quest with great expectations. The show used to be on Danish public service television every week from my eighth and up until my thirteenth year, and yet I had no clear memories of the show, other than lots and lots of dorky-looking, big floppy hats, lots of dancing in the opening credits, and an annoying on-going plot about some older brother of Blossom’s who had once been a drug addict, which, even back then, struck me as “Ooo, look at us, we have such a cutting edge family sitcom going on here!”
Before I started re-watching the episodes I also found out that the Blossom producers actually coined the phrase “Very special episode” which has since been used in television lingo to describe episodes that are more concerned with sending a positive message to kids than with decent dramaturgy, roughly speaking. So I was sure that I was in for quite a crappy experience when I sat down to re- watch it.
And sure, there is some of that in the show. Blossom’s brother Anthony (Michael Stoyanov), the former drug addict/alcoholic, really is a constant reminder of this. There’s a reference to his substance abuse in just about every episode, and it gets old really fast. They try to flesh his character out somewhat by way of giving him a dry, intellectual comedy routine, but it doesn’t work very well, not to me anyway. Stoyanov strikes me as having deplorably little personality and stage presence, and I never got interested in his very special character.
Six LeMeure (Jenna von Oy) is absolutely adorable and hilarious, and von Oy is an incredibly good sit-com actor. Fast-talking is her shtick and she does this so well that it’s funny every time. On top of this, she has a wonderful personality and is quite pretty, without being a beauty queen, so she’s an easy person to relate to, and I remember identifiying the most with her character when I watched the show as a young tween girl.
But she, too, falls victim to the Very Special Episode syndrome, especially somewhere around the third season. It seems that the writers were determined to deal with certain issues (teenage drinking, pregnancy scares, relationships to older, married men), but were afraid to hand these immoral story lines to their protagonist Blossom, who was supposed to set an example for young girls. So instead Six got stuck with them, and that’s a darned shame.
The sad violin and the Fish Stick Guy
On the whole, however, I was surprised to find how genuinely funny Blossom was. If you compare it with other family sitcoms from that same era, such as Full House and Step by Step, it’s so much better that it actually almost feels criminal to be speaking of them in the same breath.
Part of the reason is no doubt that some of the actors are very good comedians. I’ve already mentioned Jenna von Oy as Six; Mayim Bialik is also quite charming in a precocious, off-beat kind of way; and while Stoyanov leaves me rather cold as Blossom’s oldest brother, Joey Lawrence is wonderful as her youngest older brother, even if he isn’t given much to work with. He plays your average dumb jock on Blossom, and the writers make the classical sit-com error of taking “dumb” and changing it into “mildly retarted”, so the part could have easily been a disaster. But Lawrence remains a joy to watch throughout the series. Not just because he’s quite the cutie and grows consistently hotter as he gets older, but because he simply seems so at ease in front of the camera and has such a natural comedic timing.
Ted Wass is also wonderful as Blossom’s rock musician father Nick. His character could have easily been an Uncle Jesse-ish stereotype, but Wass wisely focuses on playing a sympathetic authoritative figure and bringing a dry, subtle, poker-faced humor to his scenes.
Also, the writers of Blossom are a lot less afraid to take risks than those of shows like Full House, and they make some pretty bold dramaturgical choices in several episodes. This often results in a kind of crazy-comedy that you don’t expect to see on an American family show. There is for instance a wonderful scene where Blossom goes to see a woman who claims to have given birth to Nick’s daughter, and the two swap sob-stories about their hard lives while a violin players keeps popping up to accompany their stories with a sad violin (from 3:25). Or the scene where Nick questions Joey about a joint, while Joey thinks they’re talking about condoms (2:44). Or my personal favourite: An episode in which Joey is suddenly having trouble with his baseball and is coached back into the game by Nick dressed up as a character named The Fish Stick Guy, wearing goggles, a rain hat and rain coat and sporting an insane fisherman’s accent while pitching different kinds of fruit and vegetables for Joey to hit (from 3:59).
There’s even some pretty risqué dialogue here and there, such as this:
Blossom: “Can I have your Ding-Dong?
Six: *glares at Blossom*
Blossom: “Compromise: We’ll split it.”
Six: “Right. I’ll have the Ding…”
Blossom: “And I’ll have the Dong. …Did I really just say that?”
Father: “Hot date tonight, huh, son?”
Son: “No, I was just going to work on my stamp collection. You know I’m a philatelist, dad.”
Father: “No, you’re not! You just haven’t found the right girl yet.”
Excellent. And definitely not something you’d find on Full House.
Six, Joey, and the story arcs
So, how come I remembered so little of this show? How come it’s generally mostly remembered for the ugly hats and the Very Special Episodes?
Personally, I think it’s because as good as the writers could be when constructing a single episode, as bad were they at writing an actual series. They are just not good at creating story arcs that can hold the interest of an audience. Take Joey and Six, for instance: Six has a crush on Joey from day 1, and since the two of them are only one year apart and both absolutely adorable, it seems like an obvious choice to get them together at some point. Hell, I was ‘shipping the two of them, and I haven’t seriously ‘shipped an early 90s sitcom couple for, oh, 15 years or so. But then the show completely fails to deliver, and Joey ends up with some random girl nobody even cares about.
Similarly, Blossom has a supposedly Deep Romance with a hot rebel named Vinnie, but the show is too darned coy to even tell us if they ever have sex, which, seriously, writers. If you are writing a show about a teenage protagonist and her hopes and dreams, and your audience doesn’t even know whether she’s a virgin or not? You’re doin’ it wrong.
Finally, and most annoyingly, somewhere around season 4 or 5 Nick marries an English woman named Carol who is all of a sudden the great love of his life and who brings with her an annoying 8-year-old daughter whom we are supposed to care about (think the Olsen twins, but with a fake English accent that will make you want to stab yourself in the ear with a potato peeler. That.).
But if you can see past these problems, Blossom is worth a re-watch. If nothing else, it’s a nostalgic look back on the innocent, yet horribly ugly 1990s, that doesn’t involve neither Dave Coulier nor Suzanne Somers. And that should count as something.