The Third Season
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jeff Giles
To answer your question right off the bat, no, this isn’t the season with the episode where Fonzie hops on his motorcycle and jumps the shark – but he does jump 14 garbage cans, and if you’re a fan of the show’s first two seasons, Season Three probably marks the spot where you think “Happy Days” started up the ramp for its own shark jump. These episodes signal the show’s shift away from an ensemble sitcom and into a starring vehicle for Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli, also known as “The Fonz,” the thumbs-upping rebel with a heart of gold.
By the end of the show’s run, “Happy Days” had probably long overstayed its welcome. Not only were the plots overly Fonz-centric, but the gags had grown stale and painfully over the top. If you’re one of the fans who viewed Winkler’s ascendance less than enthusiastically, these episodes may make you uncomfortable – but they’ve still aged surprisingly well. The writing is sharper than you may remember, the cast’s chemistry is strong, and though the whole thing is still a reflexive exercise in nostalgia for an era that never really happened, it’s ultimately quite enjoyable. By the show’s fourth season, “Happy Days” had moved into the Neilsen Top 10, where it would stay for much of its run, even as the scripts and cast ran out of steam. Seeing it here, on the cusp of bigger things, allows the viewer to recapture what it was that made people fall in love with the show in the first place.
Fall in love with it they did – “Happy Days” would be a cultural phenomenon even if the Fonz’s jacket wasn’t hanging in the Smithsonian – and some of those fans have been none too pleased with CBS Video’s bottom-line-oriented approach to previous sets, Season Two in particular. Obtaining music rights has proven cost-prohibitive for the producers of many show-to-DVD sets (notably including “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Northern Exposure”) and “Happy Days” hasn’t been immune. The release of the show’s second season was greeted with howls of outrage from fans who couldn’t believe CBS copped out and subbed cheaper songs for the original soundtrack. Those issues have been corrected here: each episode features the original music, as well as video that’s been given a better remastering job than the Season Two episodes.
Notable episodes from Season Three include the show that finds the Fonz moving into the apartment above the Cunninghams’ garage; the introduction of Laverne & Shirley (yep, they were a “Happy Days” spin-off); Arnold’s wedding; and the aforementioned garbage-can jump. With a couple of minor exceptions, each episode appears to be intact. “A Date with Fonzie” and “Fonzie’s New Friend” seem to be missing footage, but whether these are syndication prints or re-edits made out of necessity is unclear – and in any event, only the most diehard “Happy Days” fan is liable to notice.
The set’s main drawback is its lack of extra features. At $40, it’s a bit cheaper than some other recent season releases, but it still isn’t what you’d call a budget title, and it’s hard to believe the producers couldn’t dip into the deep network well to pad this with promos, blooper footage or the like. Still, it’s the original episodes that fans will really want, and on that count, they’ll have nothing to complain about here. At least not until Season Four.