Recap: Mrs. Garrett and the girls of Eastland School are bustling around their residence hall, making decorations for the upcoming Harvest Fair. The Diff'rent Strokes cast drops by to say hey to Mrs. Garrett (who used to be their housekeeper) and to reinforce to viewers that they're watching a spin-off of the popular NBC sitcom.
Cindy, the resident tomboy (who'd probably be the best looking girl in school if she simply took off her baseball cap), enters the dorm carrying a piglet and asks Willis what he's doing in a girls' school. He's like, "I was about to ask you the same thing, since you kinda look like a guy"...and Cindy just stands there mutely while someone hits 'play' on the laugh track. Blair makes a joke about how the piglet is Cindy's first date, and Cindy retorts, "You'd probably go for taller pigs, Blair." The laugh track kicks in again - and it's useful in preventing all the badly written jokes from falling flat.
Mrs. Garrett asks if anyone's seen Arnold, and Willis explains that the little gaffer sent his family inside ahead of him to make sure the coast was clear of girls. That's kind of nonsensical, considering they're at a girls' school. Willis turns toward the door and bellows, "It's OK! There aren't any girls in here!" and a miffed looking Arnold waddles in. Mrs. Garrett asks him whaddup with his sudden aversion to girls, and Arnold grumps it isn't sudden; he's pretty much been averse to them his whole life. Mr. Drummond assures him that one day he'll look upon women as necessities, and Arnold grumbles, "If that's true, our future looks bleak." The laugh track kicks in, 'cause sexist comments made by a tiny boy are funny.
Mr. Drummond tells Mrs. Garrett that the reason they came all the way up to Peekskill is to try to talk her into being their housekeeper again - and she admits she also misses them. Nancy rushes over to hug Arnold and gush about how darling he is, and he tries to shove her away as she forcibly kisses him. Cindy assures him he doesn't need to worry about her wanting to kiss him 'cause she's too into sports to want to kiss any guy. Tootie glides in on her roller skates to tease Arnold about his height, which is ironic since the reason she wears roller skates in these early episodes is 'cause the producers wanted to mask her short stature...and it's pretty funny that that's the best solution they could come up with. The Drummonds decide they've taken up enough air time on this series premiere and head toward the door, and now it's Blair's turn to fawn all over little Arnold as he walks past. Mr. Drummond tells Mrs. Garrett how poorly they're managing without her and asks her if this housemothering gig is permanent - and she outright lies and tells them she's definitely returning to Casa Drummond. Mr. Drummond tells her that his household is so chaotic that he wearing Arnold's underwear, and that gets a laugh track insert even though it's physically possible for a grown man to fit into such a tiny boy's gitch. Whatever, writers.
Cindy announces that it's time to practice tug-of-war for the Harvest Fair, and gets grabby with Blair and Nancy, and Blair snaps at her to get lost and derisively remarks, "You are so strange." While Cindy ponders the strangeness within herself that Blair has somehow detected, Mrs. Garrett reminds Blair that Cindy's in charge of the Harvest Fair games. Blair's like, "Whatever," and says she's much more interested in what happens after all the athletic stuff - like dancing and boys, e.g. hetero stuff that a tomboyish carpet muncher wouldn't know anything about. Cindy gets mad and threatens to punch Blair in the nose, and Blair snootily replies that she has more important things on her mind, like Greg Hockney. Sue Ann jumps into the fray and concurs that Greg is a real hunk, so I guess we can conclude that she's not gay...I mean strange.
Tootie wheels in to needlessly inform everyone that the piglet has gotten loose, and then Mr. Bradley (the headmaster) breezes into the dorm accompanied by Miss Mahoney, one of the teachers. She looked oddly familiar to me, and after a quick Google search, I discovered she's the same actress who played Scott Scanlon's kooky mother on Beverly Hills, 90210. Mr. Bradley has a tedious back and forth with Molly Ringwald, who chides him for referring to them as girls and not women...and he quickly changes the subject and tells everyone he's relying on Miss Mahoney to show him the ropes with the Harvest Fair, since it's his first one. He remarks that Miss Mahoney has been at the school a looong time and knows how it's done, and Miss Mahoney insists that she's not at all embarrassed that she's an old maid at thirty-two years of age. Natalie marvels at the sight of a thirty-two year old, and Miss Mahoney tells her that a woman is in her full prime at thirty-two...and that it's not not so far off for them. She tells them they're girls burgeoning into womanhood, and Natalie quips, "I though all of us were burgeons!" and everyone just kind of stands around until the laugh track winds down. Nancy inquires about the curfew, so Miss Mahoney reminds her that it's still 10:00pm - but Mr. Bradley says he'd like to relax the rules a bit and changes it to 11:30pm. Miss Mahoney tells him they should stick to the rules they've already set, but Bradley disagrees and dickishly pushes the curfew back to 11:40pm, and then 11:50pm. Miss Mahoney's all, "Wha-a?!" and exclaims that she's in bed by that hour...and Mr. Bradley jokes that the girls can tuck her in after the dance.
Mr. Bradley turns to more important matters: which of the girls will be representing Eastland at the Inter-school Harvest Queen Contest? Blair says that since she's been Queen for the last two years in a row, she plans to enter...instead of letting someone else have a shot. Molly opts out, since she has no desire to be judged on her "cleavage". Er...OK. Sue Ann nominates Cindy, and everyone's all, "Yay! Cindy! Woo hoo!" but Cindy is adamant about not wanting to be in a harvest queen contest. Oh dear - problems! When Mrs. Garrett re-enters the room, the girls start gabbling at her about how Cindy will be running against Blair for Harvest Queen, and Mrs. Garrett looks pleased and says it'll be a good race. Cindy wails that she can't possibly enter the contest, since she doesn't even own a party dress...and Natalie chimes in and says she has one she can't fit into, then bows her head shamefully and says, "I grew out of it before I grew into it." The laugh track kicks in so that everyone can collectively mock the good-natured chubby girl. Mr. Bradley adds Cindy's name to the list of Harvest Queen hopefuls, and Cindy panics and tells Sue Ann she doesn't have a clue what to do at a dance. Sue Ann tells her to just look flattered when the nerd asks her to dance, and Molly Ringwald blurts out, "Just grab him!" Nancy offers to teach Cindy some dance moves, and suggests they go upstairs, put on one of her Donna Summer records and get down. LOL. Cindy is suddenly enthused about the Harvest Queen Contest and thanks Sue Ann for nominating her...and she hugs her and coos, "I love you!" Blair looks icked out and asks Cindy whaddup with all her touching and hugging of girls, then goes, "Boy are you strange." Cindy insists she doesn't mean anything by her frequent touching, hugging, and declarations of love toward her female friends, but Blair continues to look icked out and snidely retorts, "I'll just bet."
Mrs. Garrett is hanging with Miss Mahoney as she alters Natalie's dress for Cindy to wear to the Harvest Fair. Miss Mahoney mopes about not having a date, then mentions that she and Mr. Bradley are chaperoning the dance together. Mrs. Garrett suggests she try tapping that, but Miss Mahoney looks aghast and insists several times she's not into it...and Mrs. Garrett says it sounds like she likes the guy. Arnold suddenly appears in the window decked out in a cowboy costume, and he asks the two ladies if he can hide in their room. The hell? I thought the Drummonds left Peekskill hours ago. Arnold curmudgeonly grumbles about how there are girls everywhere - poking, pinching, and dressing him up as though he were their small pet. He tries hard to look grumpishly adorable and whines, "It's a curse to be darling." A few seconds later, Tootie and Sue Ann come around looking for Arnold, and he escapes by leaping through the window. Tootie and Sue Ann announce that Cindy has dropped out of the contest - egads! - and that she's locked herself in her room and refuses to talk to anyone. Mrs. Garrett puts her sewing away and rushes out of her room to deal with the sudden crisis.
Cindy's moping in her room, playing with her baseball and glove, when Mrs. Garrett knocks on the door. Cindy orders her to go away...but then gives in when she learns that Mrs. Garrett brought along milk and a cupcake. She also brought along the dress she's been altering, but Cindy says she won't need it since she's not entering the contest. She says the Harvest Queen should be a real girl, not a strange tomboy like herself. She once again contemplates her strangeness toward other females, then wonders aloud if Blair was right about her...as in, maybe she's not normal. Mrs. Garrett just stares at her with a mixture of concern and affection...and the scene fades out for a commercial break.
Mrs. Garrett tells Cindy that just 'cause Blair said something thoughtless, doesn't mean she's strange. Cindy complains that she likes sports a lot more than she likes guys...and Mrs. Garrett assures her that that's not weird at all, and then rattles off the names of some famous female athletes:
She tells Cindy that she too was a shapeless beanpole when she was a teenager, but suddenly she started getting curvy - then got curvier and curvier and...well, so on. Cindy says that guys make her nervous, but she's wondering if maybe she should stop hugging and touching girls so much. Mrs. Garrett cries out, "Don't you dare!" and reminds her that the girls at Eastland are her family. She says, "There's nothing wrong with hugging and touching...it just shows you're a loving person." She assures the seemingly sexually perplexed fourteen year old that her "time clock" will start ticking soon enough, then drapes Natalie's dress (which she's been altering) in front of Cindy, and - good God - it's an unspeakable, frilly pink mess. She gazes at their reflection and gasps, "Oh, Cindy!" and tells her she's so beautiful...and Cindy says if Blair ever tells her again she doesn't look feminine, she'll punch her out. As Mrs. Garrett chuckles at the amusing irony, Cindy declares she doesn't ever want to talk to Blair again...but Mrs. Garrett tells her never to say never.
Blair is primping in the mirror, decked out in her Harvest Queen gown, when Mr. Bradley arrives. She asks him how she looks, and he checks her out and prudishly orders her to do up her nonexistent top button. He tells her he's concerned about Cindy dropping out of the Harvest Queen contest, so Blair explains that they had a little tiff. Mrs. Garrett enters the room, and Mr. Bradley tells her he's going to have a talk with Cindy, and Mrs. Garrett informs him that the crisis has been averted...and so he slinks away uselessly. Blair asks Mrs. Garrett how she looks in her lavender gown, and Mrs. Garrett tells her she's "the expert on tricks to attract men" and then insinuates that she's a sleazy tart. Blair insists she's never actually done the deed with a boy and wails, "I'm a tease!" [insert inappropriate laugh track here] Mrs. Garrett goes, "You sure could have fooled me" and Blair tells her you can't jump to conclusions about people that way...and Mrs. Garrett says she's sure that Cindy would also agree. Blair's like, "A-haaa" and realizes that the old sage has been using this faux gay storyline as an impromptu teaching moment. Blair says she didn't mean to imply that Cindy was strange (even though she actually said the words: you're so strange), and thinks maybe she should apologize. Mrs. Garrett bellows in her screechy voice for Cindy to come downstairs, and when she does, Blair apologizes for insinuating/outright telling her she's strange, and that it was really rotten. Cindy accepts her apology and says a truly rotten person probably wouldn't admit to being rotten. Blair urges her to stay in the contest and proposes, "How about it? Woman against woman?" Cindy holds out her hand to shake on it, but Blair pulls in her in for a hug, and Mrs. Garrett stands in the background and nods approvingly.
The Drummonds return to the dorm after the harvest dance. Why haven't these people gone back to Park Avenue yet?? Arnold tells everyone he had fun dancing with a girl, and Mr. Drummond again asks Mrs. Garrett to come home with them and resume her job as their housekeeper. She says she will, once the school finds a decent replacement for her...but until that happens (which will be never), she'll send them a care package once a week. Cindy returns home from the dance wearing the unspeakable dress and tells Mrs. Garrett that Blair won the crown and Greg Hockney - but that she was selected as first runner up. She adds that the dance was nice and all, but something really important happened to her...and no, she didn't come out of any closet. She was leering at Greg Hockney when suddenly he winked at her, and this caused her hetero time clock to kick in and start ticking. Mrs. Garrett chuckles happily, looking visibly relieved that Cindy's strangeness never actually materialized into anything of the homosexual variety. Blair overhears all this about Greg, looks put out and exclaims, "He what?!" but then immediately lets it go and grins...and then she, Cindy, and Mrs. Garrett share a happy group hug and skip toward the punch table.
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12/9/2021 12:37:02 am
I know you're already on season 7, but I'm so happy I found these recaps. Just the fun snarky read I've been looking for. Haven't seen the show in nearly 20 years, so I'd forgotten about the pilot's weirdly homophobic storyline!
11/24/2022 04:03:37 pm
Especially given all the lesbian subtext once Jo comes along.
11/27/2022 08:03:38 pm
Norman Lear deserves credit for addressing the issue of teenage-lesbiabism; that had never really been done before on network tv. This is essentially a distaff "Tea and Sympathy" episode. So we have the bullied character who is actually straight but doesn't confirm to gender norms of the time. She gets called "gay" in a derogatory manner from another character; and then she proves her heterosexuality by developing a crush on an offscreen male character. This is the plot formula of the 1956 John Kerr/Deborah Kerr movie Tea and Sympathy. In which the immortal line is delivered. "When you speak of this in the future, and you will, be kind..." Although both the movie and this episode are really about gender; not so much tolerance for homosexuality. They touch on gay issues. But they're really sympathetic to straight people who are unfairly stereotyped by their gender non conformity; and the painfulness of that situation. They don't really extend sympathy to gay people though. Still, Norman Lear was daring by taking it to this level; and he deserves credit for that. Even if a better ending would have been, "Sue Anne, it's ok that you're gay; or gender non conforming; or whatever you are... you don't have to fit in with society's narrow mindedness. " As opposed to, "Sue Anne it's ok you're a tomboy. Because we know you're not actually gay."
4/25/2023 06:21:06 pm
I’m glad homophobia on tv isn’t accepted now.
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