Have you ever looked back on things you enjoyed during childhood, or at least things you thought didn’t suck, and been disappointed? For me, a prime example is the ’90s family sitcom Step By Step.
Throughout its six seasons on TGIF, it was consistently the second-least funny show on ABC’s Friday night lineup – and that’s only if you included 20/20. And despite this, I watched it every week, because it was easier than turning off the TV for half an hour before Dinosaurs, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, or Sister, Sister.
Airing right after Family Matters in its first seasons, Step By Step was the definition of “time slot hit”.
I mean, ABC even had Steve Urkel literally jetpack in from Family Matters on episode freaking two.
Step By Step’s premise was pretty much the same as The Brady Bunch’s, but updated for the 90s, meaning that only one of the biological parents was dead. Starring Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers, the show asked what would happen if two single parents got married and forced two sets of shallow stereotypes to coexist under one roof.
This season five episode, titled, “Beautiful Ladies of Wrestling”, promises some cheap laughs inside the wrestling ring. But of course, they can’t jump straight into the hijinks; they’ve got to get the viewer emotionally invested while showing off their characters’ dazzling chemistry.
“Hey guys, great news,” says Mark’s friend. “I got something that’s gonna change our lives.”
To which step-sister Al replies, “What is it, an inflatable woman?” [laugh track]
“No, it’s a girlie magazine.” [no laugh track, scene continues]
See, the first guess is a joke implying the boys are horny losers, but the real answer also implies the boys are horny losers but isn’t a joke.
“I’d really love to go out with her,” says Mark, who really needs to cool it with the dirty talk.
“Mark, that’s Pamela Anderson,” says Al. “You’d have a better shot at going out with Louie Anderson” (who has the same last name).
You just can’t top that punchline – time to roll the opening credits!
And, going out on a high note, Al misses the rest of the episode.
After the break, Mark and his principal try to convince his mom to send him to a special smart-kids-school called the “Academy For Advanced Learning”, because nothing on this show is subtle.
Carol is initially against the idea, because public school is working out fine for her step-son Brendan, who walks in for his one scene of the episode. Asked what he learned that day, he says he learned how to make music with his armpit.
So Brendan Foster, who spent his formative years with a single dad, a gross older brother, and a tomboy older sister, is only now learning the armpit-farting trick?
As for her other stepson JT, he had let the air out of the principal’s tires the day he graduated. The principal still tries giving JT detention, perhaps due to senility, but Carol instead grounds him. To this, JT responds with the phrase, “This bites” and a joke about the OJ verdict.
In the next scene, Karen the airhead is on the phone, thinking of changing her name to “Hakuna Matata” – like the song in that popular movie! Then she repeats the joke, in case you didn’t catch it the first time.
The year was… mid-’90s.
JT and dad Frank are the 57th callers to the radio contest. All they have to do now is show up to a sports bar dressed as cheerleaders and they’ll win Super Bowl tickets.
But wait – JT can’t go out this weekend! He’s grounded! That’s quite a conundrum, or at least it would be if any of the characters remembered JT being grounded, which they didn’t. Clearly, the writers just jammed together the scripts for two “B” plots they had lying around.
But it was important to leave that part in, if only so JT could say that being grounded “bites”.
Back in the other B plot, Mark comes home from his first day at the Institute for Intelligent Education or whatever, frustrated that he got only a C on a pop quiz. I should note that, as this was his first day, any quiz would be a pop quiz for him.
But Mark is so determined to be number one at the new school that he won’t go to the movies with his friends and will instead spend the weekend studying.
Speaking of studying, Dana is doing just that the next day when wacky step-cousin Cody walks in dressed like a total dick. Well, a phallus. He’s going to wear edible clothing on his camping trip.
This C Plot concludes during the end-credits when, again, Dana is studying. In a payoff you could see a mile away, Cody comes back from camping, having been attacked by animals. The lesson is:
This show has too many characters.
Over at the sports bar, the Lambert men are dressed like Lambert ladies to collect their Super Bowl tickets. But there’s an additional catch –
– they have to last “ten rounds” with the Beautiful Ladies of Wrestling (or BLOW. This show was rated TV G).
One of these BLOW girls was an original cast member of GLOW, wrestling as Salt (one half of Salt & Pepper), who tried to maim her partner on the first episode over a borrowed outfit.
But here, the former “Salt” is one half of the team, Assault & Battery, portraying, uh, Battery.
Assault is the one wearing patriotic gear, while Battery wears leopard print and a tail.
Together, they rough up the reluctant Lambert guys with fireman’s carries, monkey flips, and slingshots.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear the writers only made them wear wigs to make it easier to disguise their stunt doubles. But I do know better, and there’s no way that that much thought went into this episode.
The Beautiful Ladies completely overpower Frank and JT. Though there are no replays or picture-and-picture during the commercials, the scoreboard shows Assault & Battery with a 92-0 lead in what the radio announcer claims is the eighth round.
Let me figure this out: The match began with 20 minutes on the clock, and part-way through Round 8 there’s 2:30 left. Assuming each round lasts two minutes, shouldn’t they be approaching the end of Round 9? Or is each round a full twenty minutes?
More importantly, if all the Lamberts have to do is go the distance, why is anyone keeping score?
After enduring anywhere between 18 and 160 minutes of punishment, the Lamberts surrender, doing their first BLOW job. But they’ve been such good sports that the DJ gives them the tickets anyway.
Imagine if wrestling promoters blatantly ignored their own stipulations like that?
Back at the house, Mark is reading a bunch of textbooks and furiously typing something on a laptop not hooked up to the Internet. This constitutes studying.
Mark is unfazed when his sister catches him up at 3 in the morning eating coffee beans. (He could at least wash them down with that water bottle left over from Dana’s scene).
And when his laptop runs out of hard drive space from all his typing, he tells his mom he needs $5000 for a new one. For such a tech wizard, you’d think he would have heard of floppy disks.
When Carol tells him he needs to stop studying, Mark slams his book down. This is the episode’s transition from being unintentionally not-funny to being intentionally not-funny, and I have to say, it’s rather seamless.
It’s time for a trademark Miller-Boyett emotional finale – and this one really didn’t earn its synth strings. This whole Mark plotline has only had two or three scenes, and we never even saw this supposed School for Accelerated Fact-Cramming nor its pupils.
Mark confesses that if he’s not the smartest guy around, he’s nothing, and boy does he have a point. At least Urkel had dancing, polka, and clumsiness to fall back on.
Carol tells her son he used to be a “one-dimensional kind of kid”, before listing off a series of half-hearted ploys employed by writers over the years to make Mark seem like less of a stereotype. It’s the kind of special moment that could be shared only by a mother and child and a focus group.
And Mark admits that he misses hanging out with his friends (It’s been two days). Starting Monday, it’s back to the dumb-dumb school.
While I already identified one of the BLOW girls from this episode, I haven’t mentioned Spice Williams, a stunt woman who also played Naomi’s old wrestler friend on Mama’s Family.
Other notable roles of hers include the forewoman whom Mr. Drummond catcalled on Diff’rent Strokes…
…and a woman who carried George around on Seinfeld when he pretended to be handicapped.
But she also once appeared in a key role on My Two Dads, the mediocre family sitcom starring Staci Keanan that wasn’t Step By Step.
My Two Dads lasted three seasons in the late 80s, when, according to streaming site Crackle, “the phrase ‘my two dads’ had an entirely different meaning”.
Specifically, it meant your mom was dead.
Sort of like Mamma Mia! (but with a funeral instead of a wedding), the show’s premise was as follows:
Unable to determine whether her daughter was the result of breakup sex or rebound sex, Nicole Bradford’s mom left her in the custody of both potential fathers, as stipulated in her will, presumably written while she suffered a terminal illness. Fun times!
As Stan Lane can tell you, if there’s one thing that fits hand in hand with paternity disputes, it’s professional wrestling.
On this episode, titled, “Joey Gets Pinned Down”, the dads throw a bachelor party in their loft for a friend. Paul Reiser assures his landlady that it won’t get out of hand, at which point the camera cuts to him being given an airplane spin by a woman wrestler.
The guests all chant, “Bodyslam! Bodyslam!” before she dumps him on the mat. In other words, it’s still a more accurate use of the term “bodyslam” than you’ll find in most wrestling episodes.
After giving him Wade Barrett’s infamous Wasteland, our good friend Spice Williams splashes Reiser, and the lady referee counts to three. So instead of hiring two wrestlers, they hired one wrestler and one referee? Of course! You can’t expect two wrestlers to officiate their own match, even if it is just for a bachelor party.
When the landlady crashes the party, she informs Reiser that she’s called the police, but since they won’t get there for another two hours, it’s time to conga!
Meanwhile, after chatting with a happily married guest, the free spirit Joey (the one who looks like Commander Riker with a mullet) starts thinking about commitment.
When he tells Paul Reiser this, the wrestler interrupts him and stretches him in the ring…
…which Joey largely no-sells as he continues his convo.
But a monkey flip is his undoing.
The next morning, Joey wakes up to find that he has married the wrestler. The night before, she had taken him to the emergency room, where he got drugged up on painkillers and somehow exchanged vows.
Joey wants to break it off with Holly (which he learns is her name), and I can’t blame him. There are glaring ethical and legal issues here, and Joey was clearly manipulated into marriage while under the influence.
And besides, do you think he could ever be happy sharing a bed every night with a woman who looked like that? The idea of finding oneself in the firm, muscled embrace of a powerful woman at her maximum physical potential wouldn’t turn any man on. Definitely not me.
But unfortunately, he’s too intimidated by her brute strength to do anything about it.
There is only one person who can help bail Joey out, and that’s the woman who gave him his daughter. No, not Nicole’s mom. She’s dead. I mean the judge from the custody hearing, who is also the landlady.
She shows him that the rings are souvenirs from the Staten Island ferry, that his wedding license is invalid, and that a ferry captain can’t legally conduct a wedding anyway.
Joey comes back to the apartment to break the news to Holly, but he’s still hesitant. After all, he doesn’t want, in his words, “to end up in a body cast sucking Tang [Editor’s note: Hey-o!] out of a straw [Editor’s note: Oh].”
But when Holly shows Joey the matching wrestling outfit she gave his (possible) daughter, and tells him that she’s going to be a wrestler just like her step-mom…
…and that Paul Reiser will need to move out to make way for her mother (Holly’s mother, not Nicole’s, who is dead)…
…Joey has had it. He tells it to Holly straight – they’re not married, and she and her mother are not moving in.
Enraged at this turn of events that she never saw coming, Holly calls in her mama…
…who is played by GLOW wrestler and phone sex inventor Dee Booher. Despite not having any lines on the show, she’s still listed in the credits (as “Queen Kong”).
As for Joey, he did end up in a cast after all after his run-in with Holly and her mama – not from domestic abuse, but from falling down the fire escape while running away.
While Step By Step would limp along for a few more seasons after its wrestling episode, this show was another story. After that DNA test cleared things up, there just wasn’t much of a future for My One Dad.