Major Dad (“See the Hill … Over the Hill”)

Season 1, Episode 11
Date of airing: November 27, 1989 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 19.1 million viewers, 13.0/19 in Households

If Major Mac ever thought that he was the strongest in the unit and that he would have no problems in decking his subordinates during a training exercise, then I have a foreign federal election for you to meddle in. It seems ridiculous that Mac would expect to be Thor, god of thunder at his age, and it seemed convenient for the premise of the episode that he would start exercising more after being bested by a younger person, as well as having a bit of a midlife crisis, because he realized he wasn’t the strongest any longer. Okay, the latter actually made for a good story, especially after it led to Mac’s fear that he won’t be seen as a functioning Major any longer, who is not being listened to by the subordinates, but the story didn’t even start off like that. Before Mac had to go down that emotional and depressing route, he only feared to not be entirely fit and all he needed was a little more muscle and stamina. And that’s unfortunate, because it took time away from what could have been an interesting comedic look at a man’s midlife crisis while he is at the peak of his life.

Holowachuk is disappointed in himself by being allowed to attack the Major.

But as it’s standard with MAJOR DAD now, the episode was also funny enough to make me forget that the writers forgot to include the most important part (who knows, maybe they wanted to, but weren’t allowed by the CBS executives). Almost all of the scene with Mac unable to move, sitting there in his seat, he can’t reach the coffee mug, he is being laughed at by Gene, were laugh-out-loud funny and it made me realize that Gerald McRaney is actually quite the good comedic actor when it comes to the physical aspects of the humor. His scene in his office could have been a slow-burning sketch on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and it could have worked like that. MAJOR DAD isn’t the show that works towards the next punchline, but it’s a show that is quite physical, although the physical parts of the show are mostly carried by McRaney, as the other cast members do get the punchline joke here and there. The physicality of the episode showed with Gene’s moves of putting down the victim, and how I imagined those scenes to be quite dangerous to produce, because your arm could get easily broken during production, and voila, CBS or the studio is going to hand out some money during settlements.

They are witnessing the muscular rise of a middle-aged man.

While Mac was dealing with fitness and a bit of a midlife crisis as he was taking on Gene in a rematch, Polly got a promotion, which means the writers not only remembered that she had a job as a reporter and journalist at the local newspaper, but they did not forget ever since they remembered. Now that she got her promotion, there is a chance the writers could actually focus a little more on telling the story from her point of view. The show is still young, so the writers and producers may have focused on its main star during the early stages, but at one point it’s going to bore me that MAJOR DAD is only about MacGillis and that the other characters are never brought into the spotlight. Granted, we had Byron with his own story in the previous episode, but that shouldn’t mean for the writers to get back to give McRaney all the screentime in the world, even if he happened to be a funny guy, playing a character in a funny manner. After eleven episodes, MAJOR DAD hasn’t managed to be a family sitcom and I’m sort of sad, because I don’t really mind to watch an old-fashioned family sitcom that truly looks, sounds and feels like it was produced before a live audience.

Major Dad (“Love Doctor”)

Season 1, Episode 10
Date of airing: November 20, 1989 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 17.6 million viewers, 12.5/20 in Households

In which the only black cast member in a distance is being given a storyline, because it looked like the writers forgot all about him. I didn’t even remember or knew his name until now, which is why I hope Byron James isn’t just going to be the random face at Mac’s base after this episode again and instead turns into a character for himself. But then again, everyone in Mac’s base hasn’t turned into a character yet. Here I was, hoping that Gene would become a fixture in Elizabeth’s mind, but that was just a story for a single episode. Here I was, believing that Mac would be busy both in his new home life, as well as on the job, but I am still dreaming about that one. So it comes that this episode delivered an interesting version about Byron which I will most likely never see again. Let’s remind us all after ever episode whether or not the writers and the characters remembered that Byron had the hang for broadcasting and that he re-upped with the notion of getting to broadcasting school. It would be nice if the characters have a hobby they could follow up on in regular episodic intervals, because it would mean that the characters aren’t just here to be Gerald McRaney’s sitcom pawns.

In the 1980s, families were still together when being entertained by audiovisual media.

The Love Doctor premise was okay. Surely, there was a lot of ridiculousness in the idea of Byron getting a full-time contract with the radio station, considering he is employed with the Marine Corps, but I loved how Byron’s show became a household sensation with the Cooper-McGillis family and how the premise actually turned out to be a dealbreaker for one of them. First of all, I never expected for a previous character to turn into a recurring one, but Dwayne showed up again and he was still the boy Elizabeth had a crush on. But since that story was very much finished with this episode, Elizabeth has all the time in the world to find another boy to like and give Mac trouble at home. There is a chance for Gene to come back and give her some heart flutters. Secondly, the scene of the entire family listening to the Love Doctor before realizing what the whole show is really about gave me joy. It’s a typical pre-1980s show of a family getting together in the living room to follow a program, like it’s the most conservative thing sitcom television can do before the 1990s made everything more different and complex and heavy. Third of all, I actually liked that Byron didn’t quite know what to do at all when the real phone calls were coming in and he didn’t have any answers of value for the stressed-out caller. It’s almost like there was a morale of the story behind the idea, and that not everyone calling themselves experts in love and relationship can actually give you an answer as to why relationships work out or not.

The love doctor faces his fans for the first time.

Meanwhile, the episode was also partially about re-enlisting, and for Byron to hang a few more years to his service, making MAJOR DAD once more a patriotic television show. His time was up, but for reasons easily explained (he is a main character, and his schooling into becoming a broadcaster will be free, because the military will pay for it, and there is no one saying “No” to that offer) he decided to stick around, although the chances really are that the characters is of second or third-rank from here on, as the writers will find it difficult to find stories for the young man that don’t remind us all of the fact that he is the only black character in the show. Mac apparently saw enough in Byron to convince him to re-up, but that doesn’t mean the viewers were told what was seen in Byron and why he was considered to be an important member of the crew. MAJOR DAD is still about Mac and Polly’s marriage after all, begging the question when there will be the second episode that does not deal with the family specifically and either has Gene, Byron or Merilee in the center of the story.

Major Dad (“Major Mom”)

Season 1, Episode 9
Date of airing: November 13, 1989 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 18.5 million viewers, 12.9/20 in Households

I knew it would happen eventually, and it surprisingly happened in this episode: I fell in love wth Marisa Ryan. I have no idea if she found this episode to be super funny while it was shot or if she thought that her character should always laugh about the weird stuff happening around her, because Elizabeth was definitely laughing a whole lot throughout this episode. She was highly amused when she realized that Mac had to deal with Robin’s surfboard/turtle problem, and she was even more amused when Mac was talking about it to Merilee (“Do they still do that? Snap. Snap.”). And it didn’t stop here, because as soon as Mac was focused on helping Elizabeth to study for her midterms, she was laughing again. So, the question of the day is, was Marisa Ryan just extremely hyper about this episode and found everything to be funny (especially since the premise of the episode was about a man dealing with woman issues, kind of turning MAJOR DAD into a feminist show for 30 minutes), or did she turn into a great actress here and decided that her character was the one finding everything silly? Whatever the answer is, the fact that Elizabeth is this easily amused showcases that her character will never become a problem story-wise. Okay, things can change when MAJOR DAD is past the first season, but it helps to accept the show and the premise, when characters like Elizabeth continuously show that they have accepted Mac in their lives.

The newlyweds are into the jail experience.

This episode was most likely the funniest of the show yet. The premise is simple — the man of the house turns into the mother of the house — but what the writers brought out of it was freaking hilarious. Not only was Elizabeth’s constant amusement amusing to me (hence me falling in love with her), but the surfboard/turtle story showed me what girls have to go through in school and how their problems can still be mean and dark and terrifying for them, even if they don’t even come close to the experience Stephen King’s Carrie went through in the shower. But let’s not think about the notion that Robin’s entire class was waiting for her to get into a bra, always looking if she had one or not (let alone feeling it and finding out if she is a surfboard ora turtle), because it’s hella creepy, and just focus on the fact that Mac really tried to be the best stepfather he could be, and realizing that he is too much man with facial hair to deal with the problem. It’s almost like Mac has learned a lesson in this episode: He can deal with the problems the girls give him, but sometimes he just has to bow out, because things are way too heavy even for him.And voila, here is another premise that turned the hardened Major in the army into something of a wuss, and all it needed was a bunch of women in the house.

Casey’s problems were cute. Her search for her stuffed animal might have just been a plot device to get her and Mac towards nighttime, but when Casey was petting Mac’s scalp, even I thought it was cute. Casey has always seen Mac as something of a father, and this only proved it further that the little girl could see something more in her mother’s new husband than just a man in the house. Here is to hoping that Casey will be used for more than just making Mac’s life a little more awkward, because showcasing his dad skills through the little one is actually a great idea. Elizabeth and Robin are kind of out of the age of needing a father figure in the house, but Casey is still impressionable.

Learning while improvising a marching song.

And finally, let’s mention that Polly went to jail over first amendment stuff, which means the writers have not forgotten what her job was. It’s the second episode in a row during which Polly was involved in a story for reporters at newspapers, although the fact that she got jailed for refusing to disclose who her source for a specific article was means she must be a high-profile reporter with some big stories in her past. Only reporters who think of themselves as part of the first amendment decide to follow it to the tee and not let the law in the courthouse push down on them.

Major Dad (“Robin’s Awakening”)

Season 1, Episode 8
Date of airing: November 6, 1989 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 19.0 million viewers, 13.6/21 in Households

The show has some highs and lows, with the highs being this episode and the lows being the ugly patriarchy the writers seem to be able to slowly walk away from, but I’m pretty sure the ghosts of patriarch past are still going to be present over the next few episodes. Fact is that MAJOR DAD has delivered its best episode yet, as the chess duel between Mac and M.L. Rossovitch can truly be considered a highlight of 1989 television. The writers focused on that one story and didn’t dive into something that was different and had nothing to do with the A story (it’s a problem I have with most sitcoms these days, as they separate the characters for individuals tories that don’t connect). And the best thing about this half hour is that almost all of the characters were involved in the chess duel between the Major and the wunderkind. Okay, maybe not Casey who was mostly absent from this episode for obvious child labor laws reasons, but Robin was actively involved in the development of the game, and even Elizabeth had her fun watching it and then not caring enough about it to stay a little longer with her boyfriend and watch Mac win. Besides that, it took the writers seven episodes to remind themselves that Polly is a reporter. She actually worked on a story in this episode! That means she still has a job and she isn’t just the housewife! Hallelujah!

Big sister makes teasing fun of little sister.

So, Robin had her first crush, eh? I’m wondering if Mike’s existence in her life could be used for an ongoing story, maybe bring back his name to make sure that Robin is in fact corresponding with the kid via mail, and even return Chris Demetral in a later episode for a continuation of the story, especially to showcase that Robin truly is growing up and becoming a teenager, but it’s more likely that the writers will forget Mike as a character, and when Robin really needs to grow into teenagehood for the sake of the story and character development, then they can easily do it with a new boy character. Besides all that, using Robin for the B story that is deeply intertwined with the A story was cute and the right thing to do for this episode. Mac has been waiting for the fact-to-face match-up for so long, so it was only natural and obvious that it would affect some of the other characters, too, even if it was just Robin who fell in love with a boy and couldn’t really describe it like a great child actress could. I did however adore how Elizabeth was teasing Robin about Mike — there was a sense of sistership between the two, as if they love and care about each other, and that they could easily take a tease like that, since they would be able to dish out even harder.

The kid is about to learn what it’s like to be bested by a Marine.

Polly seeing this match-up as a human interest story was also interesting (like I said, the writers remembered that she was still a reporter), although I would have loved more moments of her speaking into her cassette recorder, just to get something out of the fact that she is a reporter and writer. The only thing the episode really failed at was the sudden arrival of Mac’s cheerleading troop close to the end of the chess match. The arrival of Merilee and Gene truly was meaningless, since they didn’t add anything to the story, let alone brought humor into it. But if they would have bee part of the audience from the beginning, maybe the writers could have turned the chess match into something of a “sports event,” or at least tried to figure out how to parody and make a sitcom version out of actual chess matches between two gifted players. That needed a bigger audience than just Robin and Elizabeth (Polly I wouldn’t consider an audience member, because she was working during the match-up), although that bigger audience would have added characters, which means the writers may have figured that they also needed additional stories. In hindsight it may have been a good idea to include Mac’s cheerleading troop at the end of the episode — this way they were out of sight for most of it and the episode was able to fully focus on the chess match and the back and forth between Robin and Mike.

Major Dad (“Jayne Wayne Day”)

Season 1, Episode 7
Date of airing: October 23, 1989 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 20.3 million viewers, 14.2/22 in Households

In which Mrs. John McGillis is being introduced to a couple of other military wives, which could essentially lead into ARMY WIVES, which aired for seven years on Lifetime once (of which I watched a surprising two and a half seasons of), or an own little MAJOR DAD spin-off show within the mother series. I would not at all mind if this wasn’t the one and only episode that dealt with Polly having to hang out with the other Marine wives, because at least it would prove that Polly’s life is actually changing after having put a ring on a Marine’s finger. Besides that, something has to happen with Polly sooner or later, now that every episode without her job at the newspaper suggests that the writers have forgotten all about Polly Cooper from the pilot episode. At least the writers remembered her liberal views, as she mentioned to her husband after two minutes and fifty-six seconds in this episode that she is a registered Democrat, usually opposing wars. This was the first time since the pilot the writers brought back the initial premise of the pilot episode and it was partially used for a punchline — how I would have loved for Polly and Mac to be in an argument about war, or his conservative views versus her liberal views, but seven episodes in and the writers didn’t seem to be interested in it.

Casey becomes a beautiful but robotic flower.

The episode was okay. This being a military-themed show, it was only a question of time when some of the characters would be shown in green uniforms, having to crawl through tight and muddy spaces to get to the next point, because the base Mac works on should be about training new recruits as well. That Polly would be the first one to wear green was certainly a surprise, but it was also a way to make sure that the Jane Wayne Day story is as funny as possible for the show (spoiler alert: it wasn’t), because who does not have fun watching women in green playing soldier (spoiler alert: I didn’t)? It’s almost like the writers of this show were still pushing the patriarchy, and this time around they paired it up with a little bit of sexism. Yes, the Marine wives in uniform was not used to create laughs, and seeing the wives connect over being lost and not at all being best friends with each other was nice and delivered some character depth (at least for Polly), but who even had the idea to putt he wives in green uniform so they can play recruits for a day? Is it an idea just so the husbands in the military have something fun to look at, laughing while nibbling on their cigarettes like this is a 1980s television show?

It’s time to signal the men that they are in trouble.

I had more fun watching the kids prepare for Halloween, and the three girls telling Mac that he doesn’t get to decide who is doing what during the pumpkin carving. It reminded me that Mac doesn’t have control over the kids’ behavior at all. Sometimes he succeeds in getting his military ways through to them, like when he had the girls recite the rules of Halloween, so they would be safe all night long, but the pumpkin carving showed that the girls still know how to override their Marine stepfather, and that could lead to some great comedic storytelling in future episodes, if the writers were able to find an actual story in that idea. But after this episode it would be nice to know where the girls actually stand with their new stepfather. We already know that Elizabeth doesn’t have a huge issue with him, as it was her okay that led Polly to make the decision to marry him, and Elizabeth also had a good talk with the Major once. But the other two girls? I don’t even know if they like having a father figure in the house, or if they actually see a father figure in Mac. When is the time that will establish Mac as an actual father figure to the girls and he isn’t just the “man in the house?”

Major Dad (“Twinkle”)

Season 1, Episode 6
Date of airing: October 16, 1989 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 19.3 million viewers, 13.5/21 in Households

In which the patriarchy was barely felt, and that makes this episode of MAJOR DAD a little better than the previous ones. Still, Polly’s job as a reporter of a newspaper is nowhere to be found and would like to return to the fold of the show, so that Polly looks better as an individual character and isn’t just the housewife of the show. Not only did Polly’s reporter job get lost, but also her liberal tendencies that would have made for great comedy when in duel with Mac’s conservatism. It turns out that MAJOR DAD is just a family sitcom in which the patriarch happens to be a major in the military. Everything else that made the series interesting during the pilot is completely gone now.

The cool Marine has entered the building.

But something else was added in return and that’s an interesting Elizabeth. She is still my favorite character of the show, and it turns out she even is the funniest character of the show. The way she shocked her mother and Mac by proclaiming that she is pregnant with Gene’s baby was freaking hilarious, and it looked like a sitcom joke that was ad-libbed on the spot for the hell of being funny, because the joke itself is so random. It showcases her character a little bit and how she can dish out as well as she may take it from her mother and stepfather. And with Elizabeth having made Gene’s acquaintance, there is a good chance that her crush on him could outlive this episode and become a recurring element of the show, which means that part of Mac’s work life continues to come home to his new family with him, and having a connection between the military base and Polly or her children would be nice. Not that I have a problem with MAJOR DAD essentially telling two different stories (Mac’s life as a newly married man with three stepkids, while also being a military man at home base), but the show would be a better one if the writers were to continue bringing both premises together. And there isn’t even a huge problem in Elizabeth and Gene becoming friends. Granted, becoming lovers would be a bit of a problem for them, because he is a Lieutenant (probably in his very early 20s), while she is still a minor, but they could stay friends, their crush on each other could remain, and who knows, maybe at the end of the fourth season they are getting married as well, essentially making Elizabeth and Gene the will-they-won’t-they couple of this CBS family sitcom.

Daughters in a hug with an attractive man is a nightmare for every mother.

Meanwhile, Polly got possessed by her mother, and for a few seconds I was asking myself if her mother is dead already or if she lives somewhere, haunting her only daughter from the distance. “Wedding” only introduced Polly’s father, so chances are her mother has passed already, but I would have loved for this episode to establish the fact. Because if it had been established, Polly hearing her mother in her head and becoming her temporarily while dealing with Elizabeth could have indeed been played as a “possession,” which would have been a funny plot line in a sitcom. Besides all that, it’s great to see that Polly shows her parenting skills a bit, even if they happened to come from the distance through her own mother. In that case she actually attempted to be a liberal parent, by letting Elizabeth do what she wanted to do (go to a concert with an older boy and not necessarily seeing a date in it). Consider me surprised though that Mac didn’t do anything about it, let alone had no issues with his eldest stepdaughter going out with his trusted Lieutenant. Even more so, Mac was not reacting at all the following morning when Elizabeth came into the kitchen like she was floating on cloud nine, and she was essentially telling Polly that she was in love with Gene. Why was it that Polly had a huge problem with it and Mac just went along with the “favor?”

Major Dad (“Wounded Flyboy and the Nurse Who Gave Him Reason to Live”)

Season 1, Episode 5
Date of airing: October 9, 1989 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 20.6 million viewers, 14.1/22 in Households

The patriarchy is still part of the show, but the writers were starting to include the women of the cast a little more, now that the characters have been established, and Mac and Polly are now a married couple, having enjoyed their honeymoon vacation. Polly’s daughters got a little bit of coloring done, giving me hope that they may become central characters in the near future (especially Elizabeth who is old enough to deserve her own story arcs, while Robin and Casey are maybe too young to carry their own character arcs at the moment), which means MAJOR DAD is a bit of a better family sitcom at this stage of its history than it was during the previous episodes. Maybe it’s a sign for the show to get a bit better with upcoming episodes, and for the patriarchy to disappear. After all, Polly should still have her reporter job at the newspaper, and I will mention that fact in every episode until the writers acknowledged it in one of the episodes that isn’t the pilot. I still remember what the initial premise of the show was (a liberal newspaper reporter with three kids and a conservative military man get married), and five episodes in, only the marriage and the three kids are still part of the show.

Let the Major sleep in peace and comfort!

The episode was good enough. Consider my eyes popping out of the back of my head due to rollage after Mac got angry that he wasn’t able to watch the football game on television that turned out to be a historic match-up between his favorite team and whoever they were playing. Consider me weirded out that this early in the marriage, Mac does not have time for his new family, because he rather likes to watch football than hang with his newlywed wife and three stepdaughters, which maybe he should get to know a little better, so he can be part of their lives as a father figure and not as the “man in the house” Polly called him at one point in the episode. That’s where the patriarchy of the series still is, and I still cannot believe that it’s the main angle of storytelling in a television show from the late 1980s, early 1990s. I would have thought that the writers cared a little more about how to depict families in television shows, but MAJOR DAD is still conservative enough to show that the man is the “man in the house” and that the women are only allowed to be mean and jokey to the patriarch.

What I liked about the episode was how Mac and Polly’s life together was still bothered by a few little relationship problems here and there. First of all, Polly had all the reason in the world to be angry at Mac for being pissy that he missed watching the game, but it did lead to a nice conversation piece between Mac and Elizabeth, showcasing that at least one of the kids is interested enough in this new marriage to keep it afloat and healthy. Besides that, Elizabeth giving Mac the suggestion to fail at running in the mornings proves that mac is capable of listening to the girls and changing his life to make Polly and her kids work on his schedule of life. It’s also part of the series for Mac to turn from the military man into a family man, and that change doesn’t just happen overnight. Besides that, I kinda liked Elizabeth in that scene, as well as throughout the entire episode. She may look like she is in her late 20s, which means I’m confused about her character’s age in the show, but she is definitely wandered in the field of fashion: She knows how to wear a hat (the second hat having been part of a visual joke by letting Mac take it off her head). She also knows how to talk to the guy, which means she may have a greater understanding to how her stepfather works as a person.

Elizabeth proves her fashion sense in this screencap.

But yeah, it’s a necessity for Mac to not tuck his shirt into his pants, because it does make him look extremely bossy, which is an image I don’t like in general. It’s also a necessity for Polly to get back to her work again, or I’m starting to believe the writers forgot where she started the show and that she was always supposed to be the housewife in the show.