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Old 04-23-2020, 02:05 AM   #1
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TV Looking Back on Short-Lived Early ’90s Series "What a Dummy!"

Short-Lived ’90s Series “What a Dummy!” Imagined Child’s Play as a Family-Friendly Sitcom [TV Terrors]
by Felix Vasquez Jr.
April 16, 2020

By 1990, "ALF" had worn out his welcome, and ET mania was running on fumes, but that didn’t stop studios from trying to produce their own smart talking mascot living in domestic bliss with a hapless family.

Obviously everyone had just about run out of ideas at this point, even twisting the formula of the nuclear family, but the last gasp of the gimmick came with “What a Dummy!”.

Starring a teenage Stephen Dorff, Annabel Armour, and Kaye Ballard, “What a Dummy!” is centered on a small family who is mourning the death of their great uncle Jackie Brannigan.

Shortly after his funeral, they inherit an antique chest from their great uncle. Said chest, of course, houses a sentient ventriloquist dummy named Buzz. Buzz (voiced by Loren Freeman), with his frizzy red hair, tacky suit and bulging eyes, belonged to Jackie, once a Vaudeville performer and expert ventriloquist.

Buzz takes a liking to the family he’s given to, and soon enough he’s meddling in their lives and causing all kinds of comedic antics. The sitcom is absolutely baffling and bizarre, especially in the way it tries to take a ventriloquist dummy and transform him into a family friendly TV mascot.

You can pin “What a Dummy!” being such a trash bag of TV entertainment on a lot of elements, but I like to think that it’s mainly the dummy who’s to blame.

There’s really just no way to argue the fact that ventriloquist dummies create genuine unease most of the time, and there’s no exception for Buzz. That’s especially true when the inadvertently creepy opening credits feature a still shot of the chest, with Buzz slowly cracking it open with his wooden hands. Whatever the mindset behind “What a Dummy!” was, it lacks a clear self awareness.

The closest we get on that front is when Dorff taunts brother Cory by warning that the chest might be a gateway to hell. Alas, the show never provides a ton of insight into the mechanics and physiology of Buzz, as the writers spend a lot of the time on sitcom clichés.

Dorff is the rebellious oldest brother, Tucker, who deals with Buzz alongside his younger brother, Cory, and their wise cracking little sister Maggie.

The budget for “What a Dummy!” is noticeably small, so much of the set pieces are limited, while Buzz (mostly stationary save for his head) appears in various places around the house with not a lot of notice. One moment he’ll be sitting at a piano bench, the next he’s on a couch, and then he’ll be at the kitchen dinner table gazing at everyone with his bulbous eyes and cracking wise.

Does he walk? Does he teleport? Does he commune with other ancient artifacts and plan to consume the body of Tucker?

Although it is god awful, you have to appreciate the balls of the producers trying to turn a ventriloquist dummy into a family friendly sitcom character. It’s not talked about very much these days, even by huge nineties nostalgia buffs, but it’s quite the television oddity that has to be seen to be believed.

It’s very hard to find episodes of “What a Dummy!” online, in any kind of format. Even with Stephen Dorff’s name behind it, there isn’t a single episode on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray or streaming. Maybe someday someone will find a cache of episodes buried in a parking lot and release them for public consumption.
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