The recent death of Jonathan Winters reminded me of an old lesson in life: don’t mess with a good thing, especially good comedy television.
Back in 1978 Robin Williams guest starred on Happy Days as an alien named Mork from the planet Ork. It was a dream episode, but proved so popular they gave the up-and-coming comedian his own series featuring an alien trying to find his way on Earth.
The creators set “Mork and Mindy” in Boulder, Colorado where twenty-something and single Mindy McConnell, played by Pam Dawber, discovers this lost alien named Mork. As can only happen in sitcom fashion, she takes him home to live in her attic. He moves through his days exploring, and ends each episode by sending reports to his superior named Orson, who we never see but who Mork is constantly making fat jokes about.
|Robin William, Pam Dawber, and Jonathan Winters|
as Mork, Mindy, and Mearth.
The first season was excellent. There were not that many episodes, as it was a midseason replacement, but they all made me laugh. The next season saw some changes, including the departure of characters such as Mindy’s dad. New characters were added, including a brother and sister who owned a nearby sandwich shop or deli that Mork and Mindy visited. The third season saw more tinkering with the return of Mindy’s dad.
Disaster struck in the fourth and, thankfully, final season (1981-1982) where the sublime became the ridiculous. Mork and Mindy married and, get ready for this, Mork got pregnant. We discover the natives of Ork, unlike humans, start old and get younger as they age. Mork lays an egg, which is fitting, because so did the show. And he arrived on Earth in an egg-shaped spacecraft. Who should come out as the love child of Mork and Mindy? Who else but Jonathan Winters. I cannot make this stuff up. It gets better. They name the “child” Mearth, a tribute to his new world and his parents.
Robin Williams had already begun making movies and was growing too big for the show. It was living on fumes anyway. Adding Winters was a last gasp attempt to give oxygen to a dying show. It didn’t work.
The show, as I recall, ended with Mork, Mindy, and Mearth being pursued through time by a killer from an enemy planet of Ork’s, played by Joe Regalbuto. They escaped to live on in one more episode to end the season. Mercifully, the show was cancelled in 1982 after four seasons and 95 episodes.
In the end, Mork and Mindy was a show that started off as a hit and really was spoiled by too many cooks in the kitchen. It is unfortunate that I was too young to have seen the comic genius of Jonathan Winters before that. Instead, I am left with an impression of an old man playing a child on a spent sitcom. An actor brought in to save a show beyond repair.
Jonathan Winters would re-surface in the early 1990s as the elder Gunny Davis in the sitcom Davis Rules, co-starring with Randy Quaid. Winters would go on to win an Emmy award for the role in 1991 as best supporting actor. A bit of redemption in the world of the situation comedy.