|8 Simple Rules: The Complete First Season (2002)
Starring: John Ritter, Katey Sagal, Kaley Cuoco, Amy Davidson, Martin Spanjers, Billy Aaron Brown, Larry Miller, Brian Sites
John Ritter was virtually ubiquitous on television from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, jumping from “Three’s Company” straight over to the short-lived “Three’s A Crowd,” then from “Hooperman” to “Hearts Afire,” with a brief break in between the two to appear as a recurring character on “Anything But Love.” (There were also a few movies here and there, but those are probably best left forgotten. Well, at least until we do our piece on actors who never made the transition from TV to the big screen.) After “Hearts Afire” ended its run, however, Ritter spent the next eight years playing the role of Mr. Guest Star, popping up everywhere from “Touched by an Angel” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” without ever settling down.
Finally, in 2002, Ritter spotted a property that caught his eye enough to kick off his shoes and stay for awhile: an adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron’s book, “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” a title the sitcom’s producers quickly whittled down to “8 Simple Rules.” Although it’s only been five years since the series first premiered on ABC, pop culture history has already begun turning it into nothing more than a footnote in Ritter’s career, or possibly a future Trivial Pursuit question. (“What was John Ritter’s last television series?”)
This is the sort of revisionism that drives critics insane.
“8 Simple Rules” was a remarkably accurate portrayal of the chasms that exist between parents and their children, not to mention between a husband and a wife. Ritter plays Paul Hennessey, a longtime sportswriter who, after encouraging his wife to return to her nursing career, realizes that he needs to take a more active role in the lives of his two teenage daughters. Upon doing so, however, he quickly discovers that when it comes to trying to assist them with their problems, it’s completely impossible for him to do or say anything right.
The decision to have Katey Sagal play Paul’s wife, Cate, may have been a surprising move to anyone who was only familiar with her work as Peg Bundy on “Married with Children,” but Sagal and Ritter have an easy rapport together that’s immediately evident to the viewer. The same can be said for Kaley Cuoco and Amy Davidson – daughters Bridget and Kerry, respectively – given how well they play off each other with their rapid-fire sarcastic responses. Cuoco takes what looks like a traditional airhead blonde role and instills it with heart, while Davidson perfectly captures the woe-is-me mentality of the average middle child. The Hennesseys also have a son, Rory (Martin Spanjers), but it takes a few episodes for him to take off as a character. In his first few appearances, it feels as though he only shows up when he has a punch-line to deliver, but, soon, he’s fleshed out considerably as well.
The ever-dependable Larry Miller shows up sporadically throughout Season One as Paul’s obnoxious co-worker, Tommy. Far more often, however, we see Tommy’s son, Kyle (Billy Aaron Brown), who’s Bridget’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, as well as the bane of Paul’s existence. There are also guest spots from Jason Priestley, Shelly Long, George Ratzenberger and Terry Bradshaw, plus a recurring role for Patrick Warburton as Paul’s boss. There’s even a hilarious nod to Ritter’s most famous series, which involves the “8 Simple Rules” cast dressing up as Jack, Chrissy, Janet and the Ropers, then concludes with a brilliant cameo from Don Knotts. In the end, though, it’s the core cast that makes it such a great family sitcom.
If all you know about “8 Simple Rules” is that it was John Ritter’s last series, go rent Season One. You’ll quickly discover it was one of his best.Special Features: The only inclusion is a 10-minute blooper reel, which shows Ritter’s camaraderie with the rest of the cast and only serves to make you even more depressed about his passing. You can’t blame the cast for not delving into doing audio commentaries, given that the melancholy tone would inevitably permeate every moment, but it’s surprising that there’s no formal tribute to Ritter. We hope we can take that to mean it’s being saved for the DVD set of the show’s second season.