Friday, May 28, 2010

Diff'rent Strokes: Sports Edition

Gary Coleman died today of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 42. The rumors that the Gooch finally got to him are completely unfounded, so stop saying that shit! Coleman was a huge part of the childhood of my generation. And if Twitter is any indication of my generation's tastes (and it is), Coleman's death is rocking a lot of people's worlds. Current trending topics on Twitter as of 1:30 pm PT, May 28 : #garyColeman, Gary Coleman Died, #oilspill, #wheniwasafreshman, Coleman passed away, Todd Bridges, About Gary, fanime, Whachu talkin.

Of the top ten, six are Gary-related topics and it is telling that Todd Bridges, not Dana Plato, is the co-star who's trending with Gary Coleman. Maybe it's because he's still alive. Wait, one second...I was just notified that Conrad Bain is still alive. WTF? He outlived Plato and Coleman? I did not have that in my deadpool.

Aside from goldfish tragedies, the artful dodging of child molesters, the spin-off of Facts of Life, the unfortunately ironic drugs and drinking Willis episodes, one hallmark of Diff'rent Strokes were the number of athletes who guest starred. None appeared in season one, but by season two, when it was obvious NBC had a hit on their hands, the star athletes started appearing regularly on the show. Here is the complete list of athletes who appeared on Diff'rent Strokes (in order of appearance). Hat tip to
  1. Muhammad Ali (Season 2, Episode 1 as himself)
  2. Reggie Jackson (Season 2, Episode 10 as himself)
  3. Ed "Too Tall" Jones (Season 3, Episode 1 as himself)
  4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Season 5, Episode 5 as the teacher, Mr. Wilkes)
  5. Dorothy Hamill (Season 5, Episode 18 as herself)
  6. The 1984 Gold-Medal-winning U.S. Men's  Gymnastics team (Season 7, Episode 14 as themselves)
  7. Lance Parrish (Season 7, Episode 16 as himself)
  8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Season 8, Episode 7 again as Mr. Wilkes)

 Ali with Arnold and Willis

 Only Kareem appeared twice on the show and he was the only athlete not to appear as himself, instead portraying the tough but thoughtful teacher, Mr. Wilkes. Really though, the writers couldn't come up with another name for this character? Wilkes? As in Kareem's Laker teammate Jamaal Wilkes? Was this to remind viewers that Kareem was a basketball player? Shit, this probably confused some people into thinking it was Jamaal Wilkes portraying himself as a teacher. If you think about Kareem's turn as "Roger Murdock" in Airplane just a few years earlier, this isn't really much of  a stretch.

The athletes were used almost purely along racial lines. Clearly, Ali, Reggie Jackson, Too Tall and Jabbar were there for Willis and Arnold. Black kids just love black athletes!  Dorothy Hamill, while Willis may have wanted to tag some of that, was Dana Plato's vehicle. Plato was a near Olympic-level skater before joining the cast of Diff'rent Strokes and it is clear she made the correct career choice, what with all the success she enjoyed after the show. Lance Parrish was there for annoying white little brother, Sam. You forgot about him didn't you? Well, he pretty much killed the show. He was a real life Scrappy Doo who introduced a doofish cuteness to a show that felt it could no longer lean on a perennially short but now not-quite-so-cute Gary Coleman. Parrish played himself serving as the bench coach on Sam's crappy little league team. The writing was a little soft toward the end of the show's run.

Let's not go out like the show did with Sam polluting the waters. Let's remember the show at it's peak. Like here:

With the Hasselhoff
and here:

Arnold's Got Five on It.

By the way, the show was shot entirely in color. I am not sure why all the good photos of the cast members are in back and white. Oh wait, I just figured it out. Very, very clever 1980s NBC marketing team.

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