Ah, Santo Domingo High; home of easily spooked freshmen, mountainous jocks, and the coolest student to ever own a Swatch. As the title character of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Corin Nemec strolls through Domingo’s halls armed with unshakable self-confidence, a plan for every situation, and an apparently endless supply of pastel shirts. Accompanied by his two best buds, Billy Jayne (the cool one) and Troy Slaten (the nerdy one), Nemec lives and loves his way through the 26 episodes of Parker Lewis’ first season, but things aren’t always easy. There’s Maia Brewton, the little sister who brings new depths to sibling rivalry; Abraham Benrubi, a giant who gets violent if he misses a feeding; and Melanie Chartoff, the principal determined to see Parker expelled before graduation. It’s enough to get anybody down, but Nemec and pals never stay down for long.
Parker Lewis ran for three years starting in 1990, and the new DVD set reveals a show unafraid of references that were dated by the first rerun. (Expect to see Google hits on Valerie Harper take a sharp rise.) Thankfully, the less-than-relevant gags are just a small part of the series’ charm, and for every punchline that fails on confused ears, there are half a dozen better ones ready to take its place.
The bad news first: The show’s plotting isn’t always as inventive as the production design. Parker Lewis steals amiably from John Hughes’ movies (most obviously Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and while it manages to outdo its inspiration handily in terms of style, it doesn’t always get the balance between sentiment and sarcasm. The season’s worst episode, “Teacher, Teacher,” has Parker learning a valuable lesson from a teacher (Penny Johnson) whose inspirational skills were lifted wholesale from a late-night viewing of Dead Poets Society. The writers’ creative exuberance sometimes flags, and when it does, smarm steps in.
But whatever its faults, Parker Lewis remains one of the most relentlessly affable shows ever produced. It’s referred to as a “live-action cartoon” on the box set’s supplementary material, and that’s dead-on; the best episodes (like “Teens From A Mall,” which moves outside Santo Domingo to the slightly larger world of indoor shopping, and “My Fair Shelly,” which humanizes Nemec’s bratty sis without losing her edge) cram in enough witty sight gags and sound effects to make Chuck Jones proud. While the storylines don’t always click, the pacing is so fast that it’s hard to mind much, and the camaraderie of the cast never becomes forced. It’s like memories of the best parts of youth: implausibly chipper, brightly colored, and best not examined too closely.
Key features: A handful of commentaries on selected episodes, and a collection of interviews with the cast and crew, paint a behind-the-scenes picture nearly as friendly as the one onscreen.