​ "Baby, If You've Ever Wondered" - WKRP in Cincinnati/Comedy in General Review

Some folks (those who read my reviews of Wrecked) probably wonder what the heck I want from a comedy, if Wrecked isn't sufficient. And it's not.

So let's hop in the wayback machine to 1979 and WKRP in Cincinnati to find out what is. It's a workplace comedy that seems to be have been written by at least some people who actually worked. In a workplace. I don't expect the writers of Wrecked to have been stranded on a deserted island or hunted by billionaires. Although that might make them funnier.

For those who can't be bothered to go to IMDb or Wikipedia (and I'm not: this is off the top of my head because my computer is running some other stuff so it's too slow to go elsewhere), WKRP is set at the WKRP radio station in Cincinnati. The general manager is Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), who is the son of the station owner Mama Carlson. The other "old guard" members of the staff are sale manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) and newsman Les Nesman (Richard Sanders). Herb is constantly on the prowl, mostly for station secretary Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson). Les is just... weird. He wears a bow-tie like an overaged Jimmy Olson, is obsessed with hog futures, can't have an office so he tapes lines on the floor, constantly has a bandage on some part of his body, and other running gags like his inability to pronounce names (he pronounces baseball player ChiChi Rodriguez's first name as "Chee-Chee"), his elderly mother (also played by Richard Sanders) and a large unseen dog that is presumably the cause of his bandaged injuries.

Mama hires Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) to bring up the station's ratings. He brings along Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Firetrap (Tim Reid) as new rock 'n' roll DJs, and takes assistant Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and promotes her to assistant sales manager.

That's not to mention the weird yet endearing secondary characters. I'm particularly fond of Hirsch (Ian Wolfe), Mama Carlson's 80-year-old houseboy who inevitably gets the last word with her and gives her sass except when they have guests.

There's enough conflict right there with old guard versus new guard. But the show never falls back on that except for a few times. Like the hilarious "Turkey's Away", where Arthur tries to demonstrate he's still got it to the new guard by staging a live turkey drop on a shopping mall.

All of the characters have lots of little moments and no one's a bad guy. Except maybe Mama Carlson (Sylvia Sidney in the premiere, and Carol Bruce for the rest of the series). Even Herb manages to do more than just be a lecherous sales manager with a taste for polyester. Andy is probably the most "normal" character on the show. Johnny seems to be in a perpetual drug haze, we later find out that Venus is an alias for a conservative black guy who draft-dodged Vietnam, and Jennifer saunters through it all confident she has a job no matter what because a) she's just that charming, and b) they need a secretary.

That brings us to "Baby, If You Ever Wondered", which echoes the theme tune lyrics. We're nine episodes into the second season, and the station finally gets the Arbitron book with the ratings. Everyone is happy to hear that they've gone from 16th to 14th in the Cincinnati market. Except Andy, who doesn't do a very good job of masking his disappointment.

In a fairly decent conversation with little or no laughs—yes, it has a 70s laugh track--Andy tells Venus that he's always gotten results at every other station he's worked at. Until he got to WKRP. Where he became friends with people and realized he couldn't fire the incompetents--Les and Herb--without firing Arthur, the "Big Guy". That and as Venus points out, Andy is too big-hearted to fire anyone, much less the people that he's come to think of as his friends.

But that's only about five minutes in a half-hour episode. The rest of it is just... jokes and character moments. Herb and Les fight over the book until Venus puts on his tough black man act and takes the book from them. Arthur brings out his blueprints for a new "Arthur Carlson Building" for the station, completely with a "think tank" where he can hide out. He tries to talk to Johnny, who disappears as soon as they round a corner. Jennifer plays den mother, indulging Arthur's interest in his blueprints one minute and the next cheerfully telling Andy they're looking at dirty pictures when Arthur (badly) hides the blueprints behind his back.

It helps that the jokes are funny. WKRP had episodes with a lot more plot, and they did their share of "very special episode" episodes. Herb has a drinking problem in one episode, a WKRP-sponsored concert causes a stampede that kills several attendees in another episode. It could be deep and moving. But it also had a cast of eccentric characters and actors who could expertly play them and bring out the humanity in each of them. Wrecked seems to cram in more plot because it doesn't have as many jokes, and because most of the characters aren't that interesting. Park, the talent agent, is ten times less interesting than Herb the sales manager.

It also helps that WKRP doesn't have that much of a plot, and often spends its own sweet time getting to the big joke. "Turkey's Away" is one example. The creative team spends 15 minutes building up to the big "turkey dropping" gag. And then they spend all of their time with Les describing what's happening rather than showing the admittedly dark images of "turkeys hitting the ground like sacks of wet concrete". Sometimes it seems like Wrecked is trying too hard to give the audience plots. They have to remind us Steve is a rich kid, and Owen and Florence are a couple, and Pack is a coward, and Todd and Jess were a couple until she got amnesia, and Karen is a sociopath, and... the list goes on.

In "Baby", for instance, there are hints Andy is dissatisfied with the ratings throughout the episode. But it's not until the conversation with Venus that they finally get to him voicing his discontent. In Wrecked they probably would have said it in the first ten minutes of the season premiere and repeated it once an episode for the entire third season.

But that's all just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?

Oh, it looks like you can watch "Turkeys Away" on Youtube.

Written by Gislef on Sep 12, 2018


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