Another sitcom face off where I take two similar shows and see which one is better. Today’s involved two very different nostalgic comedies which both take a look at specific period in history.

These shows are basically about the same thing, looking back at a different era with wonder and nostalgia. Happy Days was set in the mid-50’s, while Wonder Years was set in the more turbulent late 60’s. So that meant Wonder Years was a tad more serious, but Happy Days was on the air twice as long. So which is better?


Richie Cunningham vs. Kevin Arnold



Ron Howard vs Fred Savage, now there’s a grudge match! Seriously though, let’s discuss these characters. Richie is a very wide eyed, positive character. He always has that “goodie two shoe” thing going for him. And while it was deserved, he certainly wasn’t a bad guy. He was a loyal friend, brother, and son. It’s easy to question why someone like Fonzie would ever be friends with a guy like Richie, but if you watch the show you understand. Fonzie knew that Richie was a good person and even more than that, Richie accepted Fonz as he was. Early in the series many did not like Fonzie (amazing, I know) and it was Richie who befriended him and helped bring him out of his shell. But sometimes Richie got a little to goofy, and was hard to really take seriously. Take the episode with Mork, when Richie announces what he saw in the beginning his friends laugh him off. Of course they do, it makes perfect sense. Kevin Arnold was a wide eyed optimist to, but he was being raised in a different time. He was a kid when the world was literally changing around him every day, and it’s understandable that he didn’t know how to deal with it. Not being around in the late 60’s I can only imagine what is like for kids then, to have so much chaos in the world on top of trying to grow up. Kevin manages to capture that very well. Kevin was also a loyal friend and tried to be the best he could and please everyone. He didn’t always succeed, but he sure tried. So, who is the winner? With all due respect to Ron Howard, I think Fred Savage did a better job of capturing that angst that we all go through growing up, We could really relate to Kevin. There is a reason why Fonzie took off past Richie in popularity, because Richie was a little to fake to be taken seriously.



CATEGORY 2-Families

The Cunningham’s vs. The Arnold’s

These families were different in some ways, and similar in others. The mothers were very similar. Marion and Norma both had the same idea, which was taking care of their family any way they could. They were always there with a smile and some advice. Being a product of the late 60’s, Norma was a bit more ambitious than Marion and wanted a bit more out of life. The fathers were as different as night and day. Well, maybe not that bad but where Howard was a warm and lovable guy; Jack was from a different school. Of course Jack was born and raised during the depression which would make him a little more difficult. Gonna be honest here, with all due respect to Dan Lauria I hated Jack. He was always in a bad mood, always yelling….and kind of reminded me too much of my own father. I know that was the point but I didn’t like it. Howard was the father we all wanted to have, supportive and understanding. Sure he could get angry to, but there was a very clear soft side that didn’t come off with Jack as easily. Joanie was the bratty sister, and she was basically there to be cute and say funny things (in the early days anyway). Wayne was a more true to life big brother; he was obnoxious, rude, and always made fun of Kevin. He was the kind of brother we all dreaded, the kind that would do whatever he could to make your life miserable. Brother Chuck and Sister Karen were so forgettable they were, well, forgotten. So who wins the more realistic family or the more made up one? Gonna go with The Cunningham’s, for simply being more likable as characters. I hated Jack and Wayne, and it’s not a good thing when you hate two regular cast members on a show.





Category 3-Friends


The friends were the drive of these series, especially Happy Days. What would the show have been without Potsie or Ralph? I guess they could be called Richie’s sidekicks, but they were more buddies who were friends because they were the same type. Potsie and Ralph were as goofy as Richie was a goodie two shoe, and they kind of complimented each other perfectly. They formed a nice little group. To round out that group was a certain leather clad character named Fonzie. Do I really need to go into detail on him? Fonzie was the breakout character, gaining popularity despite initial network objections. To Richie, Fonzie was a big brother, and to Fonzie Richie sort of played the role of conscience. Fonzie found his humanity through Richie. On The Wonder Years Kevin had a bunch of friends but his best friend was Paul who was as nerdy as they came without being unrealistic. He had the silly glasses, looked weird, and did everything else a nerdy guy would do. It is amazing watching that character evolve over the series. And then there was Winnie….the love interest who Kevin chased for the entire run. I could go on and on about her, she was just perfect in that role. I feel bad I didn’t devote more attention to Kevin and Winnie in my Valentine article months ago; they were a great on again/off again couple and in many ways the heart of the show. So who wins? While Kevin always needed a little help from his friends (haha), Happy Days couldn’t have possibly been the show it was without Richie’s. Especially Fonzie, their friendship was one of the best in television history.



Category 4-Supporting Cast



This is a pretty easy one. Chachi, Al, Arnold…and those are for starters. Happy Days definitely had a strong supporting cast. Wonder Years had guest stars more than supporting cast. In fact, even the main cast was guest stars in a lot of ways. How many episodes had the main cast hardly in it? Instead the story was about a teacher or maybe another friend we had never met before. Easy winner, right? Well, not quite. While it’s true that the supporting cast was around a bit more on Happy Days, did they ever really do anything but tell silly jokes? At least on Wonder Years you learned about these people, when they were featured in an episode there was real character development. Several friends of Kevin, Coach Cutlip, Ms.White, even Mr.Collins who was only in a few episodes, when he died in an Emmy award winning episode we felt as sad as Kevin. Also Happy Days got bogged down by supporting cast as the show plodded on, especially when Ron Howard left and Joanie and Chachie spun off into their own show. So much so that it didn’t even look like the same show those last few years. Tough call but I give the award to The Wonder Years for being kinder with their supporting cast.




Two great theme songs which really capture the spirit and feel of their series, but really is there any doubt here? The Happy Days theme is one of my favorite songs, not just themes, ever.






So which show told their stories better? In the early days of Happy Days, it felt very much like a period piece. The show was a spin-off from an episode of Love, American Style and those first few seasons were pretty much about Richie dating girls. The show evolved, and lost some of its charm. The show was corny and silly, with the audience applauding just for a cast member walking into the scene. When Ron Howard left, the show truly became The Fonzie Show and just started to get even sillier as time went on. How this show went on for eleven years baffles me. The Wonder Years was different, not just because of the series setting. In Happy Days we got a saturated view of the 50’s and growing up, but The Wonder Years tried to give a first-hand point of view of the 60’s. Every episode was narrated by Kevin thirty years in the future, as he looked back at the events in his life (which led to a hilarious joke in MAD magazine but I will spare you). The stories were darker since they dealt with the things going in the world, including The Vietnam War. Happy Days had their serious episodes to, but those always felt more stunt related. But I think the winner is obvious, since Happy Days got to silly and corny. I mean, Mork from Ork was funny, but what does that have to with growing up in the 50’s? The Wonder Years did a better job of staying true to its formula, as we saw the struggles of a boy growing up during a difficult time in America. Sure the narrator got old as the series went on and the stories evolved as Kevin got older, but the formula stayed the same.









This would seem to be easy since Happy Day is the show “jumping the shark” came from. And it makes sense, an episode about Fonzie accepting a dare to jump over a shark? Really? But the jump the shark moment for me was when Ron Howard left, as I have said many times the series was never the same. For me anyway, because the show went on for several more years. Of course I never saw this show when it was first on, which makes a different only seeing the reruns. The Wonder Years was clearly running out of steam that last year, but the show was still watchable. What about the final episodes? The final episodes for both series were beautiful, especially The Wonder Years which ended in a very touching show. If you’ve never seen it I urge you to, Kevin and Winnie finally reveal their feelings and it’s a very strong show, but it’s the last five minutes which is really worth watching. It still chokes me up. In Happy Days Joanie and Chachi finally get married and the final scene from The Happy Days finale was also touching, and I have to repeat if you’ve never seen it check it out. Two of the best finale’s in television history in my opinion. I find myself torn, I need to pick a winner but somehow giving it to Wonder Years doesn’t make sense. Happy Days could be corny and silly, but it had something that The Wonder Years sorely lacked. It had timelessness to it. I asked before how this show lasted so long, and truth is I know the answer. People loved the characters, so much that they kept coming back. So much that the audience embraced spin-off’s Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy and loved them. When the show finally left the air, people were devastated. What were they going to do without Happy Days? Wonder Years never reached that level, the show quietly left the air and has been more or less forgotten. Re-runs occasionally pop up but seem to vanish just as fast. Happy Days can still be found in re-runs today. It has the same magic which keeps shows like The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show on years later. So while I never got it, I have to acknowledge that and give the award to the show that had the right chemistry of actors, story, and comedy.




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