I swear to you this is true. Yesterday evening it was 60 degrees and sunny and, since I was getting over the flu, I thought it would be a good idea to get some fresh air. As I was walking I was thinking about the DVDs I get to review, how I rarely get what I really want to see. I thought, "What I'd really like to see is something like Room 222."
So I arrive home to a package waiting on my doorstep the content of which was Mr. Belvedere Season 4 (that shit lasted four seasons?!?), Ironside Season 3 (yuk), and Room 222 season 2. Hallelujah!
I haven't seen Room 222 since I was in what they used to call Junior High School but I loved the show. Does this half-hour sitcom hold up in modern times? Well, yes. In a very strange way it may even be more enjoyable to watch today.
Room 222 takes place at fictional (heck, mythical) Walt Whitman High, a school so supercalifragalistically-liberal that it must be taking place in an alternate universe.
Following The Flying Nun and Courtship of Eddie's Father and airing opposite The Beverly Hillbillies, Room 222 debuted in that golden classic TV year of 1969, a season filled with Partridge and Brady type families.
Room 222 was a different kind of sitcom. Created by James L. Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons) and produced and sometimes directed by Gene Reynolds (M*A*S*H), Room 222 portrayed the American public school system as a fully integrated, imminently healthy place of learning. This was the first of TV's 'relevant' shows that tackled issues of the day like abortion, prejudice, teen rebellion, and drug use.
This wasn't a reflection of the reality on the ground in any place I'm aware of, most public schools were just beginning to integrate with decidedly mixed results. Just look at the South Boston School where angry parents stormed the place and would have literally ripped the black elementary kids who dared to defile their lilly white domain to death. And that was in 1975!
At Walt Whitman High the black and white students and teachers debated politely and intelligently the issues of the day while teachers sat back and allowed the free exchange of ideas. Huh?
Can you imagine today's high schoolers eargerly discussing issues in such an informed manner? Maybe, but I can't imagine students of my era doing so. We were told to shut up and listen, talking about what was on your mind in class would have had you in the principal's waiting room post haste. That's what makes Room 222 such an anomaly, an almost sad look at what could have been if we lived in a more free and open society.
This was an era when school systems around the country were moving away from drilling the three Rs all day, instead expanding the curriculum to include more variations on the subjects. In that way Room 222 provided teachers and faculty with a blueprint for a more liberal educational approach. Who knows if this affected life on the ground for students like myself. Network TV shows had a great deal of influence on society back then, for better or worse.
This is not a realistic show unless you compare it to Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie or any of the other sitcoms on the air at the time; the anachronisms cascade down like an avalanche but with charm and intelligence.
Season 2 saw Karen Valentine as the perky white student teacher almost walk away with the show. A supporting role originally, Valentine graduated to full fledged star in season 3. She would go on to dominate the series in later years to the extreme detriment of the production. She looks so silly in the first episodes of this sophomore year with her Conehead hairstyle (she got a new season makeover) but she is an appealing character.
The breakout star should have been Heshimu as Jason Allen, far and away the most radical black person on weekly TV at the time, though that's not saying much. Just the fact that he was a forceful youngster with a full on Afro was enough to peg him as a radical on TV at that time, add to that the intelligent but forceful arguments he would make in class and you had a full on threat to the white establishment at a time when racial tensions were at their height.
I doubt seriously if the show could have made it without Heshimu and David Jolliffe as the crimson afroed white kid Bernie who joined the show in this 1970-71 season. It may be telling that Heshimu virtually disappeared from television after this series left the air.
Lloyd Haynes and Denise Nicholas shine as Pete Dixon and Liz McIntyre, TV's only African-American couple at the time. (Julia and Chet Kincaid were both single and the only other black characters at the center of a show when Room 222 debuted. Barefoot in the Park, about a young black couple, lasted just a few weeks in 1970.) Michael Constantine is remarkable as principal Seymour Kaufman.
Look for guests who later became stars like Dabney Coleman, Ed Begley, Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, and Kurt Russell as students. Even Chuck Norris turns up, as himself of course, because Chuck Norris transcends time & space. He may decide to pop up on an episode of I Love Lucy one day.
Sadly the picture quality for this season 2 release is, at best, so-so. The film for the opening theme looks like something found on the side of the road after a nasty accident with more scratches than a Grandmaster Flash album bought at the Goodwill. (So what, that theme song makes my short list as one of the best in TV history.) The color throughout is iffy at best; the yellows are completely washed out, subtle changes suggest where the syndication cuts were. Some episodes look better than others but I'm an old school TV watcher, a little 'snow' on the screen is no big deal to me, I'm more interested in the content.
Room 222 is a thoroughly entertaining watch, fans of M*A*S*H will recognize the rhythm and tone of the show. The laughs are few but the storylines provide a fascinating glimpse at a moment in history when society was rapidly evolving toward a promising tomorrow - supposedly.
Format: NTSC, Color, Full Screen
Region: Region 1
A compelling series about life at a multiracial Los Angeles high school, Room 222 left an indelible mark on popular culture by using the half-hour form to explore socially relevant issues (more than a year before Norman Lears other groundbreaking shows All In The Family and Maude) and by starting the still-popular trend of high school television series. Created by the now-legendary James L. Brooks (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Simpsons), the program was praised for dealing realistically with such subjects as racism, sexism, illiteracy, guns in school and drugs. Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes) is a dedicated and popular history teacher who fights the good fight on the side of his students. Joining him in his idealistic approach to education are guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas) and student teacher Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine). Experienced and slightly world-weary principal Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine) provides a balance to the youthful idealism of the 60s cultural revolution but at the end of the day, everyone is on the side of the students.