Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I'll Miss "Good Luck Charlie"

One of the mainstays of the television arm of the Disney empire over the last four years has been Good Luck Charlie.  As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I remember fondly watching The Cosby Show.  Dr. Cliff Huxtable (Cosby) dealt with normal, suburban, middle-class problems in normal, suburban, middle-class ways.  There was really nothing special about the show other than the relatability of the cast to its market audience.  In many ways, Good Luck Charlie followed the same concept.  This show was not about wizards running a sandwich shop or single moms living in penthouses.  It was not about prep-school protégés or talking animals acting like people.  It was about a regular family—mine and yours.  And it dealt with regular problems—just like the ones you and I encounter each day.
The show centered on Teddy (Bridgit Mendler), a high schooler who decides to make a video diary to help her recently-born sister Charlie (Mia Talerico) “survive their special family.”  Teddy’s parents are Bob (Eric Allen Krammer), an exterminator (sounds magical, right?), and Amy (Leigh-Allyn Baker), a nurse who aspires to be a TV personality (admit it, you know someone like this).  The family is rounded out with older brother PJ (Disney veteran Jason Dolley) and Gabe (Bradley Steven Perry).  (A fifth child is added at the end of the third season to coincide with Baker’s real-life pregnancy.)  Bob and Amy go to work and manage tight bank accounts.  They discipline their kids when they misbehave and celebrate their kids with vacations.  And they offer their advice when asked (or not when asked) and then work with their kids to clean up the messes of life.  PJ is a good kid, although not outstanding, until he discovers that his passion is cooking.  Teddy is the shining star of the family (she is accepted to Yale in the final season), although she occasionally schemes against her parents only to find out that they are right about whatever Teddy didn’t like.  Gabe is the stereotypical “lost child,” a troublesome prankster who eventually matures when he hits his teen years.  And Charlie has no filter, just like a young child.
Living in a Denver suburb, the Duncans faced problems like annoying neighbors, first crushes and first break-ups, getting a driver’s license, deciding where to go to school, and lying to cover up mistakes or the breaking of a rule.  The oddest problem this family faced was when termites destroyed their house ... on television.  Mostly, the problems faced were relational.  How do we get along with people in our own families?  How do mom and dad live together and raise a family?  How do these completely different children who share a last name live together in harmony?  In truth, this show never promised to be anything more than a comedic look at a fictitious family that looks a lot like your family and mine.  Bob, although he tries to be aloof, cares deeply about his family and is willing to work hard to support them.  Amy, although she is a little controlling and preoccupied with her own dreams, serves as a good example of the fun-loving mom who makes sacrifices for the good of her family.  And the kids really do love each other and are willing to help one another out.  In many ways, Good Luck Charlie is what reality television would actually look like if a real family were followed. 
Remember the one controversial thing that happened on The Cosby Show?  One of Bill’s adult daughters decided to marry a man who had already been married and was raising a daughter.  Remember the one controversial thing that happened on Saved by the Bell?  Jessie took caffeine pills.  What about this show?  Well, this show had two touchy subjects.  In one middle episode, Charlie starts “using” bad language.  It is discovered that Amy says that same thing when she gets upset.  Obviously the lesson was for parents to be careful about what they say in front of their children.  The actual controversial thing that happened was saved for the next to last episode when Charlie’s playdate shows up with two moms.  At first, I cringed at this.  Then the initial moment wore off and I realized the producers were not making a big deal out of this.  The actresses did not kiss or even hold hands.  It was seven minutes of reality.  The two moms were just as awkward in relating to a traditional family as Bob and Amy were in relating to them.  Yet, they all got through it and taught us an important lesson in a more subtle way than Modern Family is capable of doing—community is formed through kindness and acceptance, not sarcasm and manipulation.  As a person of faith, it reminded me that I cannot avoid certain issues just because I do not like them.  It also taught me that forcing people into a certain mold is not going to open doors for community. 
I will miss Good Luck Charlie.  On one hand, Disney’s four-season rule is too long to allow a show to prove itself.  On the other hand, Good Luck Charlie proves that four seasons is not long enough to enjoy a program.  It was not as serious as the lesser-known, more mature Canadian import Life with Derek, yet it was a family worth watching.  The show was light-hearted yet provided an endearing glimpse into the life of the average American family.  During a time of oppressive recession with all of the other political and social fallout that has occurred, Good Luck Charlie gave my family something we could watch together as a family (and something we enjoyed watching together as a family).  My wife and I never questioned the show’s motives or morality (we have done this with a number of other programs, even Disney programs).  We also never groaned in disappointment when the entertainment value was found lacking. 
The Duncans were family friends for four years.  We watched their kids grow up, and they taught us a few things about marriage and parenting.  Yet, as friends often do, the Duncans have moved away, taking their comedic laughs and familial insights with them.  With all of the other options available today, there were no others that equaled Good Luck Charlie.  It never intended to be spectacular; it only promised to be a funny show about a normal family.  And this is what made it spectacular.  I hope that Disney (and other networks) will consider bringing us into the homes of families like the Duncans in the future.  If we are serious about making this world a better place for our current and future generations, then the place to begin is the family.  Whatever shape it takes, the family is the starting place for community building and citizenship development.  Thus, I will miss Good Luke Charlie because it showed how much better the world can be with some nice, average families in it.

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