dvd_box_artParker Lewis Can’t Lose: The Complete First Season (2009, Shout Factory)
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In 1990, the same year NBC attempted to turn Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) into a weekly series, the Fox network aired an innovative, irreverent, hip little sitcom called Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. This essential show from the early ’90s shares many attributes with John Hughes’s classic teen comedy: Parker is a Bueller-esque high school student who talks directly to the audience in his voice-overs and seems to have a handle on being the coolest guy in school (though his wardrobe consists of the Fresh Prince’s castoffs). In addition, he has loving, sometimes clueless parents and a sister who may be the spawn of Satan.

But calling Parker Lewis Can’t Lose a rip-off of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is disrespectful to the series and the talented group of writers, directors, and actors who worked on it. Despite some definite Bueller-type moments in the pilot, the series quickly established its own quirky identity by the second episode. (Ferris Bueller, the series, was canceled after 13 episodes, while Parker Lewis lasted three seasons.) Nineteen years after it premiered, Shout! Factory has released the complete first season in a DVD box set that proves the show’s success was no fluke. Funny, innovative, and still pretty hip, Parker Lewis is still a winner.

Created by Clyde Phillips and Lon Diamond, the show stars Corin Nemec as the one and only Parker, who exudes cool and charm as he roams the halls of Santo Domingo High, home of the fighting Flamingos. Parker is a popular schemer whose every move is closely monitored by the fearful Principal Musso (Melanie Chartoff); there’s nothing she’d like more than to expel him and his friends from Santo Domingo, but he’s always one step ahead, despite her best efforts and those of her student stoolie, Frank Lemmer (Taj Johnson). Making things worse for Parker is the presence of his younger sister, Shelly (Maia Brewton), who’d like nothing better than to see her brother go down in flames. Luckily, he has his two best buds, rocker dude Mikey (William Jayne) and quintessential nerd Jerry (Troy Slaten), to back him up when things get tough.

Rounding out the eclectic cast are cult hero Tim Stack (Night Stand, Son of the Beach) and Anne Bloom as Parker’s parents, Marty and Judy, and Abraham Benrubi (ER) as menacing but misunderstood jock Larry Kubiac. Throughout the first season there’s also a bevy of noteworthy guest stars such as Milla Jovovich, Ziggy Marley, Ozzy Osbourne, Ryan Stiles, and the late Ray Walston. Standout episodes include “Operation Kubiac,” in which Parker and his buds must help Larry pass a math equivalency test; “Musso & Frank,” in which Lemmer must turn to Parker, his nemesis, for help when Musso tries to set him up with her niece; the hilarious “Deja Dudes,” which revolves around a Class of 1970 reunion; and “My Fair Shelly,” in which Parker’s little sis goes on a date and he discovers he’s actually concerned about her well-being.

Like any sitcom with legs, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose has sharp, witty writing, a cast with chemistry, and innovative direction and camerawork. Throughout each episode you get the sense the actors really liked each other and the crew was having a blast. The informative featurette on disc four points out that since Parker Lewis was a single-camera sitcom, meaning it wasn’t shot in front of a live studio audience with three cameras, directors like Andy Tennant (Hitch) and Bryan Spicer (24, House, and many other series) were challenged to create a hyperkinetic look for the show, giving everything the heightened feel of a live-action cartoon. As you watch the first season’s episodes, you’ll recognize a visual style that was mimicked a decade later by Malcolm in the Middle and Scrubs, and cutaway editing that influenced Arrested Development, one of the best shows Fox has ever aired.

As with every box set Shout! Factory releases these days, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose: The Complete First Season comes in some nifty, sleek packaging. The four DVDs include commentary from almost all of the principal cast (Melanie Chartoff is mysteriously missing altogether from the extras) as well as Phillips, Diamond, and Spicer. The aforementioned featurette, “The History of Coolness,” details how Parker Lewis came together and is a loving tribute to the cult hit.

About the Author

Scott Malchus

Scott Malchus is a writer, filmmaker and die hard Cleveland Indians fan. His memoir, “Basement Songs,” is available in paperback and Kindle. He wrote and directed the film “King's Highway." His family is heavily involved in fund raising to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Scott Malchus is an employee of Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting. The opinions expressed on Popdose are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. Email: Malchus@popdose.com. Follow him @MrMalchus

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