Before I begin this review, I need to make a correction to something that I said in my review of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (season 3, episode 09) and only recently realized. That was actually the third non-appearance of Mr. Ernst in the series (fourth if you don’t count his voice cameo in “Datenite”). I had neglected to count his non-appearance in “Sewn at the Hip” (season 3, episode 05).
Writer: Judy Spencer
Director: Fred K. Keller
Original air date: June 15, 1990
A notice precedes the episode on DVD:
I’ve read different reasons for this. Either the master tape was in poor (or completely unusable) condition, or, slightly more sinister, Nickelodeon “misplaced” or “lost” the master tape out of disapproval of its subject matter.
Whatever the cause, the episode was considered “lost” in the fandom (although I was unaware of that). It was not (and still is not) available digitally on iTunes or Amazon Instant Video. It was, however, included on the season 3 DVD set and the Walmart-exclusive Complete Series DVD set.
However, the source used is a homemade VHS recording. I think. It’s possible that it’s actually a YouTube upload of a homemade VHS recording. If that’s the case, then there’s no telling what the video specs of the “source” that Shout! Factory used are. The resolution looks lower than normal (more pixelated). Motion looks a bit weird. However, the specs on the DVD are the same as for all of the other episodes. The episode looks…okay. There’s some tape damage. The very beginning of the episode (the fade-in) is missing, so it starts abruptly, and there’s the familiar “rainbow” effect that you see at the beginning of a homemade VHS recording. The fade-in to the second act is partially missing. Going by the running time, it seems around three seconds are missing. The audio seems to be in mono and isn’t as clear as that of the other episodes. Overall, though, it’s not too bad, and I’d rather have this than not have the episode at all. I just wish Shout! had put a notice on the box of the DVD set. I still would have bought it; I just wanted to know ahead of time.
In the cold open, Mr. Ernst and Buddy are going to fix the plumbing in a guest room. Buddy tries to tell his dad something important, but Mr. Ernst shuts Buddy down. They had “agreed” Mr. Ernst is the “big worker bee”, and Buddy is the “little helper bee”. Mr. Ernst prefers to go with his “instinct” instead of making the “mistake” of reading up on how to fix the problem. I can already tell where this is going.
Jake comes by with his laundry. Buddy vents his frustration about his dad treating him like a child. Jake inadvertently gives Buddy the idea of moving in with him and Danny.
Hmmm, it seems we have an out-of-order episode. This episode seems to have been taped before “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (in which Buddy is shown to be living with Jake and Danny at the end), or at least it occurs before it. Judy Spencer wrote both episodes, so she likely wrote this one first.
After the credits, in the main lodge, Brad is on desk duty. Danny’s just hanging out. Melody is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her brother, Billy, who she hasn’t seen since he was home for spring break. Billy is her oldest brother. Melody is getting on Brad and Danny’s nerves. Billy is coming all of the way out here to visit Melody. It’s his last summer off before he starts med school, and he’s been planning to drive cross-country for years. Wow, the part about Billy starting med school is a nice bit of continuity with “Our Little Champion” (season 2, episode 03), which was also written by Judy Spencer. In it, Melody says she has one brother in law school and another in pre-med. This means Billy, the oldest, is – or rather was – in pre-med (Melody had spoken of it in the present tense in season 2, whereas it obviously is past tense now, which supports my theory that season 3 begins a new summer), and an unnamed male middle child is (or was) in law school. Anyway, Melody is eager for them to meet him and insists they will love him.
Danny’s reading The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89 #1 (cover-dated July of 1989, which means it likely came out in the spring), which seems horribly outdated for this episode. I’m guessing he’s just reading an old comic that Buddy had.
Buddy and Jake come into the lodge, and Danny learns of Buddy’s plans. Jake and Danny try to dissuade Buddy from moving in with them. Danny says Jake has “terminal foot odor”, and Jake says Danny snores (which Brad confirms). Buddy isn’t discouraged, saying he’ll pack his earplugs. After Buddy leaves, Danny gets on Jake’s case, somehow knowing he gave Buddy the idea. Jake says Buddy will forget about it, and he also claims Buddy has a Silly Putty collection.
Mr. Ernst comes by, all wet. Melody worriedly asks what happened. Mr. Ernst doesn’t know. Danny asks Mr. Ernst if he remembered to first turn off the water main, which upsets Mr. Ernst. Jake and Danny inform Mr. Ernst of Buddy’s plans, and Mr. Ernst is perplexed at why Buddy would want to move in with them. Danny is offended. Jake explains. Mr. Ernst believes Buddy is too young to move out and will handle it. He asks for paper towels. Brad checks behind the front desk, and Melody tries to go off to find some, but suddenly…
Billy arrives, much to Melody’s delight. We learn Melody’s family’s nickname for her is “Tweety Bird”. We don’t learn why; I guess it’s because she’s blonde. Billy enjoyed his trip; he drove through the mountains and found it beautiful.
Billy is played by Keith Grumet. “Hey Dude” was his second and final acting gig, his first being the role of a defendant in the pilot episode of the short-lived TV series “Equal Justice” earlier in 1990.
Melody makes the introductions. Mr. Ernst goes to his office to dry off.
Billy gives Melody a present: a piece of the Berlin Wall. This was written with the obvious intent of the episode occurring in the summer of 1990, but the Tuesday the 13th reference in “Superstition” makes this impossible. We’re left with August of 1991 or July of 1993, the latter of which allows more time left in the summer for Ted to return. I guess pieces of the Berlin Wall were still available for sale at that time.
Billy asks about checking in, but Melody says she’ll just fill out a registration card for him later.
Jake offers to carry Billy’s bag, but Billy wants to carry a particular bag himself.
Melody wants to show Billy around. As they leave, the others call Melody “Tweety”.
Melody and Billy eventually arrive at “scenic Lake Benjamin”. Wow, I didn’t know the lake has a name. I guess it was named after Mr. Ernst after he bought the ranch. That concludes their tour. Melody asks Billy what he thinks. He calls the Bar None “quiet but nice”. Melody says you get used to it, and she really likes it here.
Melody asks Billy how things are going. He says good; he’s excited about starting med school in the fall; he thinks it’ll be tough, but he’s not overly worried. Melody asks about his girlfriend, Allison, who he says is fine. He says hi to Melody for her. Melody asks when they’re getting married.
Billy decides he and Melody should dance. Melody persists. Billy guesses she just wants to be a bridesmaid. After some banter, Billy assures Melody that he’ll tell her if he and Allison get engaged. Melody suggests going out on the lake in a rowboat or canoe, but Billy had made plans to get together with a couple of his frat brothers, who are in Tucson, for a few hours; he thought Melody would be working all afternoon (she switched with Brad). Melody is disappointed but says she’ll see him when he gets back. Billy says they’ll have the rest of the week to hang out together; he won’t make any other plans. Melody is happy. As he leaves, Billy tells Melody to save him the last dance, and Melody agrees. What? Is this some kind of reference to something?
Later, as Jake runs up the steps of the boys’ bunk house, there’s some loud sounds that sound like very obvious “feet hitting wood” foley work. It’s very loud and…blatant. Really odd.
Danny and Jake discuss the state of their clothing, and Danny realizes the two of them are disgusting.
Buddy comes in and informs them that, because of his dad, he won’t be moving in with them after all. Jake and Danny feign disappointment and pretend to be on Buddy’s side. After Buddy leaves, they feel guilty. Jake makes Danny realize they could have had their own live-in slave. Okay, these guys are dicks.
Billy comes in and invites them along, adding they’re gonna have a few beers. Jake mentions he and Danny are underage, but Billy says they’ll just go to a place that doesn’t check for ID. Jake declines, saying he’s not into frying his brain cells or destroying his liver. Danny also declines. Billy persists. Danny tells Billy about a (former) friend of the family that he really admired. It turned out that he had a pretty bad drinking problem. Danny considered it uncool. Billy says having a few beers isn’t a problem, tells them to lighten up, and leaves. Danny and Jake discuss Billy’s breath; he’s already had a few. I guess Billy stopped off in his room to drink.
Danny continues his story. The guy was an Indian that Danny admired a lot, but Danny felt the guy let them all down (“another Indian with a drinking problem“). This experience has made Danny averse to alcohol. Jake says he wouldn’t want to go with Billy either and asks about Danny’s former friend, assuming he was older, but Danny says he was their age. Y’know, I’ve noticed Danny keeps speaking of this guy in the past tense, but the episode doesn’t specify why, which makes this kind of unsettling. Is the guy dead?
Hours pass. Melody waits…
Billy’s coughing and looking pretty bad. Melody is concerned. He’s been gone all day, and she’s been worried about him. She wants them to have dinner together, but he wants to take a nap.
Billy drops his room key. Melody crouches down to pick it up and notices Billy tore his jeans and skinned his knee. Melody asks how it happened, but Billy’s completely unaware of it. He doesn’t want to discuss it and just wants the key. I think there’s a bit of an error. Melody seems to not pick up the key, because she notices Billy’s knee, but Billy takes the key from her anyway.
Melody asks Billy if he drank too much. He says he had two beers with his friends. He says he’s just tired from driving all day. He refuses Melody’s offer to bring him dinner.
Jake and Danny come by. Jake offers Billy more towels, but Billy declines. Danny offers to help Billy with the lock, but Melody quickly decides to do it herself. I’m not sure why she’s so insistent. Maybe she doesn’t want Danny smelling Billy’s breath (although she made no indication that she smelled alcohol on Billy’s breath).
Billy kisses Melody and goes into his room. Jake asks if Billy’s all right, and Danny says Billy seemed drunk. Danny catches Melody on her hasty “jet lag” excuse, so Melody quickly changes it to Billy being “tired from driving”. Danny brings up him and Jake smelling alcohol on Billy’s breath earlier in the day, but Melody says they’re mistaken. Danny says he’s sure. Melody forcefully says he’s wrong and that Billy’s just tired. Danny tries to talk to her again, but Melody and Danny get into a brief argument before Jake takes Danny away to dinner.
Mr. Ernst has promoted Buddy to “worker bee” but then promotes him to “foreman…bee”. In other words, Buddy’s still his precious little kid.
They have to do some plumbing work in Billy’s room. Buddy says plumbing is his life. Okay, well, have fun with that. Melody informs Mr. Ernst that Billy’s asleep. Mr. Ernst had assumed Billy would be at dinner and gets Billy out of his room (over Melody’s nervous objection), because it’s supposedly a quick job. Come back later, you dick.
Well, father and son both thought the other turned off the water main. Seriously, how incompetent is Mr. Ernst?
Mr. Ernst informs Billy that he’ll have to switch to a different room until they can get his cleaned up, and he has Buddy grab the luggage. There’s some video sputtering (and missing frames) as Mr. Ernst wipes himself off. This really does seem like a YouTube upload. I won’t mention every instance of this happening; just be aware that it’s a recurring problem.
Billy panics and tries to grab a bag from Buddy, but…
After the commercial break, Buddy asks if it’s booze. Mr. Ernst sends him back to the lodge and questions Billy.
While cleaning up, Melody quickly covers for Billy, claiming it’s an annual gift of brandy from their mother to “Uncle John”, a relative that might or might not actually exist and might or might not live in Albuquerque. Billy claims he was going to deliver it personally. Mr. Ernst apologizes and offers a tiny cactus in its place, which Melody and Billy accept. Billy asks when the plumbing’s going to be fixed, and Mr. Ernst says “soon” but repeats Billy will have to switch rooms.
While Mr. Ernst goes to check the damage, Billy thanks Melody, but Melody takes him away to talk to him.
As they walk, Melody and Billy get into an argument. They had promised each other that they wouldn’t grow up to be like their dad, who carried a supply of booze around with him just as Billy’s doing now. Billy insists he doesn’t have a problem and accuses Melody of blowing it out of proportion “just like [she] always do[es]”. Billy insists he isn’t and won’t be like their dad. Melody doesn’t buy it. Billy insists he’s under a lot of pressure and reveals Allison broke up with him. Melody is shocked. Billy says Allison says she’s in love with somebody else. Melody feels sorry for him but doesn’t think drinking will make him feel any better. Billy says Melody doesn’t understand. Melody says she does. Apparently, their father had ruined his life with alcohol and “did” something “to” them. Melody doesn’t elaborate on this, so we’re left to guess.
Melody starts crying and vows she won’t let Billy ruin his life.
Billy apologizes but tries to pass off drinking as “dumb college guy stuff”. Melody says she’s “really scared”. Billy promises to never drink again.
So ends another day at…nah, I’m just dicking with you. This is where the episode would end if it was “Saved by the Bell”.
On another day, the gang is playing “rowboat polo”. It’s Jake and Buddy against Melody and Billy with Brad as the referee.
Melody accidentally scores a goal for the other team, losing the game. Brad says the break’s over, and it’s time to get back to work. Melody says she’ll take care of the “boat” (meaning just her boat, I guess, leaving Jake and Buddy to take care of their own).
As Melody ropes the boat to the dock (wow, that was easy; it’s no wonder that Melody said she’d “take care of” it if she’s not going to carry it to the boat house), Billy says he likes Melody’s friends. He also says he feels good, but he has no future in rowboat polo. Melody says she’ll stick to swimming. Wow, another reference to Melody’s off-screen competitive swimming career. When, exactly, does she find the time to do this?
Billy sort of admits things got “out of hand” and blames frat parties for causing “bad habits”. He thanks Melody for her concern. We learn Melody is the only female sibling, and she’s always “been there” for Billy. Melody is glad that Billy quit drinking, and Billy agrees. He wants to see if he can “catch that movie”. Melody is concerned that he’s going into town and suggests he stay and play cards with her. Finally, she says she trusts him and lets him go. He says he’ll bring her back some popcorn.
That night, with the full moon out (seriously, could they not tape anything other than a full moon?), all kinds of crazy shit happens.
Such as Brad and Danny playing Spit in the Ocean. Brad guesses Danny doesn’t like Billy, but Danny says he does; he just doesn’t think Billy being here has been a good influence on Melody. Whaaat? Where did that come from? He doesn’t elaborate either. What is it with Judy Spencer blaming Melody for everything? Melody “changed” because of “fame”, even though the others were at fault for pushing her. Melody wasn’t “assertive” in telling Brad and Danny no, even though they were the ones that were taking advantage of her. Now this. It’s really frustrating.
Anyway, Danny says this within earshot of Melody (who seemingly doesn’t hear it), who comes downstairs, picks up something (an apple, I think), and tosses it to Jake. I like this. Just a bit of random fun. Melody wants to be dealt in.
Mr. Ernst comes by, excited that he found Twister, which they used to have fun playing at the Ernst family picnics. Buddy says it’s a baby game, says he’s not a kid anymore, and leaves in frustration.
Mr. Ernst asks the others if he treats Buddy like a child. Brad tells him that it might be Buddy, not Mr. Ernst, that’s the issue. We learn Buddy is thirteen years old. He was eleven in “Goldilocks” (season 1, episode 03), but, instead of assuming two years have passed (I’ll explain why in a later review), we could guess Buddy had his twelfth birthday sometime after “Goldilocks” but before the end of “last summer” (seasons 1 and 2). Anyway, Danny suggests Mr. Ernst let Buddy move in with them, and Jake agrees. Mr. Ernst is unsure and will have to think about it.
Suddenly, Jake gets a surprising phone call from the police and has Mr. Ernst take it.
I love how this is handled. Mr. Ernst makes contact with Melody as he talks with the police officer.
The camera slowly zooms in on Melody (but not completely) as she stares in dread.
Finally, after Mr. Ernst tells her that Billy’s been in an accident, Melody starts to ask (as a denial) if he’s dead, but Mr. Ernst quickly assures her that Billy’s fine, and no one was hurt.
As relief washes over Melody, Danny whispers to Brad in the background, presumably filling her in on Billy’s problem (although this is just a guess on my part).
Melody asks Mr. Ernst which hospital that Billy’s in, but Mr. Ernst informs her that he’s at the police station. Melody, knowing the answer and dreading this moment (give it a bit; the episode will get to that), asks why. The police are holding Billy on suspicion of drunk driving. Melody is ashamed that Billy broke his promise to her. Mr. Ernst says Billy might be able to explain, but Melody denies this. Mr. Ernst says he’ll drive her to the police station, and they can bail him out. Melody refuses. Getting the wrong idea, Mr. Ernst says he’ll lend her the money. Melody says she’s not going, and she doesn’t care if Mr. Ernst just leaves him there.
Aside from some brief cuts to Mr. Ernst, the camera mostly stays focused on Melody, and Christine Taylor does a wonderful job with this scene.
Melody runs outside, pausing at the door to turn around and kind of shrug in an “I don’t know what else to do” kind of way before resuming her run. That’s the only weird part about this scene.
The next day, Melody is sitting at the Wishing Pond, upset. Billy comes to say goodbye, because he’s leaving today. Refusing to make eye contact with him, Melody gives a quick, dismissive “Goodbye”. Billy is “really ashamed” that he “embarrassed” Melody in front of her friends, because that’s the biggest thing that he did wrong. He says he didn’t plan on this, and it “just happened”. Melody can’t believe what she’s hearing, and she gets up and walks away.
Billy chases after Melody and gets on her case about sending her boss down to the police station to bail him out instead of coming herself. For some reason that I can’t fathom, Melody doesn’t let him know that she fully intended to leave him there to rot, and it was Mr. Ernst that decided to go down and bail him out. Also, Billy feels the need to let Melody know he paid Mr. Ernst back.
Billy grabs Melody by the arm and says she should have been there for him, one of the “few times” in his life that he needed her. Incredulous at his low-ball estimation (I get the impression that she’s “been there” for him many previous times), Melody pulls her arm away and lets Billy know that she doesn’t feel good about herself for lying to her friends and boss in order to cover for him. When she’s not lying, she’s worried if this is the time that he’ll get in a car and kill somebody – or himself. Melody warns Billy that, if he keeps drinking, he will kill himself eventually. Melody says she looked up to him; he was her hero. No matter how bad that things got with their father, Billy was always there to reassure her. She says he’s just like their father, and she realizes she’s just like their mother in covering up for him as their mother had covered up for their father. Their mother (yes, mother) had eventually started going to Al-Anon meetings; she realizes she was just encouraging her husband’s drinking instead of helping him. As we know from “Ex-Static” (season 3, episode 08), the marriage ultimately did not survive. Melody explains this is exactly what she’s been doing with Billy. Billy insists he’s not like their father and says he’s only 21 years old. Melody points out that kids younger than her have drinking problems (apparently, she reads about it in magazines a lot). Billy is dismissive of it.
Melody is finally fed up with him and his bullshit, says she has a problem with his drinking even if he doesn’t, and vows to no longer cover for him.
Billy admits Allison actually broke up with him due to arguing over his drinking. He says he’s “scared to death” of going to medical school. He’s also scared of going through the next few days without a drink. He’s most scared of getting off the plane and facing his father. Why is he scared of facing his father? Wouldn’t he be more scared of facing his mother? He reveals they suspended his license, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to tell his father. Again, why is the alcoholic father such a big deal? If I had a drinking problem (and my own alcoholic father was still alive; no, he didn’t die in a car accident, although that’s a small miracle), I’d be much more scared of my mother’s reaction. Melody tells Billy to tell their father the truth; he’ll understand. Melody suggests Billy talk to him about Alcoholics Anonymous; he said A.A. saved his life. Melody suggests Billy go to a meeting with him. Billy says he has a long plane ride to think about it. Melody gives Billy words of encouragement and has (perhaps unfounded) optimism. They say they love each other.
The pre-credits scene at the end has Buddy packed and ready to go. Mr. Ernst has packed some additional things for Buddy – including his long underwear, his dinosaur-shaped vitamins, and his “blanky”. Buddy says the blanket isn’t his. Mr. Ernst takes that as a metaphor for growing up, even though there’s a good chance that Buddy meant it literally. Mr. Ernst tries to guilt Buddy, but Buddy says he’s moving just sixty yards away and will see him at dinner. Buddy leaves.
So ends another day at the Bar None.
This episode was very good. There were only a few missteps. Christine Taylor does an outstanding job. Even the subplot managed to tie into and push the main plot along (Danny and Mr. Ernst even got a bit of backstory). I only wish the master tape of this episode was undamaged or not lost. However, it’s a testament to the material that I eventually didn’t notice the subpar video and audio quality as much.
We get some fantastic insight into Melody’s home life: she’s not just from a broken home; she’s from a dysfunctional family. The subject of alcoholism is treated with the seriousness that it deserves without getting overly preachy or making Billy “better” at the end. A single beer isn’t treated as a problem (that results in a hangover and a car crash). Billy doesn’t die; he gets a warning (although, in real life, there are many people that don’t get a warning). There’s no happy ending, just an optimistic one.
One more thing that I’ll add is, for a Melody-centric episode in which she’s dealing with such a serious problem, Brad seems under-utilized. I know Melody was covering up for Billy (and so the girls couldn’t exactly have a heart-to-heart), but I would have liked a scene in which Melody was forced to lie to her best friend.
Countdown to the Second Coming of Ted: 9