Ashley Spurgeon is a lifelong TV fan — nay, expert — and with her recurring television and pop-culture column "And Another Thing," she'll tell you what to watch, what to skip, and what's worth thinking more about.
Sitcom viewers: For fun, silly ’90s pleasure, please do not forget about The Nanny. Yes, it lacked the pop-culture impact of Friends or Seinfeld, isn’t quite as rewatchable (or good) as Frasier or The Simpsons (1990 until circa 1997), and lost out on the “nostalgia for 30-somethings” cash-in to clearly lesser programs like Full House and, God help us, Boy Meets World. (I spit, I give the Evil Eye.) But friends, if we’re talking straight-up spiritual successors to the Lucille Ball school of televised clowning, it’s hard to beat Fran Drescher as Fran Fine, the eponymous Nanny.
You very likely know the story of The Nanny even if you’ve never seen the show: She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, till her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes, and so on and so forth. (If you’re making a show where the dad works as a Broadway producer, it helps to have a catchy theme song — verisimilitude as seen through the fractured lens of comedy.) “The Dad” is Max (“Mistah!”) Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy), rival to Andrew Lloyd Weber and widowed father to teenage Maggie (Nicholle Tom), son Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury) and sweet little Grace (Madeline Zima, recently seen on Hacks), clearly traumatized by her mother’s death but adorable, cheerful and well-versed in psych talk from her frequent therapy sessions. Rounding out the cast — and it is a true ensemble — is loyal butler Niles (pro-Nanny, Daniel Davis) and Max’s business partner C.C. (anti-Nanny).
A living, breathing, full-color cartoon, The Nanny shares DNA with I Love Lucy in more than just a zany lady protagonist: The New York City theater scene, cavalcade of special guest stars and big “filmed in front of a studio audience” energy all have similar flavors, but this time: It’s the ’90s. We also have to face facts: Fran Drescher is a super-babe. She’s got the face, the bod, the comedic talent (that’s why her stage voice is annoying, she knows she’s got to humanize herself for us plebs at home). It’s a genuine delight watching her model bright, quasi-mod runway looks that are one part Vogue, one part club kid, all Nanny. You call this outré? Oy vey!
There is, of course, a love plot between Fran and Mr. Sheffield, barbs traded between Fran and C.C. (and Niles and C.C.), and plenty of lessons for the kids to learn (not to mention injecting them with a little joie de vivre). There are hoary plots, one-liners that were dusty when Henny Youngman first hit the stage, and the occasional “Ha, can’t make THAT joke anymore!” observations on sex, race and gender. But no matter: It’s fun, it’s solid, and one episode is no more than 23 minutes of your life.
Along with The Nanny, I’ve been watching 227 -- a sister show, if you will, a digestif to The Nanny’s apéritif. If I were in charge of programming a later-afternoon bloc of women-oriented sitcoms, I would put a lot of faith into a Nanny/227 double-header. The basic type of comedy character that is Fran Fine — crazy, sexy, cool, a daring fashionista, a bold broad, a woman with her own mind — is seen in an earlier version on 227, via Sandra Clark, played pretty freaking iconically by Jackée Harry. (You can see the Lucille Ball in Sandra, too.) I can easily see a make-believe reality where Sandra and Fran are friends: shopping buddies, bad-date story swappers, hootin’ hollerin’ lady wolf-whistlers who occasionally check out the man meat at the East Coast’s finest construction sites.
227 is another ensemble, centered not around Sandra but the honestly-this-broad-seems-like-a-pain-in-the-ass Mary (Marla Gibbs), wife of Lester (Hal Williams) and mom to Brenda (teenage Regina King). It’s somewhat a family show, but most of the action comes from Mary, Sandra and two other female residents of 227 — landlord Rose (Alaina Reed Hall), willed the building in the pilot, and saucy downstairs neighbor Pearl (Helen Martin). “Ashley,” I can hear you asking, "Are there themed episodes of 227?” Of course there are, it’s an ’80s sitcom. They also go on Wheel of Fortune.
Based on a stage play, 227 is honestly quite a bit better than The Nanny, and a hell of a lot funnier than the vast majority of its sitcom contemporaries. In spite of the aggressive presence of Sandra — who literally simpers as a catch phrase — it’s not nearly as simpering or stupid as your Family Ties and Growing Pains and Facts of Life and Who’s the Boss-es. In short, it holds up, and I am confident in this assessment, because 227 holds no nostalgic appeal for me whatsoever. This is my first go-round with the series, and the quality laughs are just, like, sitting there, waiting for me. Still need one more reason to watch? 227 didn’t skimp out on their theme song either.