The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

in happier times
I know I'm not the only one who still wonders whatever became of Chuck Cunningham, Richie's older brother on "Happy Days". Indeed, it's one of the deepest, darkest secrets in all of television history. All of it, I say!

Well, not really. The simple, banal answer is that he was a seldom-used character, basically supplanted by the Fonz, that didn't warrant an explanation for being written out of the show.

The real mystery there is, why didn't the writers at least try to account for his departure? How hard would it have been to have Mr. C or somebody casually mention that Chuck was off at college, or in the Army, or something? It's not like they had to show him visiting home later or anything. And didn't the writers and producers figure that when the show went into syndication, these questions would come up (in which case, they should have just edited Chuckie's scenes out of those old episodes)? Then again, since the show struggled so much in the first couple of years, maybe they figured it wouldn't last long enough to make it to syndication.

Some people have come up with... interesting... explanations to account for the missing Cunningham son. Interesting and drop-dead funny. Like this anonymous post from Jump The Shark, which neatly ties up the whole "Happy Days" storyline into a King Lear-esque rumination on the life of Howard Cunningham:

You poor deluded fools. Everything that went "wrong" with Happy Days was actually a brilliantly conceived story arc from day one. It all began when Mr. Cunningham caught Chuck stealing money from his hardware store. He hired a local thug, Arthur Fonzarelli, to have him quietly executed. "Fonzie", as he is known, killed Chuck and dumped the body in one of those big lakes over there. Then he was to leave town and never return. Fonzie blackmailed Mr. Cunningham into letting him stay at their house permanently, otherwise he would expose Mr. Cunningham and prey upon his family. Mr. Cunningham swore revenge. He readily allowed Fonzie to stay, but secretly was determined to destroy him by undermining his persona. This took many years, but in the end he succeeded. In another thread which history will eventually show as being on the threshold of genius, an time traveller named Mork from "Ork" (actually Stockton, CA) arrived from 1980. His sole purpose: to avenge his father's death. Yes, Chuck had a son before he was slain, that was why he was stealing money. Although he was defeated in a spectacular battle against Fonzie at Al's, he tricked everyone into thinking it was a dream. He fled back to 1980 and devised another fiendish plot. He sent a young criminal mastermind named Chachi back in time to infiltrate Fonzie's life. His real goal: to destroy Fonzie, he must destroy the culture around him. Hence the feathered hairdo and other anachronisms. He later also found out that Mr. C originally hired Fonzie to do away with Chuck, so he seduced his daughter Joanie. So between the slow erosion of his soul from Mr. C and the Machiavellian plotting of Chachi, Fonzie was doomed. He grew morose. He eventually became that which he most feared, a washed up middle-aged loser, a mere shadow of his former self. Chachi's agenda eventually doomed everyone around him except for Richie, who escaped. It is also interesting to note that Laverne and Shirley fled Milwaukee to Los Angeles. Connection?

My God. It all makes perfect sense to me now...