Every once in a while, someone can spot a series in syndication or on DVD that they hadn’t seen much of before, or maybe they’d heard about it or something about it and wanted to see more.
That was me when Eight Is Enough entered reruns on the fX cable network back in 1994. I was 16, and I became fascinated with watching this TV family that spent their days “like bright and shiny new dimes” during the years that I was a toddler.
I’ve also always had a fascination with cast changes in shows — especially the unexpected variety. Actress Diana Hyland died in early 1977 after filming only four episodes of Eight Is Enough. It was interesting to me to see how they’d handled it on the series — first in Season 1 with Mom conveniently being out of town during several episodes, and then in the Season 2 premiere, where we find out that Joan Bradford has indeed passed away, and we see how the family deals and struggles with the situation.
Joan’s death is mentioned as early as the first episode of Eight Is Enough Season 2, which is now released on made-on-demand DVD in two volumes from the Warner Archive. First off – I’m so glad the Archive put these out, because they’re a great watch, but also, I worried sales of Eight Is Enough Season 1 wouldn’t justify more… I did buy it, though! In the season premiere, recently sort-of-separated Dr. Greg Maxwell (Michael Thoma) tries to get Tom Bradford (the father of the eight children, played by Dick Van Patten) out on the dating scene, which doesn’t really work out so well.
The second episode of the season impacts the show more than any other event — it marks the first appearance of Betty Buckley as Sandra Sue Abbott, better known as “Abby.” She drives a classic car where the steering wheel is on the right, British style. Spoiler alert – she and Tom ultimately fall in love and get married in a 2-part episode called “Children Of The Groom.”
Now that several years have passed from when I first saw this series, I have different perspectives. One — and I had this feeling when watching the Shazam! DVD set as well — is that I live in California now, and thus, start recognizing locations even when I’m not meant to. One episode seems to have an outdoor sequence shot where the Burbank Town Center is located — before the complex was ever built. Tom and Abby’s wedding? Not in Sacramento, but instead at the corner of Whipple and Cahuenga in Toluca Lake. Sometimes noticing locations, especially watching marathon style, can be a bad thing, though. Remember that season premiere I mentioned? The apartment complex where Tom and Dr. Max go to meet two women ends up later being the complex where Abby lives, later in the season. Awkward, and I’m sure they didn’t expect us to notice that. Sadly, the Bradford home, which was located right off Lankershim Blvd., is now demolished; replaced by condos.
With his later legal trouble, seeing Adam Rich in jail is slightly funnier than it needs to be. On a less pleasant note, it is a little bit sad to see Lani O’Grady as eldest sister Mary, who died ten years ago far too young.
Also being older it’s all the more obvious that of the eight children, NONE of them look alike. I could see where one or two might be the child of Dick Van Patten or Diana Hyland, but it really is a hodgepodge. To their credit, I think the priority was to get good actors playing the characters, and I like all eight.
Another perspective that always changed for me is that, like the Bradfords, I lost a parent at a young age. As such, the Christmas 2-parter episode is even more touching… it also happens to be one of the best holiday episodes of any series.
Almost all of the episodes look really good — some definite time and care was spent on this set. There are a few here and there where outside scenes look a little grainy, but I’m assuming that’s the way they always were. I will note that the wedding 2-parter uses syndicated opening titles and is split into two parts rather than its original 2-hour presentation. (The opening titles have Betty Buckley credited as Abby, but then the closing credits say “Special Guest Star Betty Buckley As Abby,” so I’m sure something is up) I also wouldn’t be surprised if additional things were cut from that 2-parter… I know some trick or treaters are credited, but I don’t remember seeing them in the actual show… it could be, though, that I wasn’t paying enough attention at that time. Speaking of special guest stars, some very familiar faces later in their careers show up. Robin Williams, Don Johnson, and others are on that list… and who wouldn’t want to see a pre-Lois & Clark John Shea wooing two Bradford girls at the same time?
If you were a fan of Eight Is Enough back in the day, this is definitely a must-get. Partly because I’d love to see more of the series… it’s a lot of fun to revisit this classic TV family, and I’d like to have all five seasons and both reunion movies to see whenever I feel like it. It’s a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen window sill… whatever that means.