October 3rd: Mr. Belvedere

Buckle your rust-belt.

Yeah, sorry, we're still in the 1980s - my god, the fucking 1980s. Sure, it was a golden age for Prince, but one could argue that it's always a golden age for Prince, so that factor cancels itself out, leaving us with nothing but a society built on permed hair and a thirst for Tony Danza that could not be slaked.

Look, you try getting the chronopod to work right, okay? It's a very complicated thing, bending the rules of space and time! Still, we are in fact moving backwards, there are only 8 callers ahead of us in the phone queue for time-travel tech support, and we need to check in with Eton's favorite son...

Mr. Belvedere

Man, where has this show been? I mean, I remember it existing, I remember watching it, the Bob Uecker, the rooty-toot theme song - all that stuff. But there hasn't really been a 4-hour block of reruns on TBS to really hammer that nail into the knotty pine of our cultural ether, has there.

In short, I don't know what we're getting ourselves into when we knock on this door that we will subsequently be obliged to dropkick our jacket through. But knock we shall.

Space: Beaver Falls, PA
Time: October 31st, 1986
Episode: "Halloween" Season 4, Episode 3

Uh-oh - we've got ourselves another Halloween cold open. Fortunately any dread we have that this will turn into another Full House atrocity is quickly allayed with a line from the youngest son, Wesley, who explains to Mr. Belvedere:

"Friday's Halloween! It's the day I get to go out, and if people don't give me stuff, I can terrorize 'em!"

Heh-heh, I like this kid already.

From there we're launched into that ever-annoying thing called plot, this one about Mr. Belvedere's failing eyesight. It's a little heavy, this cataract surgery angst, and the family rallies behind him (for we quickly realize that these people are obsessed with Mr. Belvedere and what he's doing, and should consider expending that energy on productive things like volunteering for local charities or building ships-in-bottles), but it eventually leads to him wearing an eyepatch around for the rest of the ep. so there you go.

But let's take a moment to soak in the flavor of this typical mid-80s living room!

Check out what's going on behind Uecker - anybody know what time it is?

I get it, I get it, it's an aesthetic, and as time travelers we can certainly appreciate it, but tell me, how many clocks does one family need? And what is that portrait above the fireplace!? Speaking of the fireplace, who doesn't love one blazing away to offer warmth to one and all? This one seems like it's more than up to the challenge... until you catch a glimpse of the ol' cast iron number back there, fresh from Benjamin Franklin's workshop:

The Owens family just can't get warm enough! I imagine young Wesley and daughter Heather spending valuable homework time in the basement, shoveling mounds of coal into Titanic-sized boilers. They would pause only to read their stoking indicators because they absolutely cannot incinerate enough natural resources - and goddammit, it's just not hot enough in this house!

Anyway, from there we get a visit from the Happy Guys of Pittsburgh, who are like your garden-variety Oddfellows or Elks or Knights Templar or Illuminati - that kind of thing. Apparently a series-long runner is these guys always trying to get Uecker's George Owens to join them. And they're not messing around, for they've brought out the legendary Jack Dodson, a thoroughbred character-actor from the Andy Griffith stable. I can only describe his voice as one that was lightly-sketched with a No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil, and then partially erased. And do not miss his stirring performance in Munster, Go Home! as the ocean-liner crew member who explains England's elaborate animal-quarantine laws to a fretful Lily Munster when Grandpa accidentally turns himself into a werewolf.

But here's the thing: as George and Marsha mull the prospect of assembly-line pancake breakfasts and riding in parades on little motorcycles, we notice something strange. He's wearing his wedding ring on his right hand.

Here are my theories, thank you for asking.

1.) Ueck was a right-handed catcher for the Brew-Crew back in the day, so maybe this was one of those Whitey Ford "gouge the baseball with your ring for movement" things.

Or, better yet,

2.) This is a symbol of the Owens' open- relationship, and they swing like crazy throughout metropolitan Pittsburgh, going to key parties and taking advantage of discreet, consenting-adult naughtiness. I mean, this would explain why this family with three able-bodied children and a normal-sized house requires a full-time, live-in butler, right? It's not exactly Downton, and these kids have to earn their allowance somehow.

My theory is soon given credence, as older-son, Kevin (think Robbie Douglas Mk II), departs for his Halloween party, wearing a full suit of armor (how is he getting anywhere in that thing?).

Ueck takes the time to offer some fatherly words of advice:

"So, listen, Kev, uh... If you save some fair maidens, save a couple for me, huh?"

His wife is standing right there!

But it's no big deal - she's laughing uproariously. I think I'm onto something here...

Kevin, by the way, has already performed his role in this piece by inspiring Belvedere to meditate on his body failing him and how that makes him feel. My guess is that it makes him feel lazy, because check out all the decorating this "professional" butler has done:

Thanks a lot, Mr. Belvedere, you've really gone all-out this year with the candy corn, and the... candy corn.

By the way, that's Wesley's friend, Miles, wearing the headgear and dressed-up like "a beaurocrat." Belvedere takes the time to dole out some light verbal-abuse of the Danny Tanner-model, referring to this kid who will grow up with troubling self-esteem issues as "Metal-mouth."

Side-note - oh, no one knew Mr. Belvedere had trouble with his eyesight? Look at how many reading-lamps are grouped around that chair in the back corner! Nobody thought to say, "Wow, we sure have a lot of lamps in this one area of the living room, don't we?" Combine this with the school of wall clocks on the opposite side of the room, and you have a motif of clustered everyday objects - I imagine them having, like, seven mailboxes nailed to multiple posts at the end of the driveway, and while I know nothing of feng shui, that can't be right, can it?

Meanwhile, secret societies are totally ready for prime-time, as we join George and Marsha at the Happy Guys meeting. The cult- uh, club, is jumping around in robes and praising Abaddon, "the shadow who dwells beneath the bridge."

I am loving this - how was this show not more successful!? And just look how Happy these Guys are:

But George declines their membership offer (was it somehow not kinky enough for this veteran swinger?), and we rejoin Belvedere and the kids trick-or-treating. Their doorbell-ringing goes unanswered, so Wesley teaches a butler who is desperate to recapture the strength and freedom of his youth, how to TP someone's house. Finally!

The next thing we know, Belvedere is brought in by the cops, having rampaged his way through the neighborhood, TPing and destroying the belongings of those who have slighted him in even the most benign of ways.

Fortunately for him, he's white and middle-class, so his reckless behavior and damage to the property of others is waved through the gates of justice with a laugh and a wag of the finger, as though it had never happened at all. Oh, Belvedere, you are a treasure - we couldn't possibly hold you accountable for your actions! And we'd never think of trying.