Saturday, May 30, 2009

Revisiting Mr. Belvedere: Stranger In the Night

"No one ever expects someone like me."

Stranger In The Night
Season 1, Episode 1 (Pilot)
Original Air Date: March 15, 1985

Ever since I started the Mr. Belvedere website in 1998, I've always wanted to do more in depth analysis of each episode. I wanted to have my own copies so I could look at them more closely, and repeat if necessary. Now that the DVDs are here, I can much more easily do that.

These thoughts about the show come from someone who is a long time fan of the show, and is very much a love fest thing only. This article, and in fact, this entire blog is not for anyone who doesn't like the show. Please feel free to shower everyone with your opinion in your own respective blogs.

As Wesley says in this episode: "Yeah we don't go in for that sort of stuff around here!"

In this very first episode of Mr. Belvedere, all the cast members are quickly introduced and the essence of their characters quickly established.

Mr. Belvedere, played by Christopher Hewett, is a rather posh English gentleman with an enormous life experience whose wry wit flows from him like tap water from a faucet.

Marsha Owens, played by Ilene Graff, is the mom of the family who is taking up law late in life and has been having a hard time keeping up with the household and her studies.

Kevin Owens, played by Rob Stone, is the oldest child who in very short sequences is quickly established as someone with average intelligence, kind of clumsy, not very good at a lot of things including growing up. He is kind of scheming in his own clumsy way.

Heather Owens, played by Tracy Wells, is the middle child, and has apparently been designated as the representative of the 80's in terms of fads and fashion. When everyone else wears rather generic and thus less fashion conscious clothing, Heather shines like an 80's beacon that forever dates this show to that marvelously flamboyant era. Heather is established to be slightly boy crazy, if a bit afraid to step into that phase quite so easily.

Wesley Owens is the youngest child who is kind of a sadist towards his sister, a schemer, a liar, tactless, frank and yet very talented and intelligent. In spite of that, he's endearing because of the brilliant acting talents of Brice Beckham.

George Owens, played by sports personality Bob Uecker, is established to be a practical, down to earth and rugged guy who instantly has an animosity towards Mr. Belvedere.

I didn't know who Bob Uecker was when I first saw him in this show. I had no idea that he was such a huge personality outside of the show. In a way, that came as an advantage to me because it allowed me to appreciate him based on his performance only. And I think Bob is a really good actor. He's very natural and very convincing in the scenes he's been asked to play, and it's a difficult part to play. He seems to be naturally funny, and he can be stern when appropriate.

In the very first scene of the show, the three children are quickly established.

Kevin is immediately established as slightly inept, implicitly and explicitly. Wesley points out that Kevin should never be allowed to cook because of a "microwave incident" that happened a few months previously, which nearly caused a "meltdown." Additionally, upon entering the house, actor Rob Stone drops his scarf on the floor (see photo above). Whether this is intentional or not, it does support his character sa being slighly bumbling.

Heather, in a bright red jacket, immediately spells out the 80's. This outfit is actually kind of tame in comparison to what we will see eventually, but the intent of the producers with regards to her character is clear. Heather is established to have a boyfriend named "Billy" who seems to desperately want to get in her pants, but she is not ready to go all the way. Interestingly, it is also established that Heather also has a friend named "Angela", a character that we will eventually see and be established as Heather's best friend for the rest of the series.

Wesley is already scheming the very first time we see him. Having lost his pet hamster Inky but doesn't want to let everyone know because it would disqualify him from getting a bigger pet, namely a dog, Wesley has been pretending to feed inky with lettuce. All the while he himself had been eating all the lettuce. Wesley, who hates vegetables, consider this to be a nightmare.

It's quite a sacrifice for Wesley to do. Apparently, he wants a dog really bad. His journey to get a dog would be a long one, as he won't get a dog till late in the series.

It's rather appropriate for Wesley to be the very first member of the Owens family to open up emotionally to Mr. Belvedere considering the relationship that the two will have for the next 6 years. This is also the moment that Mr. Belvedere begins to make himself indespensible to the family. Apparently, Mr. Belvedere begins to scheme on his own to help the kids whether they want it or not.

Mr. Belvedere finds out about Heather's boy problem when he accidentally walks into a conversation she is having on the phone with her boyfriend Billy. Heather does not open up to Mr. Belvedere completely with her problems, but it's enough for him to know what to do.

Kevin opens up to Mr. Belvedere in a big way as he sits in the car in the garage. Kevin equates driving with growing up. His refusal to drive is an indication of his reluctance to grow up so quickly. It's a very realistic portrayal of male teenagers. It's true that not all of us (well, this is me remembering how it was like when I was a teenager) relish the thought of growing up and relinquishing our care free childhood. Mr. Belvedere and Kevin's conversation in the car is an illuminating one. Having been in Kevin's situation myself, it's a scene that resonates strongly with me. I would identify with Kevin from this time forward.

The mess in the house is a curious one. Looking at the house more closely, everything is actually quite immaculate. There's no furniture, no rug, no vase, painting or other decoration that's messed up and out of place. It's only scattered shirts, pillows and food that seem to have been added as an afterthought. There's not a single speck on the floor for example. It's a niggling point, but having a really messy house that might even be badly arranged would certainly heighten the need for a housekeeper and serve the plot better.

I'm not completely sure why George and Marsha reacted so strongly against Mr. Belvedere as a housekeeper for their home. The reason they gave was simply that they expected someone different. Perhaps a quiet unassuming domestic? Certainly not a portly, unrelentinigly posh English gentleman who served under luminaries such as Winston Churchill.

Perhaps that is good enough reason, but having seen Mr. Belvedere's qualifications, it's hard to imagine why they wouldn't prefer him. Even after Mr. Belvedere has indicated that he can do all the chores of a housekeeper, Marsha was still hesitant.

George was even more so. He even thought the idea was ridiculous. And when things conspire (specifically the weather) to keep Mr. Belvedere in the house, George begins an acrimonious relationship with Mr. Belvedere. To which I believe Mr. Belvedere only reacted in kind.

Consider that Mr. Belvedere shares tumultuous relationships only with members of the family who have reacted negatively towards him at the very beginning. The most intense is the one with George. The other one is with Wesley who begins by insulting Mr. Belvedere's first name, "Lynn", tactlessly saying that it's a girls name. Mr. Belvedere almost immediately reacts with an insult of his own. "Wesley! A difficult birth, I take it."

Marsha was perhaps spared from Mr. Belvedere's jibing only because she has displayed politeness and kindness towards him.

Mr. Belvedere reacts more kindly towards Kevin and Heather, perhaps only because they didn't object to Mr. Belvedere's presence and said nothing untoward against him. In fact, it was Kevin, through perhaps his own clumsiness of mind, was one of the first to encourage Mr. Belvedere to stay.

At the end of the episode, it is both Wesley and Kevin, who both opened up to Mr. Belvedere with their problems (and not Heather who kept her problem to herself), are the two who actively campaigned Mr. Belvedere to stay.

Marsha and George, realizing that Mr. Belvedere has impressively made such an intimate connection with their children, finally asks him to stay, but the animosity with George remains.

It's not an ugly animosity though, as it becomes a springboard for clever jokes and funny moments. George's "Just One?!" jibe directed at Mr. Belvedere at the end of the episode was funny, and appropriate to the relationship that they have established.


What's up with the clocks? Plenty of clocks, and all of them not telling the same time. Very strange no? More on these clocks in a future episode.

The opening credits sequence (screenshots above) is curious in that it is used only in this episode and never again. The credits roll like a photo album showing photos of the cast in various solo shots, many of which were never seen in the show itself. This solo shot of Kevin is a curious one:

Who is this girl? This shot appears again in the opening credits of Season 2, along with another shot of the girl looking at Kevin. In that shot, we still don't see her eyes and can't tell who she is. At first I thought it was Heather standing on a box, but looking at it more carefully now, it's not her. The first time Kevin wears a spiffy suit on the show would be in "The Contract", the 6th episode of the 2nd season, but it's not the same suit, and Kevin's date wasn't seen.


All in all it was a pretty good establishing episode with some really kooky characters. Wesley is certainly one to watch out for. He's a brilliant kid, but not exactly right in the mind most the time. Very refreshing to see, actually.

Next Episode: The Outcasts

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