I love Love Boat and Family Ties as much as the next child of the ’80s, but the TV shows that really get me misty-eyed are these largely unsung ones, the shows that ran for one season, maybe two, that to an easily impressed young girl in ill-fitting wide-wale corduroys and with a Dorothy Hamill haircut were phenomenal, groundbreaking television.
1. Double Trouble (1984–85)
Is there anything more fascinating and fun than twins? This show starred the world’s coolest, prettiest, most funkily dressed twins on earth, Jean and Liz Sagal, sisters of Married…With Children and Sons of Anarchy‘s Katey Sagal. In the first season, they lived in Des Moines and hung out in their dad’s dance studio. In the second and final season, they went to live with their nutty aunt in NYC, and that’s when the show got really good—lots of twin mix-up hijinks, lots of high comedy around the fact that one of them was easygoing and the other uptight. I got a pair of pink fluorescent suspenders in a rather pathetic effort to dress like the Double Trouble twins. It was unsuccessful.
2. Spencer (1984–85)
For a mere six episodes, we got to watch Chad Lowe play a teenage rascal who couldn’t stop getting into scrapes. Then they got a new actor to play Spencer and renamed the show Under One Roof. I was an enthusiastic member of the audience of six people who were die-hard fans of both shows.
3. It’s Your Move (1984–85)
Now that Jason Bateman has become a big star, people like to show off their pop culture bona fides by name-checking It’s Your Move, in which Bateman played a teenage con artist who played adorable pranks such as selling term papers. He was kind of a little shit, and the show lasted about five minutes, no match for Dynasty, which shared its time slot.
4. Jennifer Slept Here (1983–84)
Ann Jillian may be most famous to fans of obscure ’80s television for the brilliant It’s a Living, about a group of women waitressing at a hotel restaurant. A solid premise, unlike Jillian’s follow-up, Jennifer Slept Here, in which she played the ghost of an actress who haunts the family living in her former house, only visible to the family’s teenage son. I loved the show even though it was a little ridiculous, and I adored the theme song. It’s the kind of hyper-passionate, cornball crooning that’s sorely missing from TV credits today.
5. Throb (1986–88)
A thirtysomething divorcée goes to work at a boutique record label. Her son is played by a very young, pre-fast, pre-furious Paul Walker, and her roommate is none other than Frasier‘s Jane Leeves. I am pretty sure no one remembers this show but me.
6. Three’s a Crowd (1984–85)
Can we agree Three’s Company was a pretty terrible show? It was one big misunderstanding overheard through the swinging kitchen door. Thank God in the very short-lived spinoff, Three’s a Crowd, Jack Tripper no longer has to pretend to be gay to rent his apartment now that he’s living with his girlfriend, Vicky. But wait! There’s still an intolerant landlord, in the form of Vicky’s father, so the main premise of Three’s Company stays intact. Even as a child, I knew that Jack without the Ropers or Mr. Farley was not going to be worth watching. But somehow I persevered through all 22 episodes of this thin broth of a sitcom.
7. Square Pegs (1982–83)
The big question on all Square Pegs fans’ lips is “What happened to Lauren Hutchinson?” We all know her best friend and fellow nerd Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) turned out just fine, but what about Lauren, played by Amy Linker? The show was like a very PG Sixteen Candles made for TV, a high school comedy that followed two misfits who seemed so grown-up and cool to me I could hardly wait to get braces and grow up into a freshman dork myself. (I didn’t have to wait long.) Bonus: The theme song was sung by The Waitresses.
8. The Littles (1983–85)
The only people who loved The Littles were people who read the far superior series of books on which it was based, and even we weren’t totally nuts about the show. The Littles themselves were tiny rodent-like humans who lived in the walls of a family’s house. You’d think it would have made a great animated series, but somehow reading about little people who have tails made total sense. Seeing it portrayed on TV was a little creepy.
9. Joanie Loves Chachi (1982–83)
Oh to be young and in love and to be Erin Moran singing passionately into Scott Baio’s puppy dog eyes! A far too short-lived spinoff of Happy Days, Joanie Loves Chachi chronicled the twosome’s life in the big city trying to make a go of it as rock stars. The theme song alone can move me to tears.
10. My Sister Sam (1986–88)
I always thought of My Sister Sam as a sequel of sorts to Mork & Mindy, even though the only thing the shows had in common were roommates and Pam Dawber. Sam (Dawber) is a photographer whose long lost 16-year-old sister (played by Rebecca Schaeffer) comes to live with her in San Francisco. I loved the show and was heartbroken along with the rest of the country when Schaeffer was killed by a stalker a year after it went off the air.
11. Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine (1977–80)
This is a deep, deep cut, ’80s babies. I had very dim memories of Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine, a weird educational show that ran on Saturday mornings, and it was only through ninja-style Googling that I was able to unearth the name of the show. As far as I can tell, it starred a curly haired programmer named Marlo who works in a lowly job in the basement of L. Dullo computer factory. He has a giant room-sized computer living behind a bookcase in his office that he calls “Machine” and who talks to him. The show features a lot of flashing lights and trippy graphics as Marlo and Machine try to stump the audience with strange movie-related games.