"Happy Days" was set in the 1950s in Milwaukee, the heart of middle-class America, and told the story of the Cunningham family. Mr. Cunningham (Tom Bosley) ran the local hardware store and Mrs. Cunningham (Marion Ross), like all good TV Moms, spent her time in the kitchen. Their son, Richie (Ron Howard), hung out at Arnold's Drive-In with his pals Ralph Malph (Donny Most) and Potsie (Anson Williams), trying to be as cool as the coolest greaser in town, the Fonz (Henry Winkler). Richie's sister, Joanie (Erin Moran), tagged along whenever she wasn't at her friend Jenny Piccolo's house. The Cunninghams also had an older son, Chuck, but he mysteriously disappeared after the first season.
The 1975-76 season of the highly successful Happy Days
is largely defined by the placement of the Fonz (Henry Winkler) in even closer proximity to the Cunningham family--making him, tacitly and literally, a member of best friend Richies household. When Fonzie's grandmother moves into the ultra-cool, womanizing bikers apartment, he takes a room over the Cunninghams garage, making Richie (Ron Howard), his mom Marion (Marion Ross), and sister Joanie (Erin Moran) happy, but leaving cantankerous-but-lovable dad Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) something more than ambivalent. While several episodes deal with one or another conflict between strong-willed Fonzie and stubborn Howard--at one point, the two sue each other over a roof that collapses from the weight of Fonzie's pigeon coop--life otherwise lurches along for Richie and his gang. In "The Other Richie Cunningham," Richie tries an end run around his dad's expectation that he take a business associate's daughter out for a date. Enlisting pal Potsie (Anson Williams) to pretend to be Richie, the Howdy Doody-faced teen finds the plan backfiring when Potsie proves to be less than a gentleman to the unfortunate girl. "Jailhouse Rock" finds Richie and Howard sharing a jail cell after protesting an arbitrary curfew by police on teens, while "Tell It to the Marines" concerns a desperate attempt by Ralph (Donny Most) to earn respect by threatening to join military service. Not surprisingly, however, most of Happy Days: The Third Season
follows the exploits of Fonzie as he constantly lives up to the reputation that inevitably precedes him. The two-part "Fearless Fonzarelli" begins with the Fonz so worried he's losing his cool that he agrees to jump 14 garbage cans on his motorcycle for a television show--and ends up with a serious leg injury. "Fonzie the Superstar" is a popular episode in which the Fonz agrees to substitute for Potsie as vocalist in Richie's band, then freezes up with stage fright on the night of a show at Arnold's. (Winkler's performance on "Heartbreak Hotel," while not exactly singing, is so charged with energy one can tell the actor was probably breaking through his own inhibitions during the scene.) "Bringing Up Spike" focuses on Fonzie's first encounter with child-rearing when his visiting, little delinquent cousin gets into a jam with the law.
Happy Days: The Third Season is definitely a peak in the show's lengthy history, just before the series took a turn for the silly (or sillier). This was the year Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) were introduced to the world on Happy Days (before landing their own spin-off series). And armchair TV historians will take note how sexist the show could be while it simultaneously takes a minor stab at American racism in "Fonzie's New Friend" (in which the Fonz shows up with an African-American pal to play drums in Richie's band, and gets a hostile reaction from whites in the community). --Tom Keogh