When John Hughes began cranking out literate, witty teen comedies like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, the entertainment industry realized there was a market for teen entertainment that could be funny and intelligent all at once. This trend soon filtered down to television, inspiring a modern classic with the early Fox network program Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. This nifty, teen-oriented sitcom captured the style and magic of hip films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and made it work in a television format. The result was a hit that tickled the brain and the funny bone all at once.
Parker Lewis Can’t Lose took place at scenic Santo Domingo High School and focused on the exploits of its title character, a clever teen who used his devious smarts and his connections to tweak the system at every opportunity. His mantra was “not a problem,” and he never met a situation he couldn’t handle. Parker’s partners in crime included his best friend, the super-cool Mikey Randall, and Jerry Steiner, a nerdy but good-hearted kid who idolized our hero.
Parker’s arch-nemesis in his quest to bend the rules was Principal Grace Musso, a cold-hearted authority figure who wanted nothing more than to make an example of him. Assisting Musso in this quest was Frank Lemmer, a student who acted as her “special obedience officer.” Frank also had a not-so-secret crush on his benefactor, which led to plenty of cringe-inducing flirtation. Another obstacle was provided by Parker’s younger sister Shelly, who took sadistic delight in trying to trip Parker up. Other characters included Martin Lewis, Parker’s video store-owning dad, and Nick, a slick counterman at the Atlas Diner who could be relied upon to dispense level-headed advice during a crisis.
Parker Lewis Can’t Lose debuted the same season that NBC introduced its small-screen sitcom version of Ferris Bueller. As a result, some critics dismissed the Fox sitcom as a Bueller clone, but Parker Lewis quickly transcended this label with its exuberant mixture of style of energy. The show wowed viewers with its dazzling look, which combined slick computerized opticals with complex, cinematic camerawork. The humor was also quite sophisticated, often incorporating parodies of films like Casablanca and The Godfather. The bundle of charm was sealed by the snappy performances of its cast, all of whom had the sharp comic timing to keep the jokes rolling at a fast clip.
The end result of all this stylistic innovation was a show that became a hit for the young Fox network. It surprised television pundits everywhere by outlasting Ferris Bueller to enjoy a run of nearly three seasons. By the time the ride ended in August of 1993, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose had won a cult following that continues to this day. The show periodically pops up in reruns and continues to win new fans, outliving its early status as a so-called clone to become one of the more memorable sitcoms of early 90’s vintage.
USA / Fox – Clyde Phillips Productions / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 2 September 1990 – 22 August 1993
Corin Nemec as Parker Lloyd Lewis
Billy Jayne as Mikey Randall
Troy W. Slaten as Jerry Steiner
Melanie Chartoff as Principal Grace Musso
Maia Brewton as Shelly Lewis
Abraham Benrubi as Francis Lawrence “Larry” Kubiac
Taj Johnson as Frank Lemmer (1990-92)
Timothy Stack as Mr. Martin Lewis
Anne Bloom as Mrs. Lewis (1990-91)
Mary Ellen Trainor as Mrs. Lewis (1991-93)
Gerrit Graham as Dr. Norman Pankow
Jennifer Guthrie as Annie Sloan (1992-93)
Paul Johansson as Nick Comstock (1991-93)
John Pinette as Coach Hank Kohler (1992-93)
Harold Pruett as Brad Penny (1992-93)