There have been several sitcoms which involve the use of magic and fantasy in situation comedies. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this week’s installment of Forgotten Television, we will look at three television shows that attempted to incorporate fantasy elements into a sustainable weekly television show. The three shows are Mr. Merlin, The Charmings, and Scorch.
Mr. Merlin (1981-1982): Mr. Merlin (Barnard Hughes) must find a new apprentice or give up his immortality and powers. To help him in his search, he turns Excalibur into a crowbar and imbeds it in cement with only a person worthy of the task being able to free it. Zachary Rogers (Clark Brandon), a clumsy fifteen-year-old, accidentally removes the crowbar and is chosen as Merlin’s new apprentice. The show revolves around Zach learning how to do magic and the crazy antics such things can cause usually with a life lesson thrown in for good measure. In the pilot for example, a potion to aid him and his friend on their date, backfires and engulfs a restaurant in pink foam. It isn’t until he confesses to being the cause and accepts the consequences that the magic foam is dispersed, proving that Zack is worthy of the magic.
This was a fun little show that I remember watching as a kid. It had some great comical elements and some nice sentiment. Barnard Hughes was perfect as the crotchety old Merlin, and Clark Brandon was charismatic playing a character that was both innocent and mischievous. The special effects weren’t bad for the time period, being before computer generated effects were a thing. The stories were well written with some witty repartee between all the characters.
The Charmings (1987-1988): Snow White (Caitlin O’Heaney / Carol Huston) and Prince Charming (Christopher Rich), after the events we all know about from the fairytales, throw the Evil Queen Lillian (Judy Parfitt) into a bottomless pit, but unfortunately, it wasn’t quite bottomless and to get her revenge, the queen casts a spell that puts the Charmings to sleep for 1000 years. Unfortunately for her, the spell was so powerful, it snared her and one of the seven dwarfs. Waking up in modern times (1987), Snow and the Prince must find a way to live their lives and raise their children in world completely different from their own.
The show’s first season ran on NBC for six episodes but was picked up for a second and moved from its Friday night time slot, where it was doing moderately well, to Thursday nights, competing against a Different World and the Cosby Show. Due to low ratings, it was pulled from the air after twenty episodes with one episode remaining unaired. This was a really funny show, with the basic comedy coming from the “stranger in a strange land” aspect, but the majority of the laughs can be attributed to the dialogue between Queen Lillian and the Magic Mirror played by Paul Winfield. Mirror is a wise cracking foil to Lillian who was portrayed perfectly by Judy Parfitt. She is both over the top evil and has perfect comic timing. Overall, a very enjoyable watch!
Scorch (1992): Scorch (Ronn Lucas voice) is a 1300-year-old dragon who oversleeps by 100 years and awakes with all his family gone. While out searching for them, he is struck by lightning and lands in the apartment of Brian Stevens (Jonathan Walker) and his daughter, Jessica (Rhea Silver-Smith) who immediately falls in love with the wise cracking reptile. Brian, an out of work actor, ends up getting a job as a ventriloquist weatherman with Scorch as his “dummy”.
Scorch was a character used in Ronn Lucas’ ventriloquist stand-up comedy act and was not developed specifically for the series which only lasted three episodes before it was yanked from viewership with three episodes remaining unseen. The show felt like it was intended to compete with the beloved series Alf but unfortunately just didn’t have the same chemistry or comic timing. The humor often felt forced and not naturally occurring. The performances themselves were not bad but while working together there was just something slightly off with the rhythm of the dialogue that made it feel a bit unnatural.
Three shows all vastly different and all pulling from medieval fantasy stories as the base for their stories. Mr. Merlin and The Charmings worked well with the material with stories that were both funny and life affirming, usually with some sort of moral or life lesson, while Scorch never found its wings and unfortunately failed to fly.
Lillian: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
Mirror: Christie Brinkley’s lookin’ good!
Forgotten Television: Finding Magic and Fantasy in Sitcoms
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