8 November 2005 | movibuf1962
I now own the DVD of Season 1, and...
...I can officially say it doesn't disappoint.
Purchasing FAME ends a 23-year mystery for me. I watched the original show back in 1982, and was always blown away by the first season (the only season of the 5-year show on network television) more than any of the subsequent seasons. But when the show went into local syndication, Season 1 seemed to disappear into a vault. And I've been scratching my head since the 80's, wondering if it was really the magical thing I remembered in the first place.
FAME was an improvement on television because it was able to develop its ensemble of characters more fully (over a season at a time), and not denigrate them into stereotypes (the overachiever, the plain-Jane ingénue, the angry hood with a heart of gold, etc.), and do so without resorting to the 'R' factor of swearing dialog and partial nudity. I suspect that the people complaining about the series are missing all the dirty stuff that was in the film, but for a prime-time TV show broadcast in the family hour, the controversial stuff was highly unnecessary. The series wasn't perfect; some of the casting choices were less than inspiring, but once in a while there would be a fine song or an even finer dance sequence. Now I must admit that my bias is showing here because I was an actual art school student- though not in New York (and I was not a performer). I am, however, a fan of musicals from way back, and I think FAME appealed to me because it was something of a ground breaker in network television- the first ever musical series. There were musical variety shows on TV, and musical films done over the last 30 years- but FAME successfully integrated both genres, applying music to a dramatic series whose stars are student performers. Quite a brilliant idea. And some of FAME's individual episodes- a teacher's strike (how do unemployed art teachers make a living?), a promising dancer living with MS, a pianist living with stage fright, a competition for a role ruined by backstage politics- were some of the smartest and most imaginative scripts ever created for television.
Finally, FAME introduced some top-notch young performers. It's easy to mock and tease them and the concept 20 years later (we're an entire race of cynics nowadays), but the fact is many of these kids were not much older than the teens they were supposed to be playing, and they had boundless energy. I was especially pleased to see that the show allowed them to craft their individual strengths over time. Though the show was more than a bit biased towards the dance students (and dancing was probably FAME's most visually appealing art), I was always glad to see emerging dramatists (P.R. Paul, Valerie Landsburg), and especially glad to see Lori Singer- at the beginning of her acting career- as the beautiful cellist from the Midwest. My main reason for watching the series though will always be Debbie Allen. Allen- a relatively tiny thing- proved to be a contradiction in terms with her drill sergeant-like dance instructor, but when she was allowed to dance herself, she was a gorgeous force of nature. If you've any doubt of this, check out the very last scene in 'Passing Grade' (where Allen and fellow dancer Erica Gimpel both lose out on an audition) and watch an improvisation between teacher and student emerge into a stunning pas-de-deux that you would only see in a movie musical. It's still one of the series' most impressive moments.