Thanks to the content singularity basic cable has become, tuberculosis it is now possible to spend one’s entire day watching nothing but repeats of Happy Days.
That does beg the question “Why would one want to watch nothing but Happy Days repeats?” A vaild inquiry, to be sure, but one which neglects the fact that the former sitcom darling of ABC’s prime time schedule is an astoundingly multifaceted subject for retrological study.
The show was the product of late 1960s/early 1970s nostalgia for a softened and romanticized iteration of the 1950s — long on poodle skirts, hot rods and doo wop, while short on crushing social conformity, institutionalized racism and red-bating paranoia — which also gave us things like Sha Na Na, Grease, and American Grafitti. Much like the coterminous “prairie chic” phenomenon (think Little House, Gunne Sax fashions, and Holly Hobby), it was a sentiment that responded to recent socio-cultural uhheaveals by hearking back to a perceived-if-not-actually “simpler” time.
In the case of Happy Days, what began as a slightly risque (and spun out of a Love, American Style segment) coming-of-age story about a geeky midwestern teen trying get laid mutated under the pressures of its own success into a popcult religion for the kiddie-to-tweener set. Attention to period detail soon fell by the wayside, leaving a bizarre anarchronistic stew of remedial 1950s nostalgia filtered through the schmaltzy, socially conscious lens of a 1970s sitcom propped up by the astronomical popularity of a supporting character thrust into the foreground.
Before Urkel, before Spike, before River Song, there was the Fonz, the hawg-riding hoodlum even your grandma could love. The reasons why the viewing public latched their affections on the family friendly “King of Cool” are less important than the unforgiving nature of the commercial entertainment industry, which dictates that any success must be milked until the udders squirt blood…and then milked for a couple additional seasons after that.
If the original premise of Happy Days was lost or the quality of the content took a nosedive as a result of the rush to capitalize on Fonz-a-mania, that decision was more than validated by show’s consistently high ratings and flood of merchandising revenue. Puerility can sometimes be a virtue, especially when the kiddies are your driving demographic.
I’ve mentioned this in a few previous posts, but it is difficult to describe just how huge Happy Days was to the tots of my generation. Multi-episode arcs like Fonzie’s bus stunt, the demoltion derby with Pinky Tuscadero and the Malachi Brothers and, yes, even the infamous shark jump were the stuff of playground and cafeteria line legend. From eight-year olds trying to look slick in plain white t-shirts to the mass rush to get library cards in order to better emulate our idol, the “Fonzie effect” was a very real and widespread phenomenon.
As a result, watching these old Happy Days episodes has made me feel like a lapsed Catholic attending his first mass in twenty-five years — that disconcerting resurfacing of long-dormant yet indelible memories I’d long since shoved to the furthest corners of my subsconsciousness. It has also rekindled my childhood bewilderment about one very specific component of the Happy Days universe…
…namely the mirror in the Fonz’s apartment.
I puzzled over it when I was seven years old and I’m still puzzling over it today.
What the hell is up with that thing? Why does it look like a guillotine crossed with a British toilet? Why is painted the same hue as the LNG tankers which used to dock on the Everett side of the Mystic River? What’s the deal with the symmetrically placed coathooks near the top, and why to they look like they’re throwing Ronnie James Dio-style “devil horns?”
I lived around enough older relatives in my lifetime to have seen my fair share of odd and unusual home furnishings, but none of them — including the contents of my third cousin’s ancient farmhouse in rural Maine — have come close to resembling that nightmarish excuse for a vanity table.
My preliminary hypothesis that the Fonz — being a working class stiff with limited means — plucked from a junkyard or curbside pile on garbage day was shattered when I caught the episode where he moved into the Cunninghams’ garage and the mirror was already there. Creepy.
Based on this new evidence, I’m now leaning toward the notion that the mirror is actually an eldrich artifact which uses the energy from Chuck Cunningham’s trapped soul to empower the Fonz’s mystical ability to control Arnold’s jukebox and the wills of Milwaukee’s female population.
I never though I’d type this, but this is one of the times where I wish the Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley/Joanie Loves Chachi/Mork and Mindy/Blansky’s Beauties canon had been as meticulously annotated as that of the Star Wars universe. If that were the case, my curiousity could be slaked by a quick read of the eight-volume Fonz’s Mirror “trilogy” of novels.
Recommended listening: As it turns out, the Fonz’s mirror is only the second-most unfathomable thing to emerge from the Happy Days phenomenon.
There are deeper mysteries, children. Questions which defy all attempts at explanation. To ponder them is to descend into the screaming vortex of primoridal madness from which no soul may emerge intact.