Thursday, January 7, 2016

Taking the Good and the Bad: Sitcom Purgatory

Lisa Whelchel as Blair Warner

I took the headache drugs at about 5:00 a.m. after I sent my brother to pick them up.After that, I slept for more than nine straight hours. Then I woke up and studied until about an hour ago. i'm still not sleepy after having been unconscious for the entire morning and then some, so i'm curled up in bed with my kitty, watching mindless TV.

I'm watching, of all things, a  The Facts of Life marathon on TV. I had  the channel on for something else when my remote control batter apparently died.I like Charlotte Rae but thing the show is quite lame. I could turn the television off manually but I cannot change the Direct TV channel without the remote on the TV in my room.

The Facts of Life 's target audience must have the pre-adolescent demographic group, as hardly anyone much older or smarter could have tolerated the mediocre-at-best writing and even poorer acting. The plots were inane, and the characters were neither relatable nor likable. 

"Blair Warner," the token hottie among the group of girls in the sitcom, is particularly hard to swallow in her designated persona. I didn't find the actress who portrayed her -- Lisa Whelchel -- to be attractive in the first place, and whoever it was who colored her hair was roughly as lacking in skill in that department as I would have been if I had been the person doing her hair. Not everyone has a stylist as talented as my friend Alyssa, but one would think a TV show could have afforded to pay someone with a the skills of the average cosmetology school dropout, or, that failing, that the actress herself would have sprung for the cost of a decent coloring job. The color is brassy  and the roots are horrendous. The show was presumably filmed before hair weaves were stylish. Still, the character "Blair" was supposedly to have been from a very wealthy family. She should not have looked as though she picked up a cheap packet of L'Oreal hair coloring from a shelf at Target and applied it herself without the assitance of even a mirror.

I'm reluctant to complete the expression of my thoughts in relation to Lisa Whelchel and her portrayal of "Blair Warner," but, at the risk of coming across as petty or unkind, I will put my thoughts into words here. Lisa Whelchel appeared to have gained a bit of weight not long after being cast as "Blair" in The Facts of Life.  As females proceed through adolescence, weight gain is as often as not a normal component of the transition from girlhood to womanhood.. Sometimes when actresses gain weight during the courses of television series, the actresses' roles are written out or the actresses are replaced with other actresses who are not experiencing weight issues, or at least not experiencing weight issues visible to the camera. In other instances, the situation is addressed in the plot itself in the form of lines being written into the dialogue in which the character, and, by extension, the actress herself, is the butt of fat jokes and cruel weight gain comments. Adolescence is a time of emotional vulnerability, and practices of the sort have had devastating effects on the development of actresses unfortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of such treatment. Google "Tracey Gold" for specifics of an especially harrowing example of Hollywood's handling of a young woman's body going through the normal maturation process.

To the best of my knowledge, Lisa Whelchel was not subjected to any of the aforementioned tactics. It might have been that Charlotte Rae,  considered to have been cast in a sitcom role somewhat beneath her stature as an eminent entertainer, would not have stood for handling of a young actress's weight gain in such a callous manner. Or perhaps the producers of the sitcom had consciences. Whatever the circumstances were, it would seem that Lisa Whelchel didn't suffer the same psychologically abusive fate as did some of her contemporaries. If my presumptions are correct, Whelchel's situation was dealt with in a sensitive and humane manner. For that I'm grateful.

On the other hand, pretending that Whelchel was a complete bombshell was, in its own way, an error in the opposite direction.  The show's producers could have steered the writers away from plot lines making reference to the consummate hotness of the character of Blair. If an absolute knockout had been essential to the show's chemistry, another character might have been added. Or not. I'm not sure such a character was essential. What I'm trying to communicate is that the show's producers, in a way, set Whelchel up for ridicule by highlighting her as some sort of sex symbol when she was clearly not perceived as suh by most of the viewers in TV Land. In essence, the show's production staff did the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

I'm unaware of how much if at all Lisa Whelchel continued to act after The Facts of Life. She did, however, go on to to a career as a fundamentalist Christian motivational speaker and as an author of slightly [presumably unintentionally] kinky parenting books about disciplining children by, among other things, putting hot sauce in their mouths. Jessica Beagley, the Mormon mom of Dr. Phil fame, did not invent the "let hot sauce be a tool in your disciplinary arsenal" child-rearing strategy.

                                           I don't own this video.


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  2. Your post makes me chuckle. I grew up watching The Facts of Life. To be honest, I liked it best during the first season, even though that was supposedly the weakest one. Lisa Whelchel's kids are pretty cool. They're musicians. You may be able to check a video of them on YouTube.

    1. You may enjoy this snarkfest about Lisa Whelchel.

    2. I'm going to check out the snarkfest now. I just wanted to share that I liked that first season (before those who would become the leading four were housed in the attic and working in the cafeteria) better. i liked it more before they honed on the particular four girls they ultimately chose to feature. Because I saw it in reruns and wasn't following the show consistently, it took me awhile to figure out that the first season episodes were the same show as the later incarnation.

  3. I actually appreciated that the actresses on Facts of Life weren't model thin types. I remember a SNL spoof of the sitcom where John Goodman put on a wig to play Natalie. It was funny in a very cruel way, IMO. (Goodman has recently dropped a ton of weight - good for him!)

    But back to FoL. The plots were indeed lame. As for Blair's hair, I'm afraid she's also a victim of the era. Back then that's how the hot girls wore their hair. Not defending it ... just sayin'. Did you get around to watching the episodes with George Clooney playing the handyman? Too funny! And talk about bad hair...

    1. George Clooney was also in a sitcom called E/R with Elliott Gould. He played an orderly! I liked that show, but never thought Clooney was good looking until he was on ER and had the salt and pepper hair.