How can it possibly be thirty years already since Happy Days first premiered? That fact makes a guy feel very old, for I can't imagine having grown up without Happy Days; fortunately, being able to watch these classic episodes brings back great memories that almost make me feel young again. As a little kid growing up in the 70s, Happy Days was - without question - the show. I was trying to be Fonzie - strutting around, giving thumbs up, and saying Heyyyy! all the time - even before I learned to read. The show remained a constant presence in my life throughout the 1980s, as well, as it was a staple of after-school programming (back before all the talk shows took over). The first season's episodes were never really my favorite - mainly because a lot of changes were made at the start of the second season, Richie was a little wild that first year, Joanie was still a few years away from babehood, Fonzie was basically just a peripheral character, and - let's face it - there was just way too much Potsie in these early shows. In the first season, Potsie was the second-most important character, although Howard and Marion came on strong in the last half of the season.
Richie really wasn't a clean-cut paragon of virtue in Season One. In the very first episode, he set out to go "All the Way" with a girl who had a "reputation." Over the course of the next fifteen shows, he came home drunk (accompanied by a stripper) from a Marine's bachelor party, got arrested after he snuck out of the house to attend a drag race, put himself through "The Deadly Dares" in order to join The Demons, used a fake ID to get into a strip club, lost his band mates' money in a poker game, came close to leaving home with a bunch of beatniks, almost got a tattoo to impress a girl, and almost got himself into a rumble with The Dukes. Of course, he learned important lessons from all of his adventures - except the lesson that he should stop going along with all of Potsie's hare-brained schemes and plans. There are some truly classic moments in these first 16 episodes, such as Fonzie selecting Richie (in drag) to dance at the sock hop, Richie's first drunk in "Richie's Cup Runneth Over" and Richie's blind date with a really tall girl in "Because She's There."
The gang's all here for the most part, but Ralph Malph is just a jokester you see at Arnold's or parties/dances, and Fonzie is largely just the local king of cool. Both characters' presence tends to increase as the season progresses, but the only real character development we see of Arthur Fonzarelli comes when Fonzie decides to go back to high school in "Fonzie Drops In." Then, of course, there's Chuck, the infamous oldest son of the Cunninghams who simply disappears after this first season. The question is not really why his character was purged from the show with such Stalinist diligence; instead, it's why was he ever there to start with? He did nothing on the show except dribble a basketball.
It's interesting to see how the show became a little more serious as the first season drew to a close. While thoughts of making out with girls were never far from Richie's mind, we witness a rather poignant example of growing up when Richie and Howard square off over the beatnik way of life, see the show take racism head-on in "The Best Man" when Howard has his black army buddy's wedding at his house in spite of his neighbors' protests, and take a moment to reflect on the dangers of the nascent Cold War and the A bomb back in the 1950s.
I hope this Happy Days Season One collection sells like hotcakes because I want all of the other seasons ASAP. I like the next few seasons better, but a lot of fans probably have a special love for these early episodes. If you're a rabid Fonzie fan, don't expect to see the Fonz you know and love in these first season shows, though - there are only glimpses of the central character he would become. Keep in mind, as well, that there are only 16 shows in this first season - Happy Days debuted on January 15, 1974. There are also no extras whatsoever included on these 3 DVDs, a fact which is quite disappointing. Frankly, that means this collection is overpriced. At least we have the episodes themselves, though - and that is a treasure in and of itself.