I was debating what to close with for the Twelve Posts, when suddenly I had a random memory of a show that I used to love when I was a kid that sadly never found a DVD release here. Thankfully, the show found a DVD release in Germany, and plenty of Germans, as well as Americans who saved their VHS copies of it, loves them some YouTube!
Before Glee. Before “Once More With Feeling” on Buffy. Before Cop Rock. There was a show that was everything a television musical should be. That show was Rags to Riches.
Rags to Riches (1987 – I was 8 and 9 during its two-season run) was a musical dramedy about a food industry millionaire (played by Joseph Bologna!) who, in order to project a family-friendly image and secure a business deal, takes in 5 orphaned girls with every intention of returning them to the children’s home as soon as his goals are met. He inevitably comes to love them and ends up adopting them. Taking a page out of Diff’rent Strokes’ culture-clash playbook, Rags to Riches found its conflicts not only in the fish-out-of-water element of these poor girls suddenly living in the lap of luxury, but also in the fact that each of the girls came from a different background and/or had a different set of experiences. There was the Black one (played by Tisha Campbell!), the half-Asian one, the blonde one, the little one. The half-Asian one was also the socially conscious one who also happened to be emo, before emo was a thing. The blonde was, of course, a sort of “Valley Girl” who loved big accessories and shopping. Yes, it was a cheesy show (what show wasn’t in the 1980′s?) that traded in stock characters, but it was also an opportunity for a diverse demographic of girls to see themselves in a television show.
But the truly great thing about Rags to Riches was that it did a musical television show right. It’s one thing to write an entire musical for one episode of a show (like Buffy), or have a show be an original musical, but not commit to its own musical world (like Cop Rock), or have a show be a musical that’s built on the latest pop hits and stretching the story to make them fit the songs instead of the other way around (like Glee), but what Rags to Riches did was commit to a sound (60′s doo-wop), use the familiar melodies and choruses of songs with which people were already familiar, but have original lyrics that had to do with what was actually happening to the characters. It had exactly the right balance of sing-a-long-ability (from the familiar oldies chosen) and new material (new lyrics to learn!) to make a successful television musical.
I remember Eileen, Joanna and I loving this show when I was a kid. I remember “playing Rags to Riches” with them and other friends. I’m sorry it only had two seasons! If anyone feels like letting me create a similar show for today’s audience, I’d be happy to take a crack at it.
I’ll leave you with EPISODE 2 of Rags to Riches! I would’ve left you with the pilot, but the pilot didn’t have the really fun theme song! You can find the pilot and all the other eps on YouTube, too.
I hope you’ve had and continue to have a wonderful Christmas season, have a fantabulous New Year, and that 2012 brings us all Rags to Riches-style changes for the better!