Streaks on the china/Never mattered before/Who cares?/When you drop-kicked your jacket/As you enter the door/No one glared/But sometimes things get turned around/And no one’s spaaaared!
I know the whole damn theme song of Mr. Belvedere by heart; I often sing it in a weird affected voice like Leon Redbone to the amusement/annoyance of my family and it rattles through my head like so many catchy tunes that I’ve absorbed over the years from TV commercials and sitcoms. According to our new arrival/Life is more than mere survival/We’re gonna need all the help that we can geeet! It’s like a tic or compulsion in me now to finish the damn song.
This is all to say that I sincerely enjoy Mr. Belvedere, both when I was a kid and as an adult. I started re-watching the show over the past few years when I found a channel that airs reruns and found a lot of comfort in the very 1980s aesthetic and familiar sitcom plotlines the show produced. I still find the writing rather good, and I like the interplay between the characters. The general setup was both pretty simple and wildly unrealistic, as was the style in the 1980s in Sitcomland: a Pittsburgh-based family finds that the baseball announcer father and his lawyer-in-training wife are too busy to attend to their family at home, which includes their dorky and girl-crazy college-aged son, 80’s-tastic teenage daughter, and sociopath-in-training younger son. So they decide to get a live-in caretaker, which comes in the form of the portly upper-crust British Mr. Belvedere. Mr. Belvedere is a snarky limey who locks horns often with the down-to-earth father (Bob Euker) and the rather devilish younger son Wesley but also genuinely cares about the family and attempts to better their lives and help them out in their personal dilemmas.
I view the show now as a bit of comfort food–much like Growing Pains–when I need something familiar to escape into for a half-hour at a time. It ran for five seasons, four of them on Friday nights, but only one season ran on TGIF proper, after which it was moved to a Saturday Night Death Slot and then cancelled. It was a pre-TGIF show, airing alongside such mid-80s staples like Webster, Perfect Strangers, and Sledge Hammer! before 1988, when TGIF began proper. It was never the most popular show, but it held solid numbers until it was shuffled off of Friday nights tp make room newer, hipper shows for the family audience like Family Matters.
But I’m here to praise Mr. Belvedere, not to bury it, so with that we’ll be watching an episode from the only season that ran on TGIF proper, the third episode of its fourth season, “Triangle.”
Season 4 Episode 3 – “Triangle”
We open on Mr. Belvedere giving George (the father) some shit as usual and George is dragging his heels to get to the airport and his wife says what the dickens are you still doing here? Bob confidently says whatevs, cuz: the car’s gassed up, I got my plane ticket, and you already packed my bags including the sweet chronic that I needs for my head. Belvie’s eyes go wide at this and he dashes off because of course he hasn’t packed George’s bags yet and gets to stepping.
And that’s when the mescaline kicked in.
AAAANND NOW THE THEME SONG! Damn, do I love this song. The visuals over the theme are clips of the show with the cast and some amusing pre-Photoshop pictures of Belvedere with world leaders from his past. Ah, but it’s just too darn short and ends.
Back to the show, Belvedere is eating in the kitchen while Mom crunches the family budget and she wonders aloud just where the heck the food budget’s gone since they never used to spend that much money on it before. Oh shit, Belvedere! Your hand’s literally been caught in the cookie jar! But they laugh this off as the dorky older brother comes in and then the other teenage daughter comes in (her name is Heather) but Heather doesn’t like being called Heather anymore so she’s going by Bianca now. I don’t know, Heather’s a pretty good name if you ask me. Belvedere throws some classy shade at this goofery and that’s cool too. Her mom says yeah, why don’t we just call you Heather, you ungrateful bitch? Heather’s dipstick friend asks Mr. Belvedere (who she calls Mr. Babyboomer, and I think this is a recurring gag with this character, never getting his name right) if he ever wanted to change his name, and he retorts, “With you around I don’t have to.” Classic slam structure, Belvie!
“Since you’re not part of this family, I don’t have to be nice to you!”
FADE INTO elsewhere, where creep-in-training Wesley is stuck in detention, for which he’s late. He’s stuck in with a punk kid that has multicolored hair and a black kid (racist) and the teacher totally calls him out on being a late SOB. Wesley is apparently notorious around school for being a bad kid and holy smokes, Wesley takes the position like he’s going to be searched! Anyway, this new teacher, Ms. Connors, is there to substitute the regular detention teacher. And that’s kind of that.
Later, Belvedere–still in the kitchen–greets Mom and I guess three days have passed because Wesley’s in detention again and I guess the setup here is that Wesley likes this lady so he’s purposely getting detention to be around her. Wesley’s brother (Kevin) comes in LATER to pick him up and she and Kevin say hello and I guess Kevin is going to start dating Ms. Connors since the title of the episode is “Triangle” and all.
Wesley comes into the house and his mom wants to talk to him about whatever bullshit is going on with his love of detention. She says stop it fuckface, I can’t stand you anymore and Ms. Connors is coming over later to talk about what a shitty kid you are. This gets some hot sauce in his jeans and he runs upstairs to take a bath to look good for the lady. Mom picks up the phone and someone’s asking for Bianca and Mom says this is goddamn nonsense but Mr. Belvedere asks for Bianca to help him set up the table to salt Mom’s game a bit.
I got another name to call her that starts with B…
LATER (jeez, lots of time cuts in this sitcom) and Wesley is now all dressed up for dinner and is trying to get advice on how to hit on this lady that’s literally decades older than him. Belvedere gives him reasonable advice, what thinking he’s talking about a little girl his age, and when Wesley reveals it’s the detention lady and that’s why he’s been doing bad stuff to go there every day and he’s got it bad for her, Belvedere says well since she’s an adult woman and you’re like 10 so I’m sure she’s not interested, kid. But good luck with all that!
A ring at the door and Wesley runs to it, taking a bouquet of flowers from the kitchen table. He invites her in and bingo-bango! Kevin is getting picked up for a date! FACE, Wesley! Belvie’s there for Wesley, but he just storms upstairs leaving Belvedere to hold the flowers.
After a commercial break, I guess the next morning because Belvedere’s pouring some orange juice for Mom, and they talk about Heather’s ridiculous fixation on her stupid fucking name change. Belvedere recalls a story about when Prince Charles once wanted to become Buzz and the Mom says fuck off and leave me alone, I know what’s best you old English bastard! Wesley comes in and then storms out when Kevin comes in and Belvedere explains that Wesley liked the woman you’re dating, guy, and Belvedere also lets him know that Wesley’s a sociopath so he’ll probably kill Kevin soon.
“As the Maharaji once said to me, Kevin: bros before hos.”
LATER (again with the cuts!) Kevin’s returning from his date and smooches Ms. Connors on the front porch. When he gets inside, Wesley’s still awake and waiting for him and is all twisted up about Kevin getting kissed by her. Kevin says hey, when I was your kid I had a crush on my teacher, too. And Wesley gets a good line in saying, “So what then, did dad start dating her?” Because zing! And then he lets Kevin know that he is no longer his brother, which is harsh.
AGAIN LATER, Mom and Heather are walking through the kitchen (AKA Belvedere’s second home) and they’re going out for the night so the mom can talk her out of this Bianca nonsense. Wesley strolls in and Belvs says we’re going to the movies tonight but not Kevin because he’s an adult while I’m all alone in the world. Wesley pouts and Belvedere snarks. Classic Belvedere.
LATER AGAIN Kevin says hey Belvedere, why are you still here? Belvedere says I lost your brother and don’t care so I’m just going to eat paint chips until my brain starts malfunctioning. But seriously, your little brother’s missing. JUST THEN the phone rings and it turns out Wesley has been caught shoplifting. Kevin whines that he did this just to fuck things up for him but Belvedere says I still don’t care but will lose my paycheck if I don’t reign in that little monster before your mom finds out so tally ho! But nope, it was just that lunatic Wesley tricking them! He bounds down the stairs remarking how easy this all was.
“In about 30 seconds, I should hear a large explosion from the car. 29. 28. 27…”
CUT TO the interior of the living room, and there’s a knock at the door. It’s Ms Connors and dinner is on the table but it’s just that maniac Wesley dressed in a tux trying to seduce her. Kevin storms in cursing out Wesley’s name and Belvedere says hey you nutcase, I’m going to huff paint in the garage for the rest of the night and leaves. Kevin says to Ms Connors hey why don’t we just go get something to eat while Wesley says nah, she wants me, OK? But Ms Connors is like, no, I’m a normal person that doesn’t want to date my 10-year-old student so I’m just going to go make out with your older, more appropriately aged brother.
CUT TO LATER and Kevin comes back in kind of bummed out and Belvies says well you know, you should probably make up with your brother and then leaves the room to sniff some glue. Out on the patio, Kevin goes to have a little heart-to-heart with Wesley and lets him know that Ms Connors fucking dumped him, dig? And it’s all because of you, you fucking weirdo. And Wesley admits that he kind of fucked up but Kevin’s like nah I’m a real fuck-up with women anyway.
Wesley says I’m off older women and creepily Kevin says I’m gonna try to stay away from 10-year-old girls like that was a problem he has to consider. So Wesley and Kevin make up and it’s all very nice and good. BUT FUCKING CUT TO! The next morning where Mom (sorry I call her Mom throughout this, but she’s the only character where nobody addressed her by name) says I tried to get through to Heather that changing your name won’t change who you are and Belvedere catches her in a web of hypocrisy because her new business cards use her maiden name and she and Heather/Bianca have some shitface dialogue about whatever blah blah teenage problem she’s having with her name. Mom says hey you know, your father named you when he saw you because you reminded him of a bit of heather, so you understand why being a bitch about this isn’t cool, right?
CUT TO Belvedere writing in his diary, as usual, and is wrapping this up so he can shoot up his evening’s supply of morphine. Also, Belvedere reveals his first name is Lynn and he’s fine with that, but then he has second thoughts and rattles off some alternative names like Biff and Spike and it’s a resolution as resolution goes. Over the credits, I get to hear the original promo voiceover for upcoming shows on ABC at the time, including a new episode of The Wonder Years coming up that Sunday night where Kevin goes to his first dance. Aww. Also, this lets me know that somebody held onto a taped episode of Mr. Belvedere on VHS from 1988 when it originally aired and then later digitized it and uploaded it to YouTube in 2012, and this revelation unnerves me a little. But still: The Wonder Years? Aww.
I don’t know, I still really like Mr. Belvedere. I think it’s because none of it was ever saccharine-sweet. Unlike a show like Full House, none of it really centered around little kids. Even though Wesley’s a little kid, he’s far more devious and dark than all of the adult characters on the show combined, and having two teenagers (I guess Kevin’s in his 20s by this point in the series, though) makes sure that none of their storylines are too childish.
I had a real problem with watching children-centered live-action TV when I was a kid: I think it’s because they made it so stupid. Like my furious lambasting of Boy Meets World, I just hated seeing representations of myself on television–mostly because they always came across as dorky and unrealistic to me. Sure, I was a stupid little kid, but I was never as duh-duh stupid as you saw on Full House, and frankly I found it insulting. It’s something commented upon occasionally by people discussing children’s television and entertainment in general, which is that a lot of the television industry tends to talk down to children and forget that when they were young, they were never as obvious and one-dimensional as they later insist on projecting to them.
When I was 8, I understood and appreciated The Beatles. Did I understand all of it? Of course not–but it still stirred something in me that was something deep and emotional, and I could at least sense that there was a deeper meaning there. So it was with a lot of movies and TV shows: I liked adult-oriented stuff, even if I didn’t understand it–like Ghostbusters and Back to the Future (two big cultural touchstones for men of my generation), I liked it as a kid because there was something bigger going on in it that was just outside of my ken, but I still understood that there was something more to it–and I appreciated not being talked down to when I watched these movies.
Mr. Belvedere never insulted my young intelligence: it was witty and snarky and the characters could be unpleasant or unlikeable, but there was always a sense that they weren’t bad people; they were just people. Maybe it was serendipitous that I heard that announcer mention The Wonder Years over the credits since what I felt about this show was what I felt about that show when I was younger.
I was at least 4 years younger than Kevin Arnold in that show, but because it depicted a young teenager with an inner monologue and feelings and observations that were realistic, I loved that show, even if I hadn’t experienced any of that yet. Talking down to an audience only reduces the audience to the show’s level; if television writers and producers chose to speak up to their audience more often–particularly their young audience–I think they’d be surprised how more often than not that young audience will meet them, if not eye-to-eye, than at least appreciatively with a captive gaze.