I’m the member of a small social club, along with the inveterate Chris Dunn who is the only other member. It’s the Frank’s Place Appreciation Society. Mind you, I’m sure there are others who highly-appreciate the 1987 series, but they probably have their own groups. The reason there are so few aficionados, though, is because not only was the series on for only one season, but it’s never been released on DVD or streaming, or rerun. So, if you didn’t watch it 34 years ago, you’re out of luck. As for our small fellowship, Chris the president, recording secretary and first member elected into our Hall of Fame. (And for years had a copy of all episodes -- and for all I know he still does. I'll have to ask at our next meeting.) He also is our regular guest speaker. In fairness, most of his speeches are, “Man, wasn’t that series great.” But then, not much more needs to be said. I sit in the back and shout, “Yes, sir!!”
By the way, lest you think our judgement might be skewed in our love of this show, in 2013 TV Guide ranked 60 shows that were “Cancelled Too Soon” – and Frank’s Place was ranked #3. Also, Rolling Stone put together their own list of the best sitcoms of all time, and Frank’s Place was #99. Now, that might not seem terribly high, but you have to remember a) there have probably been thousands of sitcoms, and b) it was only on for one year. Not bad.
Frank’s Place was created by Hugh Wilson, who has a long list of credits, including creating WKRP in Cincinnati, but had his biggest success with the Police Academy series movies – something he joked about in another of his short-lived TV series, The Famous Teddy Z about a Hollywood agent. (As best I can remember it, basically the snarky agent played by the always-edgy Alex Rocco – ‘Mo Green’ in The Godfather – is complaining about one of his clients who only writes really smart, classy material that he can’t sell at all which annoys him to no end, but then adds that the reason he keeps the guy as a client is “Because one day he might surprise you and write something really great like Police Academy.”)
The show starred Tim Reid (who worked with Wilson on WKRP) playing a Boston professor who inherits his father’s restaurant in New Orleans, and against his better judgement keeps it. The supporting cast didn’t have any big names in it, though they were tremendous, and featured Daphne Maxwell Reid (his real-life wife) as a woman he desperately wants to date, and the great Virginia Capers as sort of the matriarch of them all.
On the lower end was Don Yasso, who plays the only white person working at the restaurant. Wilson met him on an airplane and was so taken by his New Orleans personality, he hired him for a small role, despite the fact that he’d never acted before and had an accent so thick that the first few shows hilariously used subtitles for him. (To my shock, I saw his name on a rerun of Murder She Wrote, and checked hid listing on the iMDB – it turns out he decided to stick with acting and has 61 credits, including a recurring role on both My Two Dads and the soap opera Days of Our Lives. I say “has” because he’s still acting – as a recurring character on the current show Queen Sugar on the OWN Network.)
What made Frank’s Place stand out was that it was smart, charming, low-key, deeply affectionate, had jokes that came from the situation and character more than one-liners, didn’t use a laugh track, and – most notably – blended drama with its comedy, and was often very serious. And also, any show whose theme song is Louis Armstrong singing, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” is going to be high on my list.
(One of my all-time favorite jokes in a TV show was an episode of Frank’s Place where a film crew takes over the restaurant. A shlubby guy keeps trying to get in, but the security guards keep stopping him. At the very end, after getting turned away one more time, Frank – I think it was Frank – asks him who he is. “I’m the writer,” he says.)
So, Frank’s Place doesn’t exist on DVD or streaming, for some reason. Maybe some day. Happily, two episodes have been posted. And this is one of them. It’s not necessarily one of the best (though since only 22 were made, it’s in the top 22…) – but it’s an enjoyable one that gives a fairly good sense of the show. Even if you don’t know the characters and relationships, they should be reasonably clear.
The quality is a little faded, but I’m just grateful it exists. The other episode online has a subplot that has to do with a Yom Kippur seder (not your typical sitcom fare), so I’m going to hold posting that one until the holiday next comes around.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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