I adore Fantasy Island 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 — those 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
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 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 jerk 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 (see No. 12). In Jennifer Slept Here, she played the ghost of an actress who haunts the family living in her former house, who is 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 thirty-something 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 had to pretend to be gay to rent his apartment given he was 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, 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. Bonus: The theme song was sung by The Waitresses.
Next: More essential ’80s TV