Classic TV Revisited: Soap

Soap Classic TV Revisited

Soapy satire and a take-off on the soaps so many people are addicted to, with hysterical and satirical plots – it, naturally, became a cult show. It ran from 1978-1982 and starred Billy Crystal, Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan and Robert Guillaume.

So close to daytime US soap operas of the era that some didn’t realise it was a riotous parody.

How similar was it?
Featured were the antics of a two families wracked by conflict. But this shower were seriously barking. Its plotlines were also nonsensical, plundering taboos such as transvestism, impotence, nymphomania and homosexuality.

The stars scooped Emmy and Golden Globe awards for their zany performances. But more significantly, it shattered the mould for US sitcoms. For years they had been gently ambling along with wholesome characters such as Mary Tyler Moore.

So who was responsible for this seminal show?
Susan Harris gave birth to this absurd creation which gained cult status in Britain when screened on ITV from 1978-82. She went on to write hit sitcom The Golden Girls.

What was it all about?
Two funny sisters and their families who live in Dunns River, Connecticut.

Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?
Both. Sister Jessica was supremely dim and lived with her serial adulterer husband Chester. Under the same roof also lived her dad who believed World War II was still in full swing.The other sister, Mary, lived with blue-collar worker Burt, gay stepson Jodie and stepson racketeer Vince.

Wasn’t it just a load of nonsense?
Indeed, it was. Plotlines included Corrinne Tate’s baby turning out to be the spawn of the devil and requiring a quick exorcism.Burt was cloned by aliens and Jessica had a steamy liaison with South American revolutionary El Puerco.


Each episode began with a narrator summarising the last instalment and the line: “Confused? You will be.”

So, was it funny?
It was more absurd then anything. But there were some amusing lines, often delivered by the sardonic butler Benson (Robert Guillaume) who went on to land his own series called – wait for it – Benson.

Give us an example, then.
(Door bell rings) Benson: You want me to get that? Jessica Tate: If you don’t mind.

Did anyone get in a lather about it?
With plotlines of transvestism, homosexuality and nymphomania, there was inevitably controversy.US religious groups, most notably the Catholic Church, continued to protest while it was on from 1977 to 1981.What about diehard soap fans? Many in the US begrudged their daytime entertainment being lampooned in such a way. But in Britain it secured cult status.