Friday, September 01, 2006

Mostly forgotten shows: Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge, a short-lived comedy on CBS, was part of a mini-trend in the early 90s: nostalgic shows that tried to take their time periods seriously. Homefront and I'll Fly Away also launched around the same time, looking at the time immediately following World War II and the civil rights movement respectively. Brooklyn Bridge was more about coming of age in the 1950s, though all three series were praised by critics and nominated for Emmys. All three launched in the fall of 1991, and all three lasted only two seasons, ending after network faith still couldn't translate into big viewer numbers.

I never watched either of the other two, being a mere 11 at the time, but I watched Brooklyn Bridge fervently. To be sure, it was a bit of a Wonder Years ripoff, and now that I think about it, it remembered childhood a bit too rosily, but the Bridge (and I may be looking at my own childhood a bit too rosily now) managed to nail a tone that's notoriously difficult: sweetly nostalgic.

Out of the three, this is the show that you still can't find anywhere. Neither Homefront nor I'll Fly Away are available on DVD, but Homefront periodically turns up in the nether regions of the cable box (I think it last aired on the Goodlife network), and I'll Fly Away occasionally airs on local PBS affiliates. Brooklyn Bridge apparently aired on Bravo briefly (back when Bravo took it upon itself to air critically acclaimed but quickly canceled shows -- Twin Peaks was another refugee), but I wasn't around to see it.

Brooklyn Bridge was the passion project of Gary David Goldberg, who had the money and clout to do such a thing, having created Family Ties (he later signed on to Spin City, which gave him even more cash). At the time, Goldberg talked about slaving over every aspect of the show, from making sure the set design of the various apartments where the show took place was just right to writing most of the scripts. Goldberg wanted to evoke his childhood, growing up as a young Polish Jew in Brooklyn, and he largely succeeded. The show largely avoided scenes where one of the kids learned a lesson, and the characters were sharply drawn. The show was also weirdly feminist, setting up a near-matriarchy, where the grandmother was in charge and the mother had her own job outside of the home.

The show was also impeccably cast. Most critics focused on Marion Ross, who was cast against type as the ferocious and loving grandmother, but the entire cast was full of deeply capable actors -- including Amy Aquino, who pops up from time to time in guest roles on other shows, and Jenny Lewis, who went from a cute child star to a legitimately gorgeous indie rock heartthrob.

I was drawn to Brooklyn Bridge because the storylines (mostly dealing with the tentative discovery of girls) roughly paralleled what I was going through at the time, but I stayed for a show that was nostalgic without being overbearingly so. It's the sort of show that deserves a loving DVD release from a company like Shout! Factory, but I'm not sure that will ever happen.

Weirdly, after the show was canceled, it seemed to slip from the critical memory. When the lists of great shows that were canceled too soon is compiled, this show is never on it, though Homefront and I'll Fly Away often are. I don't know why this is the case, but the show never seemed to inspire the passion in others that it did in 11-year-old me.

The Bridge, of course, deserved better. But television is a business-driven medium, not given to small, personal statements. Goldberg was lucky to get two years. And so, I guess, was I.

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