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In keeping with the theme of “shows I vaguely remember” in this little project of mine, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper is one of them. It only aired on the TGIF lineup for three seasons, having been bounced up from Tuesday nights after its first season and then bounced down to Saturday nights for its fifth and final season, and these three seasons on TGIF must have been the ones I watched. I can sincerely say that I do not remember a whit of the show but have a very thin sense that I enjoyed it. But then again, I was just a stupid little kid when this aired, so who knows?

Actually, I wasn’t that little (though still stupid): it ran on TGIF from 1993 to 1996, so I would have been between 11 and 14 when it aired–but I stopped watching TGIF and instead moved over to The X-Files and surfing the internet on Friday nights when I was 13 (ahh, 1995: halcyon days, my friends). Speaking of which, does The X-Files hold up? I’m too scared to re-watch it and find that one of my favorite shows from my adolescence now sucks after 20 years.

But we’re not talking about paranormal hour-long dramas right now: we’re talking (checks topic) Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. So this show was about a former NBA player-turned-teacher (the titular Mr. Cooper) who lives with two ladies and has to sleep in the den because his life sucks. I guess that’s about it: we’re watching this NBA player-turned teacher as he gets into zany hijinks with his students and lady roommates. None of this sounds familiar to me, but this is what Wikipedia says and all hail Wikipedia, the only tenuous grasp we have left on some semblance of reality.

This show was even harder to find online than most of these obscure and long-forgotten sitcoms, but there’s a full episode on Vimeo so that’s the one I’m watching. It’s Season 3 Episode 6’s “Father Fairest.

Season 3 Episode 6 – “Father Fairest”

We cold-open on Cooper and assorted people sitting down for breakfast. A knock at the kitchen door reveals some kid who’s smiling and waving from outside. Cooper gets up and says faux-enthusiastically, “Oh look, it’s Tyler!” and locks the door. One of the ladies lets the kid in and the kid says good news: I get to spend Halloween with you guys! Cooper says dangit and complains about Halloween because he’s a homeowner and worries about his property being damaged by the no-goodniks in the world. Raven-Symoné’s in this show, as well, and she goes up to conspire with Tyler about awful things they can do together on Halloween because they’re sitcom kids. Meanwhile, another goddamn knock at the door and it’s some lady that Cooper doesn’t like. She sashays in and takes his chair and starts eating his food (she’s overweight, you see).

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“People that have an eating disorder are hilarious!” (chuckles to self)

She complains about needing a chaperone for the Halloween dance and also eats all the food on the table (she’s overweight so it’s funny) and this lady also tells Mark (Cooper) that she needs more help but he says nuts to that, I have to watch the house because kids are a goddamn endless nightmare and they’re going to fuck up my property. Then he calls her a witch and that’s the end of the cold open.

The credits start and it’s generic shots of the main characters getting ready for work or whatever, and the song “Soul Man” plays over it. Raven-Symoné has her own credit. And then they all leave the house to start their days. END CREDITS!

In the classroom, Cooper is teaching biology and he uses confusing basketball analogies to explain what cells are. One of his students points out that he keeps using the same analogy over and over to explain everything and it doesn’t make any sense, which would be true. He explains that the next day they’re going to be discussing vacuums, which also doesn’t make sense for a biology class but I guess chaos reigns when Mr. Cooper is teaching.

He gets on the kids about being shitty students and asks what they think is going to happen to their godforsaken lives if they don’t do well in school. Some banter occurs that I couldn’t care less about, mostly because it’s not funny, and all of his students leave the class. Cooper stops one of his students, Irving, who seems to be doing terribly in class. He tries to encourage the boy and figure out what he wants out of life and Irving says he wants the woman that wakes him up in the morning not to be his mother. I guess that’s a joke. Anyway, he says that his dream is that he’d like to meet his father. That’s a goddamn bummer. The skeleton next to Cooper is wearing a silly hat, though, so I guess the scene ends on a light note. I guess. I mean, yikes.

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WRITER: So what should we do to make this depressing scene funny?

(OTHER WRITER takes a long pull off his cigar)

OTHER WRITER: Put a hat on the skeleton. Who cares? Let’s go to lunch.

CUT TO Cooper talking to his housemate (Girlfriend? Wife? According to my new god Wikipedia, the show went through a lot of changes from its inception, so I don’t know.) about reuniting the kid with his father, and she wisely cautions that it’s a bad idea because why would you get that involved in your student’s lives? It crosses so many professional and personal boundaries, it makes my academic head spin. So Cooper throws some shade at some other roommate who he’s saucy with and they shit on each other for a minute before he reveals that he found Irving’s dad and is flying him in to meet Irving at the Halloween dance. Wait, how much is this substitute teacher making? Maybe he has some NBA money left over.

Raven-Symoné plows through the front door egging Tyler on to enter the house and saying that nobody’s going to laugh at him. He enters and is dressed like The Flash, and everyone laughs at him but I don’t get why: it’s a pretty sweet Flash costume. Tyler complains that his father is making him wear the same costume for the past five years and I still don’t understand what’s wrong with Tyler’s pretty sweet costume.

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Pictured: What I wear every day.

Tyler leaves all sad and says he’s staying home for Halloween but Raven-Symoné’s mom says she’ll make hims a costume and I’m confused who all of these people are. Anyway, CUT TO later where Cooper is cleaning out bottles (what?) and it’s the day where Irving is meeting his dad. I guess it’s Halloween, but the set designer decided not to put anything up to visually signify this. In the living room, the kids are going as a horse costume and they both start arguing who’s going to be the head and Cooper comes in saying that must have never seen The Godfather. Well of course they haven’t, Coop: they’re 7. That’d be wildly irresponsible to let a 7-year-old watch The Godfather, which I watched with my grandfather and dad when I was 7.

Anyway, this crap continues as the kids argue about the costume and they ditch the stupid costume in agreement. I’m confused who’s who in this episode: so I guess the woman that’s Raven-Symoné ’s mom is like a relative of Cooper and the lady that Cooper is sniping with is his roommate? I don’t know. Anyway, the doorbell rings and it’s Irving, who dashes in and asks what the fuck Coop wanted to see him for. Cooper says great news: I found your dad and he’ll be here any minute! Irving seems surprised and is ushered into the kitchen while Cooper answers yet another knock at the door. Man, this is a busy house. He opens it and a bald white dude in a cheap suit is standing outside. Cooper slams the door on his face because he thinks he’s a trick-or-treater but nope, it’s Irving’s dad! Cooper seems surprised by this turn of events, since Irving is black. I haven’t mentioned this yet in the recap, but this is a predominately black-oriented cast. I also wasn’t planning on  mentioning it but I guess this is going to become a plot point. So yeah, Irving’s dad is white. And we go to commercial break.

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He’s surprised that he’s in this sitcom.

I imagine for a moment what would be a commercial in 1996 on TV and all I can think about is The X-Files, which ran on FOX and not ABC so they probably weren’t running promos for that show. Anyway, we come back to the same scene we just left on, where Cooper is now stuttering an apology for slamming the door in this guy’s fucking face and invites him in. This guy’s suit sucks and he’s wearing a lot of mis-matched clothes. This guy asks if he and Irving look alike and Cooper awkwardly responds by saying, “some would say you two look as different as night and day,” which is kind of racist. Or not. I really can’t tell anymore.

In the kitchen, Cooper asks Irving what he knows about his dad, and Irving says from what he’s heard he was a pretty boy, which doesn’t jive because the guy is fat and bald and unappealing. Anyway, Raven-Symoné’s mom comes in and asks who the white guy in the living room is, which spoils the deceit that Cooper was trying to pull, and Irving says “Dad!” and runs into the living room.

The father and son meet and they have a weird but OK meeting, and Cooper asks Irving that he’s not surprised that his father’s “bald” (read: white) and Irving fucking slams his father in the face to tell him how much he fucking hates his chump father for walking out on him and leaves. Anyway, this dude is like, oh gosh he hates me! And also implies that he’ll be staying for a while. CUT TO later where Cooper is dressed like a surgeon and Wally (the dad’s name) walks out eating food (because he’s overweight, you see) and intimates he’s going to keep staying with Cooper for a while. Meanwhile, Cooper answers the door and it’s Irving’s mother, who he chastises for still trick-or-treating as an adult at first, and then when she reveals who she is lays into Cooper for being completely out-of-line for interfering (which, of course, he is). Anyway, she says keep that damn guy away from my son or I’ll get you fired.

Wally galumphs into the room dressed as a raisin and Cooper says shut your face and stay here. But nope, Wally’s going, and then we see some old footage from a movie of the Titanic sinking and it’s completely incongruous. When did this show turn into Dream On? How do I keep making way out-of-date references? CUT TO the damn Halloween dance where Cooper inappropriately hints at a very inappropriately dressed grown woman at a Halloween dance at a school.

Anyway, more crap happens that I couldn’t care less about for a while. Wally is there and Irving and Wally meet once again. Wally gives some bullshit excuses about why he left, and mentions that he’s a Democrat and likes ribs while the mother’s a vegetarian and is a Republican (GET IT?). Irving asks why Wally left, and he said because I didn’t want you to grow up in a shitty house where your parents are arguing like I did; also, your mom lied to me and said she got remarried. Irving moves ten feet away and Cooper follows.

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This screengrab is almost as fuzzy as my memories of this show.

Cooper says hey, what are you doing? You’re making me look like a jerk. Why not kiss and make up and finish this insanity? And when does this episode end? Anyway, Irving’s mom is also there and gives Wally some shit while he calls her out on her lies of remarrying. This…isn’t very fun. It’s more upsetting than comedic. Wally asks why she lied and she said she needed to get on with her life; and they both reveal that they always cared for each other. What the hell is this? Isn’t this for kids? Irving shows back up and says it’s time to sign up for the father-and-son bobbing for apples contest, which I’m sure isn’t a thing that exists in any universe other than a one that needs a plot device to reunite long-lost fathers with their sons in under 23 minutes.

So yeah, Irving–despite having shared only five lines with his father–asks him if he’d like to join in, and the canned audience says awww and Irving’s mom says that she made the mistake, not Cooper. And then she reveals that this kind of gross dude still gets her hot. Ew. Anyway, the portly lady shows back up and an earlier misunderstanding between him and an older lady are the reason she bothers him, as she wants to hook her up with Cooper.

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What a fun callback to something in the episode I don’t even remember at this point!

But that’s not it! There’s a closer where Cooper offers Irving, Wally, and Irving’s mom to dinner the next night. A slight misunderstanding between where to go to dinner starts a stupid little argument and Cooper is just happy nobody died…this time. AND THAT’S THE END OF THE FUCKING SHOW!

Conclusions

Bland. Bland, bland, bland. And somewhat melancholic. What the fuck was that show about, anyway? A bunch of pawns are pushed around the chessboard but none fall; an affable lead ticks away the remaining time in his life to make small impacts in others’ lives; and 23 more minutes pass like grains of sand in an hourglass.

I guess that was…something. It was a show, I’m sure. It was kind of sloppy and not very good, but it hit its marks (kind of) and the plot lurched forward towards a conclusion. I don’t remember watching this show; I may have grown out of the demographic for TGIF right around the time it premiered. It wasn’t very good, but the 90s had enough money to keep crap on the air as long as it got a certain amount of viewers, which this–like all  TGIF shows–continually did.

I have nothing further to say about this other than I found it kind of depressing overall. What a bleak storyline to write for a family show: an estranged father suddenly reappears in his child’s life, but his child is now 17 and filled with anger at his long-absent father; a weak resolution is found without any true hope. It reads more like a script that Ingmar Bergman would reject for being too dispiriting.

I think Marc Cooper’s a pretty engaging fellow: he hosted Showtime At The Apollo for a while, and I always enjoyed both that show and him. He’s fine enough on this show, but this show can’t decide what it is: is it a serio-comic sitcom? Absurdist? Dramatic? This episode wasn’t very clear and from what I just watched, I will not be returning to find out. What does Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper even mean? Is the audience hanging out with him during the half-hour? Or is it the people around him hanging out? Or is he just barely hanging on for dear life? The world may never know.

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