Mork & Mindy was a spin-off from an episode of Happy Days seen in February 1978, in which an alien from the planet Ork landed on Earth and attempted to kidnap Richie. So popular was the nutty character created by Robin Williams that Williams was given his own series in the fall of 1978, and it became an instant hit. Mork was a misfit on his own planet because his sense of humor (he was heard to call the Orkan leader, Orson, "cosmic breath"). So the humorless Orkans sent him off to study Earthlings, whose "crazy" customs they had never been able to understand. Mork landed, in a giant eggshell near Boulder, Colorado. There he was befriended by pretty Mindy McConnell, a clerk at the music store run by her father, Frederick. Mork looked human, but his strange mixture of Orkan and Earthling customs--such as wearing a suit, but putting it on backwards, or sitting in a chair, but upside down--led most people to think of him as just as some kind of nut. Mindy knew where he came from, and helped him adjust to Earth's strange ways. She also let him stay in the attic of her apartment house, which scandalized her conservative father, but not her swinging grandmother, Cora.
After an out-of-this-world first season that unleashed Robin Williams, as extraterrestrial Mork from Ork, on an unsuspecting universe, Mork & Mindy fell to earth. But while season 2 is not as fresh or inspired, it is still worth revisiting to marvel at Williams, a cosmic comic force. There was nothing wrong with Mork & Mindy that a little network tampering couldn't wreck, beginning with a disco-fied version of the show's theme song. Conrad Janis and Elizabeth Kerr, who portrayed Mindy's uptight father and more far-out grandmother, are out (although Janis does return for a couple of episodes, one of them being the inevitable clip show). Jay Thomas and Gina Hecht are in as the sibling owners of the New York Delicatessen. Also joining the cast is Jim Staahl as Mindy's preppy cousin, Nelson, a city councilman candidate, prompting many Mork potshots at politicians. Tom Poston, as grumpy Mr. Bickley and Robert Donner as addled cult leader Exidor enjoy expanded roles.
If nothing else, Mork & Mindy was more ambitious in its second season, with hour-long episodes that veered from allegory (in the season opener, a shrunken Mork finds himself in a parallel universe where he joins a revolution against the Glums, who have outlawed humor) and high camp (Raquel Welch as Captain Nirvana--'nuff said--in "Mork vs. the Necrotons"). The better episodes are those in which extraterrestrial Mork is confounded by human behavior and curious customs. In "Stark Raving Mork," he picks a fight with Mindy (Pam Dawber, holding her own opposite the unpredictable Williams) thinking that it will add excitement to their relationship. In "Mork Learns to See," he befriends Mr. Bickley's blind son to experience life as he does. Mork & Mindy is of more than nostalgic interest. While the pop culture references and topical gags are stuck in the '70s (Mork manages a pun on Menachem Begin's name), Williams' physical shtick is timeless, and Mork's exuberance and innocent, child-like wonder as he tries to find his place in our world will resonate with a (na)new, (na)new generation. --Donald Liebenson