Less than a year after Ron Howard played a college-bound adolescent enjoying a final, summer-of-1962 romp with old friends in American Graffiti
, he turned up as high school innocent Richie Cunningham in the memorable, ABC television network debut of Happy Days
, set a few years earlier in Milwaukee. The show would last a decade and go through many changes in tone, cast, and character development, but that first season got a boost from the natural perception that it had some things in common with Graffiti
: Howard, of course, but also fumbling teenage sex, drag races, drive-in food, pesky little sisters, and laconic greasers.
Happy Days: The Complete First Season is a sweet trip back to the Garry Marshall-produced sitcom's 1974 entry in primetime television, before political correctness would make stories about clean-cut boys fixated on seducing girls unthinkable, and long before older kids were defined by angst on the WB and Fox TV. At least in its first year, before Happy Days developed more of a comic-book feel and energy, the show was about Richie's all-too-human inclination to grow up too fast, to bite off more than he could chew and learn poignant lessons in the process. He was a sympathetic naif, not the charming braggart he later became, and major characters appear to have been created to provide both ballast and motivation. Among them is best friend Potsie (Anson Williams), a superficial hustler who typically incites Richie's enthusiasm for booze, reputed nymphomaniacs, and sophisticated, older girls, and fast-talking Ralph Malph (Donny Most), owner of a fantastic, yellow hot rod. More important are counterparts Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler), a vaguely dangerous drop-out, and Richie's exasperated father, Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley), each of whom provides Richie the validation of an experienced male: Fonzie's raw worldliness versus Mr. C's seasoned view of a man's responsibilities. First-season highlights include the pilot episode (co-written by Rob Reiner), "All the Way," in which Richie's typical decency allows him to see past the sex-mad reputation of an amiable girl from school. Season closer "Be the First on Your Block" finds the Cunninghams' plans to build a bomb shelter turning into a popularity contest as Richie's friends vie for a guaranteed spot in the event of nuclear war. --Tom Keogh