HappyDays5coverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: Yes
1977-78, 662 min. (26 episodes), Color
CBS Home Entertainment
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: C (4th Anniv. Special)
Theme song

Entertainment is one thing, but there are times when, if something out of Hollywood has become part of our vocabulary or is frequently alluded to, you need to see a film or TV show just to be culturally literate.

That’s the case with Happy Days: Season 5. Maybe you’ve heard of the expression “jumped the shark”—the precise moment when a TV series gets a little too wonky and begins to go downhill? That phrase comes from a triple episode that launched the fifth season of Happy Days, a popular series created by Garry Marshall and set in Milwaukee, circa the 1950s and early ‘60s. This season in California, Fonzie (Henry Winkler)—whose trademark catchphrase “Heyyyyyy” had already become a part of pop culture—is faced with a water skiing challenge and must jump over a man-eating shark that’s penned in an enclosure near the beach.

For most of America, Happy Days felt like the TV version of American Graffiti, especially because Ron Howard also starred in that coming-of-age film about teenagers cruising around on the eve of their separate departures for college. This series from Garry Marshall is a fun, wholesome one that hit its stride in Season 2 and, as many believe, started to decline in Season 5 when Fonzie paraded around the beach in his leather jacket, shorts, and motorcycle boots. 

HappyDays5screenThe series revolves around Richie Cunningham (Howard), his parents Howard and Marion (Tom Bosley, Marion Ross), kid sister Joanie (Erin Moran), best friends Ralph and Potsie (Donny Most, Anson Williams), and America’s favorite greaser, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli—an ex-gang member slash mechanic who took a shine to Richie and his family, whom he adopts as his own. The plots are as wholesome as Richie, and family is at the forefront. This season Richie attends college at UW-Milwaukee, Joanie is developing as a young woman (and bringing out a new protectiveness in her father), and Fonzie’s cousin, Chachi (Scott Baio), is introduced, along with Chachi’s crush on Joanie. This season Al (Al Molinaro) takes over from Arnold at the popular drive-in malt shop and burger joint where Richie and the high school and college crowd hangs out, and Fonzie takes up with a female rocker named Leather Tuscadero (real-life guitarist Suzi Quatro).

This was Ron Howard’s second mega-hit TV series, and in Season 5 the writers have a little fun with that fact. In an episode that served as the launch for the spin-off series Mork & Mindy, Robin Williams plays an Orkan who visits Earth in order to bring back an “average” specimen (Richie) for study, and Mork sees The Andy Griffith Show and remarks how much he likes Opie (played by young Ronnie Howard). This season Joanie also gets her first kiss, Fonzie briefly dates a ballet teacher, Potsie finds a serious girlfriend, Richie almost dies in a motorcycle crash, and Richie and his friends taste college life.

Season 5 isn’t as good of a starting place for family viewing as Season 2 or even 3, but don’t be misled by the whole shark business. Yes, it brings you up to speed with that “jumping the shark” phrase and also gives you an intro to the hit spin-off series Mork & Mindy. And yes, there are some hokey episodes here, with the writers going off the deep end by pushing the characters in the direction of their clichés. But while the show starts to get more uneven this season, there are still enough episodes to entertain. My daughter, who’s in junior high, liked the show enough to sing the theme song and laughed out loud a number of times. So did I.