Musings on “Mork and Mindy”

We choose Pam Dawber’s birthday for a Mork and Mindy post because we already wrote about Robin Williams on the occasion of his sad passing.

In the ’70s, pretty, nice, bland “girls next door” were a major television staple for a time: I think not only of Pam Dawber, but also Jan Smithers on WKRP in Cincinnati, Marcia Strassman on Welcome Back Kotter, Lauren Tewes on The Love Boat, Joyce Dewitt on Three’s Company. Diane Keaton played a character like this in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, which is I think what gives that movie its horrifying power. Anyway, this is a bit of a digression, probably worth its own blogpost. But it also provides some context for the premise of Mork and Mindy. What bigger contrast could there be from Williams’ bizarre space alien than this nice, normal suburban girl?

As with Laverne and Shirley, as an avid Happy Days fan, I was there “from the beginning”. The germ of the series was planted in a 1978 Happy Days episode where Mork from Ork lands on earth and encounters the Fonz, which allowed the show to play with a major ’50s cinematic staple, flying saucer movies. I haven’t seen the episode in decades but I recall Mork being a bit different, sort of scary in the episode, and he has some kind of climactic duel with the Fonz.

Apparently, comedian John Byner was originally approached for the role, and he would have been great in it. But he ultimately decided not to do it. Auditions were held, and Williams knocked it out of the park.

As he did throughout the entirety of the series. Really, when I find myself speaking disparagingly of Williams’ movie career, it is largely coming from a place of disappointment. With his mercurial, shape-shifting, improv comedy style as Mork, Williams essentially invented a new kind of whatsit. Only in a couple of movies (Good Morning Vietnam and Aladdin) did he ever recapture whatever that elusive thing was in the context of a narrative story.

But on the show he was great. Rocking a pair of rainbow suspenders (his only real rival in that wardrobe department is perhaps Doug Henning) he would get into all sorts of misunderstandings due to his extraterrestrial culture clash, and Dawber as his room-mate Mindy would have to bail him out. And like so many classic sitcoms, like Mr. Ed, My Mother the Car, and My Favorite Martian (natch), it’s all a big secret.

I was thrilled in the fourth and last season when Williams brought in his childhood comedy hero Jonathan Winters to play his and Dawber’s son (children grow backwards on Ork.) Other comedy legends were on the show as well, Conrad Janis as Mindy’s uptight conservative father, Tom Poston as a neighbor, and Jay Thomas as a deli owner:

And what could be more ’70s than having the show set in Colorado….muse of John Denver! Setting of Centennial! Hiking, skiing, environmentalism! The show ran from 1978 through 1982. Then came The World According to Garp (1982) and we were onto a new phase. In astronomy, it’s all about the phases. Which is why I am willing to freely admit at this much later stage in my life that, yes, even I was once given to saying “Shazbot” and “Na-Nu, Na-Nu”.