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Reviewed by Will Harris
lthough “Blossom” is often viewed as a kitschy punch-line of early ‘90s television (“Tonight, on a very special ‘Blossom’”), the series actually contains some unique elements which make it surprisingly easy to respect its accomplishments. With that said, however, while most of the girls like to watch “Blossom,” only some of the boys do. And given that the first episode is all about the titular character getting her period for the first time, you can’t really blame the guys for that.
When “Blossom” premiered on NBC in 1991, Mayim Bialik had already done a fair amount of sitcom work (most notably on “Webster”), but she was riding on the high of having played the younger version of Bette Midler’s character in “Beaches” and ready to break out. Enter Don Reo, who provided her with the opportunity to play Blossom Russo, a teenage girl living with her father and two brothers. What was perhaps most exceptional about the series was Bialik herself: a girl who looked, dare I say it, real. She was cute, but she wasn’t gorgeous, which meant that you could imagine that guys would want to date her, but unlike a lot of teenage TV characters, you didn’t watch the show and find yourself thinking, “How can a girl who looks like this ever be without a date?” The character of Blossom was also an impressive tightrope walk, as she came across as a very original spirit (particularly with her sense of fashion) while still going through the same things that all teenage girls go through.
A couple of the other characters on the show had attributes rarely seen on television. Blossom’s dad (Ted Wass) was a struggling musician, a career usually only given to single characters, while her older brother, Anthony (Michael Stoyanov), is established from the very first episode as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, an attribute rarely found within your average sitcom. And what about Blossom’s mother? Oh, she’s out of the picture, having left to pursue her own musical career. (She finally pops up later in the series’ run – played by Melissa Manchester, no less – but she’s not in any of these episodes.) This wasn’t the first time we’d seen a single dad, but it was interesting for the parents to have the same career but have the father be the responsible one to stay home and raise the kids. As for Blossom’s younger brother, Joey (Joey Lawrence), well, okay, he was pretty much a stereotypical dumb guy from the word “whoa,” and although Barnard Hughes played Blossom’s crotchety grandpa Buzz with his usual comedic flair, it’s not like we hadn’t seen grumpy old men on the small screen before. But let’s not forget about Six (Jenna Von Oy), whose perkiness and rapid-fire delivery made her the cast’s stand out.
The show regularly utilized dream sequences, thereby taking full opportunity of the guest stars available to them, including Phylicia Rashad (“The Cosby Show”), Rhea Perlman (“Cheers”), Little Richard, Phil Donahue, Estelle Getty (playing her character from “The Golden Girls”), Sonny Bono, Reggie Jackson, Salt and Pepa, and, uh, ALF. The episode which proves the most fun, however, is “Blossom: A Rockumentary,” which is filmed in black and white, a la Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” (a point of comparison which is in no way coincidental), and features talking-head appearances from Dick Clark, David Cassidy, Tori Spelling, Martha Quinn, Mr. Blackwell, Wolfgang Puck, Don King, Neil Patrick Harris, David Faustino, and from NBC’s own roster, Jere Burns (“Dear John”), Dinah Manoff (“Empty Nest”), and network VP of entertainment Warren Littlefield.
To be honest, the show often feels like a cross between a lost item from ABC’s “TGI Friday” line-up and a glorified Disney Channel sitcom, albeit with slightly more mature content. It must be remembered, however, that at the time when “Blossom” was on the air, there weren’t many TV series which attempted to convey what teenaged girls were going through. That’s not to say that the show should be put up on a pedestal next to “My So-Called Life” or anything, but you can see why girls who grew up in the early ‘90s still remember the show fondly. As for the guys, well, the pop culture geeks will enjoy watching for the various guest stars (keep an eye out for appearances for yet-to-be-famous faces like Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, Johnny Galecki, Tobey Maguire and Tisha Campbell), but for the most part, they’ll probably just let their girlfriends or wives enjoy the set on their own.
Special Features: Shout! Factory succeeds again by giving a cult show the love its fans deserve, corralling the majority of the show’s stars – Bialik, von Oy, Lawrence, and Wass – and getting them, along with Reo, to contribute to a trio of retrospective documentaries (“A Very Special Show,” “A Very Special Friendship,” and “A Very Special Style”). Furthermore, everyone but Wass chimes in during the course of three audio commentaries. Perhaps the most interesting item, however, is the original pilot for “Blossom,” in which Blossom’s parents are still together, her father is played by Richard Masur rather than Ted Wass, and Anthony is apparently a big Tom Waits fan, since he describes himself as a “Rain Dog” and cites the Waits’ song as the origin of the term. Who knew?