Saturday, June 6, 2009

Revisiting Mr. Belvedere: The Outcasts


"You try to raise a kid, give him a sense of whatever, and the first real something comes along...you know what I mean?"

The Outcasts
Season 1, Episode 2
Original Air Date: March 22, 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.


Wesley is pissed that his friend Howie didn't invite him to his party. Mr. Belvedere suggests that Wesley hold a party of his own and invite all the others who weren't invited. Halfway during Wesley's party, Howie calls and asks why Wesley isn't at his party. Faced with staying or going, Wesley leaves his own party but feels horribly guilty later on.

It's a simple enough episode on the outside, but upon reflection, it's actually a rather weighty one, with a deep and complicated moral issue.

It's a remarkable showcase for young Brice Beckham's acting talents. Under a lesser child actor this story would have fallen flat on its face for lack of credibility and humor. Brice's take on an indignant Wesley at the start of the episode was truly effective and realistic. Wesley is absolutely fuming when he enters the room. He slams his school stuff on the counter, sits on the table, ranting and finally kicking the chair before stalking to sulk some more in the living room.

Wesley is furious that he wasn't invited to his best friend Howie's party, who lives down the street. George chimes in about Howie's family, the Hufnagels, and how George and Marsha weren't invited to the Hufnagel's party sometime before.

Now, the Hufnagels would become a regular, albeit unseen "cast" on this show. Many episodes would feature stories that involve the Hufnagels, but we will never see any of them, except towards the end of the series. But that's for later.

Mr. Belvedere suggests that Wesley hold a party of his own with other children who weren't invited to Howie's party. George doesn't like the idea. It seems he has an automatic dislike for any suggestions that Mr. Belvedere offers. From their conversation, one gets the impression that a considerable time has passed since the pilot. George refers to "other" instances of Mr. Belvedere offering such suggestions and advice. He later comes around and pats Mr. Belvedere on the back when the party doesn't come off as bad as he expected.



Wesley would disagree with that because he's having a horrible time. Apparently, the kids are outcasts themselves. Miles wears an orthodontic headgear, Wayne is kind of weird nerd who is allergic to most food groups, and Roda is kind of an evil psychopath who would cause accidents just to get what she wants. Even Miles and Wayne are afraid of her. Wesley clearly doesn't want anything to do with them and would rather be somewhere else. Namely Howie's party.

Howie calls and asks Wesley why he isn't at the party. He says being his close pal, Wesley never needed an invitation. Wesley gleefully shares the news with the rest of the family and the guests. For a short moment, Wesley is conflicted about what he's going to do. Should he stay or should he go?

Remarkably, George and Marsha allow Wesley to decide for himself. How old is Wesley at this point? 8 or 9? Not being a parent myself, I have no idea what to do in a situation like this. As a parent, do I tell Wesley the right thing to do (which is to stay), or do I let him decide? I'm not sure if 8 is an old enough age for a child to decide for himself. That's what parents are for, isn't it? To teach their children what is right and what is wrong? Because where else are they going to learn it? If Wesley has never faced a situation like this before, where would he base his decision on?

In any case, the parents decided to let Wesley decide. And in a momentarily hysterical moment, Wesley jumps ship and hops on to Howie's party, much to the shock of everyone present. The other kids seem disappointed. They, it seems, know it was the wrong thing to do.

Even when Wesley comes back, he expects to be punished. But George and Marsha stick to their guns and do nothing, and allow Wesley to go about his business like nothing happened.

It was either the most stupid thing they could have done, or the smartest. But as to how this particular story turned out, it was the latter. It was a pretty brave thing for a parent to do. It was a gamble and if their gamble worked, their child would learn one of the most valuable lessons in his life. I'm not sure if it would work for every child, but it worked for Wesley.

Wesley starts to feel crushingly guilty for what he's done. He's taken to punishing himself by getting good grades, cleaning his room, eating brussel sprouts, things a kid like Wesley would normally be caught dead doing.

So why does Wesley feel guilty? How does he know if what he did was wrong if his parents said/did nothing?

It tackles a very interesting issue of Morality. Is morality instinctive, or is it learned? Does a child, taught to steal and lie and hurt and taught it was the right thing, would he grow up believing the same? Or does some instinct click in the brain and tell him it's not?



MILES

This episode is the first appearance of Casey Ellison as Miles Knobnoster (whose surname the show will reveal later on). Miles would eventually return to become Wesley's best friend, but not before Casey appears again in another role as Ben, the sick kid, in the second season episode "The Prize".

Miles appears as a kid who wears an orthodontic headgear, which makes him the object of ridicule. Even adult George privately makes fun of him.

FACT CHECKING MR. BELVEDERE

When George makes fun of Miles by telling Mr. Belvedere "Got one out there that looks like an erector set!", Mr. Belvedere pompously informs George of a historical leader who rose above his shortcomings to succeed.

"I'm reminded of Prince Eugene of Savoy, stunted and sickly, pallid and hunchbacked, he rose above those who ridiculed his appearance, by driving the invading Turks back into the Straits of Bosphorus."


It's a nice story, but hardly accurate. Although Prince Eugene was never tall, he was not stunted, pallid or hunchbacked. And although he was not really a handsome man (based on his portraits), he never seemed to be ridiculed for it.

An interesting triva: Prince Eugene commissioned a structure that still stands today in Vienna, and is now a museum. It's name? "Belvedere Palace".

Now we all know that Mr. Belvedere knows everything and he's hardly ever wrong (at least that's the position I will be making in this blog), there has to be an explanation for this seeming error.

It's not an error. Mr. Belvedere simply flubbed the facts a bit to impress upon George a lesson by providing an example of how ridiculed people sometimes can compensate for their shortcomings in a spectacular way.

The antagonism between Mr. Belvedere and George is quite a fiery one in this episode which required Marsha stepping in between them to stop them fighting. It's a curious dynamic which would be explored in further episodes.

If I can hazard a guess, George feels threatened by the presence of Mr. Belvedere, considering his experience. He's another man of the house, who seems to have a better grasp of his children's problems than he does. Mr. Belvedere's superior demeanor further infuriates George, and he takes every opportunity to poke a needle into Mr. Belvedere's high faluting notions.



HEATHER and KEVIN

Both Heather and Kevin are minor players in this episode although we learn one thing about Heather that would remain consistent with her character until the end of the series. We can forgive Heather for her self-centeredness considering her age. And among the entire family, she seems to be the most socially conscious. We see the first hint of that characteristic in this episode.

Here we learn that she is a member of "The Iron Maidens", a Community Service Club. Their current activity is to visit retirement homes to read books to old people. Later in the series, we will learn that this is more than just an club thing for Heather, but a distinct characteristic of who she is as a person.

Wesley gets the funniest lines. When he found out Heather was reading books to old people, he retorts, "You better read fast!"

Kevin remains consistent as a bumbling teenager who manages to injure himself and spends half the episode in a cast.

It's great that the show does a pretty good job of keeping the characters consistent. It allowed the characters to remain grounded and more believable to an audience.

The show wasn't afraid to be politically incorrect. And I like that. I can almost hear George saying, "We don't go in for that kind of stuff here!" Political incorrectness make for the most hilarious of lines.



Curiosities

"This ends my first month with the Owens brood." Writes Mr. Belvedere at the end of the episode. If this is truly the 2nd episode, then a month has passed between the pilot and this story. However, I get the impression that this is not the second episode despite the fact that it was the 2nd one aired. In the third episode (which we will revisit next), Mr. Belvedere says he's been with the Owenses "a few days".

I think this episode was shot much later than many Season 1 episodes. Brice Beckham seems more at ease with his acting (perhaps that's why he's so good here), and he looks slightly older than he does in the pilot.



Heather is seen carrying a book which he later shows to Mr. Belvedere. It's "Born To Run, The Bruce Springsteen Story". It's a real, actual book. I know because I have the exact same edition that Heather carries. Being a Bruce Springsteen fan, I was thrilled to see it. Written by Dave Marsh, it's not a trashy biography, but a really serious, well researched look into the life and work of one of the greatest musicians in the history of music.

"The Outcasts" is written by Frank Dungan and Jeff Stein. Directed by Tony Sheehan.

Casey Ellison as Miles
Zach Baker as Wayne
Christina Nigra as Roda
Gokul as Mr. Rajnij
Doroty Neuman as Old Woman

Next Episode: Gotta Dance
Previous Episode: Strangers In the Night

2 comments:

anonymous said...

The Outcasts was the 3rd episode to be shot. Gotta Dance was the 2nd.

Anonymous said...

What I like most about "Mr. Belvedere" was the "comfortable-ness" of the characters. "Mr. Belvedere" wasn't a glorified childrens fashion show like "Cosby" or "A Different World." (The clothes and the hairstyles on those shows had to run $300-$500 per kid). Even when Heather entered the Miss Beaver Falls pageant, she wore a very comfortable and fashionable dress. The most trendy thing she wore on the show was a sweater or a vest and a tie.