Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hey, Hey, Hey - I Miss Fat Albert

by Sophie


We weren't much of a TV household (something you find rather frequently among book people - correlation, perhaps?) We lived in the sort of late-60s split-level ranch you find all over the midwest, and our TV - small, basic, none too reliable - was housed in the partially-finished basement. Now, as a resident of basement-less California, I'd kill for some concrete-walled, window-welled, subterranean square footage to store stuff in, but at the time my brother and sister and I thought it a less than ideal place to hang out. The floor was linoleum, the furniture was hand-me-down. There was a faint odor of moulder.

I was and am a fidgety person. Sitting still wasn't easy for me, unless I was reading, so there weren't very many shows I'd make the effort for. (Star Trek was one; Land of the Lost, too; and later I was a huge Love Boat fan.) There was really only one Saturday morning show I watched with any regularity and that was Fat Albert.

Why did I love that show so much? Looking back on it, I suppose there were any number of reasons. My heart belongs to the underdog, and that bunch of North Philly kids was all underdogs, every one of them as hapless and, by turns, as unlucky as the next. Among them they seemed to have the full spectrum of social awkwardness covered, and since I thought I was permanently and innately mis-fit, I loved them all the more - for their terrible hats and indifferent style and inattentive parenting.

And of course I knew that Bill Cosby himself was half the voices on the show. I didn't mind. If Cosby animated half the real people in my life, I would have found it an improvement. He was grandfatherly before his time, benevolent to the core. He never slipped - his textured inner life, if he had one, was never revealed by loose-lipped mistresses or disgruntled ex-employees or wounded children.

Then there was that crazy music. There's nothing like 70's sitcom jingles, in my mind; it took me a few decades but I can say that I sort of miss that oog-y synthesizer and bouncing beat.

There have been various remake efforts and spinoffs and such. I don't care and I'll never watch them; I doubt the innocent, earnest, bittersweet milieu of that show could be duplicated outside of its time.

Here - a treat for those who remember, a novelty for those who don't - are the opening lines from every episode:

"This is Bill Cosby comin' at you with music and fun,
and if you're not careful you may learn something before it's done.
So let's get ready, OK? Hey, hey, hey!"

PS. A quick little shout-out to a good friend of the Criminal Minds, Jamie Freveletti, who was awarded Best First Novel at by the International Thriller Writers at Thrillerfest last week! (that's Jamie on the left)


Meredith Cole said...

I loved Fat Albert! Bill Cosby used to have more of an edge to him, and I loved his comedy records, too.

Do you think now if they had that show they'd have to call it something a little more PC? Hefty Albert? Big Boned Al? Just wondering...

Sophie Littlefield said...

Meredith, I'm sure you're right - and yet in that show "fat" was never the focus nor was it a particular handicap. I think fat has become ever more vilified and polarizing in the intervening years. On the other hand, there is a show out now that my daughter likes - can't remember the title - that aims to do a fair and positive treatment of being an overweight adolescent. I am fairly sensitive to issues of weight for a few reasons and I remember loving the fact that Albert was right in there with the other guys, doing everything they did - and more importantly, everything he *wanted* to do, for the most part, and was valued for himself. Oh, I loved that show! :)

Gabi said...

I only wish I had a pack of equally misfit, socially inept friends like Fat Albert. I also miss the cold concrete and butt poking springs of our basement couch. Funny how your post reminded me of some good times with my brother watching ball games and generally avoiding my sisters.

Chris said...

"We oughtta call you Summertime!"

"Summertime? Why?"

"No class!"

I loved that show. I do a mean FA "Hey, heh, HEY!" too. I also loved how Albert had the upbeat version, and then a bummed out version of hey, hey, hey too. I'll throw those out around the house sometimes. I loved that show.

I grew up in a house about as rural as you can get. We had only two TV stations, as cable wasn't available, and my youth predated satellite TV. So most of what people reference television-wise from back in the day I simply never saw. I DID see a lot of Fat Albert, though, and I think I'm a better person for it.

The benefit of growing up essentially without TV though is that I never watch it as an adult. It also made me a voracious reader as well.

Great post, Sophie!

Jen Forbus said...

I join the Fat Albert fans, too. And I still have a bunch of Cosby's comedy records. I use to cry laughing listening to those. I use to watch a lot of television but don't ever remember much in the way of Saturday morning TV. I think that was because we spent a lot of our Saturday mornings cleaning the house. We always had a list of chores as long as our arms and I swear my mom did it so we wouldn't watch TV!

And Gabi, I'll be part of your misfit gang! :-)

Steve Hockensmith said...

We had one of those basement-y television rooms, too. It wasn't the moldiness that bothered me: It was just plain creepy. That didn't stop me from watching waaaaaaaaaaaay too much TV down there, though. Fat Albert? Check. Love Boat? Double check.

What an odd combo those two shows make, actually. One made urban black culture seem sort of familiar and safe to suburban white kids. The other...well, Charo. Nuff said.

Steve Hockensmith said...

BTW, methinks this stroll down memory lane isn't complete without this:

That is one super-funky theme song. Some friends of mine who were in a funk-punk-ska band back in the day used to cover this, and let me tell ya -- it rocked the house every time.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Gabi, ball games are the one thing we *never* watched! We were the most sports ignorant family on the planet. I've gotten a little I watch lax with my son and A's with my daughter.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh Chris, I totally forgot about the bummed-out version...that dispirited sad little "hey hey hey...." - - just made you want to hug the guy...

Sophie Littlefield said...

Jen, Cosby's pure awesome. And did you see that photo - who knew he was *hot* in his day!! I just remember him from the later years but he was something to see. Sorry, that was totally inappropriate.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Steve: i could have happily hung out in your basement and visa versa, I suspect. Very astute pop culture decoding there, my friend - but I expect that from you.

Our basement had a bookshelf my dad built, and in it my brother collected EVERY Star Trek fan fic novel.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Fat Albert and the gang were fun! I never had finished basements. One of my friends had one. It was fun to hang out there, sort of like a tree house but underground. I watched my Saturday morning cartoons in my bedroom.

Good post, liked the underdog stuff too.:)

Steve Hockensmith said...

Wow, Sophie -- are you sure I wasn't *in* your family? Our downstairs TV room featured a huge bookshelf/"entertainment center" built by my dad. But I kept all my Star Trek novels upstairs in my room....

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks for bringing back some sweet memories, Soph--I loved Fat Albert, too, though my absolute favorites were slightly more subversive (Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle, and The Pink Panther).

Do you remember the comic strip "Wee Pals"? A bit like Fat Albert and the gang ... met the creator once when he visited my high school. Same positive kinds of messages, and we needed them then and still do.

And Charo--well, she was a force to be reckoned with, though I preferred Fantasy Island to Love Boat (an inseparable tandem from ABC). :)

And congrats to Jaime!! It was soooo cool to see her win!!!