|Silver Spoons: The Complete First Season (1982)
Starring: Ricky Schroder, Joel Higgins, Erin Gray, Leonard Lightfoot, Jason Bateman, John Houseman
“Ricky Schroder? Sorry, pal, never heard of him. My name is Rick Schroder.”
Yeah, just a guess, but we think that’s probably what the Rickster is saying these days when someone approaches him about his very first TV series, “Silver Spoons,” finally beginning to arrive on DVD. At the very least, Schroeder seems to be going out of his way to steer clear of participating in any promotion for the set. A quick check of his official website finds only one mention of the show’s name, and that’s thanks only to the opening lines of a USA Today article about his recent stint on “24.” (“Ricky Schroder, 36, has traded his silver spoons for heavier artillery to play CTU agent Mike Doyle on ’24.’”)
Ok, sure, we know, the guy’s literally spent two decades trying to escape from his past (the show left the air in 1987 after five seasons). The most notable maneuver being the name change from “Ricky” to “Rick,” but as USA Today has so readily proven, all his attempts have been futile. He appeared in “Lonesome Dove” and “Crimson Tide,” spent five years as a cast member of “NYPD Blue,” and even did a stint on “Scrubs,” but people still remember him as Ricky Stratton, the poor little rich kid who had full-sized arcade games in his living room and a train running the length of his mansion,
But so what? What’s the big deal? We remember Schroder fondly from the role, so there’s no reason to be embarrassed about the show. Sure, it had a laugh track to propel its only-sporadically-funny jokes, and a healthy dose of schmaltz every few episodes to get the viewers’ tear ducts pumping. Although viewing “Silver Spoons: The Complete First Season” reminds us that the series was, ultimately, a pedestrian ‘80s sitcom, it still provides a fun flashback.
If you’ve never seen the show (and it’s very possible that you haven’t, because its reruns really haven’t gotten much airtime in recent years) here’s a quick summary of its premise. Edward Stratton III (Joel Higgins) is a decidedly immature millionaire toymaker who discovers that he has a 12-year-old son when Ricky turns up on his doorstep. The boy announces that his mother has found a new beau, and wants to know if he can leave military school and come live with his newfound dad. At first, Edward is reticent to take in the boy, but you know how these things work: by the end of the pilot episode, Ricky is leaving the academy and moving into his pop’s mansion. The cast is filled out by Edward’s personal assistant, Kate, played by ‘80s pop culture pin-up Erin Gray, who arrived at the show on the heels of her role as Wilma Deering in “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” There’s also Edward’s business manager, Leonard Rollins (Leonard Lightfoot), but you may not even remember his character, since he mysteriously vanished after the first season, replaced by Dexter Stuffins (Franklin Seales). Dexter remained for the subsequent four seasons, along with his adopted son, Alfonso, played by Alfonso Ribiero. (It’s all coming back to you now, isn’t it?)
The best part about “Silver Spoons,” however, was always its guest stars. Jason Bateman had one of his first recurring television roles as Ricky’s best friend/nemesis, Derek Taylor (though he’d eventually leave the series to score his own, the short-lived but fondly remembered “It’s Your Move”). Also popping up on more than one occasion was the stone-faced John Houseman, who arguably scored more laughs in his few appearances than most of the regular cast members, thanks to his immaculately-deadpan delivery. Devotees of the show, however, will more fondly recall the one-shot guest spots. These include Mr. T, hired by Edward to protect Ricky from the bullies who populate public schools, and Joey Lawrence, who played a homeless boy whose family was living in a cave on the Stratton’s sprawling estate. (Seriously.) Gary Coleman even did a crossover from “Diff’rent Strokes” and played Arnold Jackson, on assignment for his school newspaper to interview Ricky. This was a regular ploy by NBC to up the ratings of new shows, resulting most famously in the desperate “Diff’rent Strokes”/“Hello, Larry” team-up.
No, “Silver Spoons” wasn’t one of the best series of the ‘80s. It’s not even close. But it’s unquestionably one of the definitive ‘80s shows, one that should be placed in a time capsule as a show that represents the decade. Still, before you bury it, check out a few episodes and get a few smiles out of the deal.
And that goes for you, too, Schroder!
Special Features: Be sure to thank Sony for another feature-less release. Not that the Rickster would’ve gone anywhere near the set, but, still, I’m betting Joel Higgins and Erin Gray would’ve stepped up to bat…and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. Gray regularly tours the convention circuit and seems to very much enjoy speaking of her past experiences, and although Higgins spends more time in the theater these days (that’s where he started), he still seems proud of his work on the show. So, basically, chalk it up to Sony just not wanting to pay for anything extra. Again.