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The Marshall Chronicles aired from April until May 1990 on ABC.
This half-hour sitcom could have been subtitled " Woody Allen Goes To High School." It's central character was a New York City teenager who resembled a young Allen, trying to get through high school and sharing his observations with the camera. Marshall ( played by 24 year old Joshua Rifkind), was a 17 year old , curly haired Manhattan teen whose main goal was to outflank his rival Johnny ( Gabriel Bologna) for the affections of sweet Melissa ( Nile Lanning), the girl in the fuzzy pink sweater.
Others in the cast were Bradley Gregg as Sean, Marshall's best friend; Meredith Scott Lynn as the hyper Leslie; Jennifer Salt as Cynthia, Marshall's level-headed Mom; and Steven Anderson as Mike, Marshall's soft-spoken Dad, a doctor.
Marshall didn't have much time to get Melissa away from Johnny as his daydreams were canceled after only 5 episodes. A leftover episode of this series aired on July 22, 1990.
A Review from the LA Times
TV REVIEW : 'Marshall Chronicles' Delivers Laughs, Characters
April 04, 1990|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC
TV REVIEW : 'Marshall Chronicles' Delivers Laughs, Characters
April 04, 1990|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC
"The Marshall Chronicles" is not only smart and funny, but also feels like no other comedy in prime time.
The ABC series premieres at 9:30 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, giving America a New York-style sitcom that's Big Apple to the core and introducing, in teen-ager Marshall Brightman, a fresh, endearingly offbeat hero whose adventures you look forward to following week after week.
Joshua Rifkind is a curly haired, bespectacled whiz as Marshall, a smart kid from a well-to-do family in Manhattan. The setting and humor are strictly urban. There's a subway where the bizarre is routine. There are street people. And there's a high school where leather-jacketed hoods roam the halls and torment the Marshall Brightmans of the world as well as their teachers (Teacher: "Put the desk down, please!").
All the while Marshall speaks to the camera ("Man must struggle to understand a world that is barely knowable") and to his fellow students: Johnny (Gabriel Bologna), Melissa (Nile Lanning) and Leslie (Meredith Scott Lynn). Their multi-tiered relationship works this way: Leslie is stuck on Marshall who is stuck on Melissa who is stuck on Johnny, a sort of benevolent hood not unlike The Fonz of "Happy Days."
Written by creator/executive producer Richard Rosenstock and directed by James Burrows, the premiere finds Marshall seemingly being pursued by Melissa, only to discover that not all is as it seems. It's a crisp, witty show.
The second episode, in which a quiz cheating scheme goes awry, is less successful. But Episode 3, featuring a Jewish wedding (this one was written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs), not only pushes the right ethnic buttons but also is howlingly funny and gives Rifkind and Lynn some wonderful funny/tender moments together as guilt-ridden Marshall and the neurotic Leslie.
Whether a series with reference points from Jonestown to Phillip Roth plays in Peoria remains to be seen. But it sure plays in this house.
A Review From The New York Times
April 11, 1990
An Earnest Teen-Ager in the Big City, on ABC
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
On Wednesday nights, ABC is doing nicely with one teen-ager, an unbelievably precocious all-American type named ''Doogie Howser, M.D.'' So what's the next logical step? Go find another teen-ager, of course, perhaps just reasonably precocious. So now, at 9:30, immediately following Doogie, ABC is offering ''The Marshall Chronicles.'' Marshall Brightman is a New York high-school student and a one-boy compendium of Jewish family jokes. If you're looking for major influences, start with Woody Allen.
Played with easygoing but wary charm by Joshua Rifkind, Marshall is a tall, skinny, achingly self-conscious young man who spends most of his time trying to do the decent thing in a world that seemingly couldn't care less. Although his parents appear to be well-heeled professionals - mumbling Dad is a doctor, fretting Mom an editor of children's books - Marshall attends a public school that seems to be abundantly stocked with menacing hoods who are not especially fond of pantywaist smarties wearing glasses.
Even getting to school can be a challenge. Marshall and his best friend, Sean Bickoff (Bradley Gregg), squeeze into crowded, graffiti-covered subway cars. Following recent transit cleanups, that strikes a false note. ''Really tangy urine smell in here this morning,'' Marshall observes. That bit of realism still holds. At school, he copes with teachers desperately trying to bring contemporary relevance to the learning process. (''So if you think about it,'' one says hopefully, ''Socrates was a kind of righteous dude.'') Marshall's romantic fantasies are pretty much monopolized by the blond and silky Melissa Sandler (Nile Lanning) who, unfortunately, is in love with the streetwise tough Johnny Parmetko (Gabriel Bologna), a perfect Fonz Redux specimen. As Marshall puts it in one of his asides directly to the camera - the way Woody would do it - Johnny has the I.Q. of a brisket. But Marshall will spend a good deal of his time serving as go-between for the unlikely lovers, talking Melissa out of getting a tattoo (''Don't you understand?'' he warns her. ''Johnny doesn't want you to change'') and reluctantly agreeing to help cheat on a history exam. (''What I did was wrong,'' Marshall admits, ''but still, what a rush! The scheme was perfect.'') Eventually caught, a humiliated Marshall prays, ''Please God, a stroke.''
Coming up is an episode in which Marshall is invited by the brainy, aggressive Leslie Barash (Meredith Scott Lynn) to be her escort at her sister's wedding in Great Neck. The promised highlights include herrings from four different lands, two ice sculptures of the bride - one with her old nose - and Uncle Morty and Aunt Ceil doing their ''classic hustle demonstration.''
Marshall cringes but ends up going anyway, dancing the merengue while the exuberant band leader assures one and all that ''the place is posh and there's plenty to nosh.'' Here, obviously, is material as precious to the Jewish community as tales of growing up with nuns and priests are to Irish Catholics. In case anybody misses the point, Marshall moans, ''I feel like I'm trapped inside Philip Roth's cerebellum.''
Created by Richard Rosenstock, who is also executive producer of the series, Marshall is a likable fellow, although his self-deprecation binges are sometimes overly smug around the edges. He seems to have a bottomless supply of relatives for his humorous hyperbole. Going to a basketball game with his chronically fuzzy dad becomes the ''greatest miracle since my Aunt Ida figured out the call-waiting.'' Need a car in a hurry? ''My cousin Marvin owns a limo service in Jersey. I'll call his son Lenny at the ashram.'' Is a beautiful woman beckoning suggestively? ''I'm free forever,'' Marshall insists, ''except for July 9 when I promised to take my grandmother to see Eddie Fisher.''
In short, Marshall is like half my classmates at City College some 30 years ago. What's not to like?
JEWISH JOKES - THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES, created and written by Richard Rosenstock; directed by James Burrows; director of photography, Ronald W. Browne; editor, Andy Ackerman; costumes by Bambi Breakstone; music by Gary Chang and Barry Goldberg; production designer, Garvin Eddy; produced by Jay Kleckner for Sweetum Productions in association with Viacom Television; Mr. Rosenstock, executive producer. Tonight on ABC at 9:30 P.M.
Marshall Brightman...Joshua Rifkind
Johnny Parmetko...Gabriel Bologna
Sean Bickoff...Bradley Gregg
Melissa Sandler...Nile Lanning
Leslie Barash...Meredith Scott Lynn
Cynthia Brightman...Jennifer Salt
Michael Brightman...Steve Anderson
A Review From Entertainment Weekly
By Ken Tucker
THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES (ABC, WED., APRIL 4, 9:30-10 P.M.)
The Marshall Chronicles crosses The Wonder Years with Burns and Allen-but in this case, the Allen is Woody, not Gracie. It's a sitcom about the coming-of- age of a sensitive young fellow (Joshua Rifkind), a Woody-ish nebbish with big, sad eyes who often addresses the camera directly, the way George Burns used to do. At its best, The Marshall Chronicles transcends its influences; at its weakest, it succumbs to them. There's a certain tone of gee-it's-tough- being- a-teen that's straight out of The Wonder Years, but Chronicles is too smart to be a rip-off. Unlike Kevin in The Wonder Years, Marshall is no wistful naif; he's a bright young man living in a world gone ever-so-subtly crazy. Marshall goes to his English class, for example, and the teacher dramatically reads a few lines from the day's poetry lesson; as she enunciates solemnly, you begin to realize she's reading the first verse of Warren Zevon's song ''Werewolves of London.'' It's a throwaway joke-no one comes out and actually evokes Zevon-and all the funnier for being so casual. You know The Marshall Chronicles is hip because it uses a Randy Newman song for its theme; you know it's rooted in traditional sitcom form because it's verseen by Richard Rosenstock, who worked on Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley (please note: second Laverne & Shirley reference in this week's column -weird, huh?). It's a show bold enough to make very clear that Marshall is Jewish (such ethnic identifications are still surprisingly rare in sitcom- land) yet conser- vative enough to include a hoody character all-too- wearyingly modeled after the Fonz (please note: second Fonzie oh, never mind). Joshua Rifkind is wonderfully deadpan and low-key, but after while his plaintive speeches to us TV-watchers become annoyingly cute. And The Marshall Chronicles is too promising a show to settle for cute. B
An Article from The New York Times
Some Eggheads Have Their Sunny Side, Too
By WENDY WASSERSTEIN;
Published: June 24, 1990
When I was in high school, my secret weapon for gaining admittance to the college of my choice was competing on a television talk show called ''The World Youth Forum.'' Broadcast weekly on CBS, the forum was in my mind a mini-version of ''It's a Wise Child,'' the radio program on which all the members of J. D. Salinger's Glass family were participants. In other words, my network appearance brought me closer to the bright and sensitive Franny and Zooey.
On the eve of my video debut, I was up all night reading my brother's and sister's college papers. I was prepared with answers: The solution to New York City's problems was obviously an ombudsman, and if I could travel to anywhere in the world it would have to be India, since I was certain all my fellow panelists in 1966 would say the Soviet Union.
As I sat in the studio on West 57th Street in Manhattan the day of the taping with my tristate senior high school colleagues, I became incensed that kids like us were relegated to Saturday-afternoon programming. What I hadn't realized was that while we were being broadcast, my mother headed to the television department of Bloomingdale's and turned all the channels to ''The World Youth Forum.'' It was one way to boost the ratings.
Times have changed. Ombudspeople are seldom said to be the answer for all the city's problems. ''Youth Forum'' mothers now have VCR's to replay their children's shinning moments and needn't run to Bloomingdale's. I still have opinions on world problems, but I wouldn't go on a public panel to chat about them - I leave that to far wiser children.
But perhaps the most pervasive change has been the recent invasion of tolerable whiz kids onto night-time television, including the 16-year-old Dr. Doogie Howser, the ever-responsible Becca Thacher of ''Life Goes On,'' the exemplary Laura Winslow of ''Family Matters'' and the temporarily retired Marshall Brightman of ''The Marshall Chronicles.'' Tagging right along are the reflective Kevin Arnold of ''The Wonder Years'' and the intolerably underachieving Bart Simpson. This past season, in prime-time families, again and again bright made right.
Take, for instance, ''The Marshall Chronicles,'' ABC's recently shelved saga of a sensitive and intelligent Manhattan high school senior, played engagingly by Joshua Rifkind. When Marshall Brightman - get it? - found out that he scored in the not-startling mid-500's on his S.A.T.'s, he was devastated. He confided to the viewers, ''Even when my grades weren't good, deep down you know you're O.K. because you're smart. At least that's a way to be a little special.''
Chances are Marshall was a ''World Youth Forumer'' or was at least representing France at the East Coast Model United Nations. When Marshall was asked by the girl of his dreams how he spent the weekend, he confessed he watched an opera and on Saturday night he wrote poetry. Imagine what the late great Fonz would say to such a weekend. Yet what is far more fascinating and timely is the emergence of Marshall's female counterpart: the intelligent prime-time young woman. Becca Thacher (Kellie Martin) on ABC's touching ''Life Goes On'' describes herself vis-a-vis her older sister as ''the one with the brain.'' She is no kitten, although her father from time to time does know best.
To the chagrin of both her parents, Becca, who is 15, enters a beauty pageant. She's convinced that there's more to life than getting A's and helping boys with their term papers. While at the pageant, Becca's roommate, a blonde teen queen, informs her that when all you have is looks you have to make use of them while you're young. From this encounter Becca learns a little humanity, a little humility - after all, this is night-time television - and that she wouldn't change places with a teen queen for anything. Becca is so dear and intelligent you want to call up Marshall and give him her phone number.
Laura, the oldest sister on ''Family Matters'' is another charming and sensitive brain. A 12-year-old, Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) consistently beats her brother at Space Invaders and spends time in study hall actually studying. Like Becca Thacher, she suffers from a sensitive girl's insecurities. Also much like Ms. Thacher, she worries that her time with the books has kept her from a date for the dance. But when Laura throws her hat into the dating ring, she actually telephones her crush. She triumphs once again with humility and humanity.
Actually, it seems no matter how brilliant these teenagers are, their curiousity still centers on the basic birds and bees. For instance, Kevin Arnold on ABC's ''Wonder Years'' enters junior high school and is immediately under pressure from his older brother to get to second base with Kevin's girlfriend. For hours he pours over his sister's copy of ''Our Bodies, Ourselves.'' Before Kevin even takes a walk with his beloved best friend, Paul (Josh Saviano), the ''four-eyed'' genius next store, swipes for him a copy of ''Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Sex.''
Even the most brilliant kid to ever show his face on television seems stumped by sex. Doogie Howser M. D., of the ABC series of the same name, got perfect S.A.T. scores at age 6 - I hope Marshall Brightman never heard of him. He proceeded to graduate from Princeton at 10 and pass the medical boards at 14. But when it comes to going all the way with his girlfriend, Doogie (Neil Patrick Harris), for all the right reasons, gets only to first base. He writes to his computer journal, ''Today I kissed my first girl. Today I also lost my first patient. Life will never be the same.'' All Dobie Gillis wanted at 16 was a girl who was dreamy. Heaven knows what would have happened if he and his sidekick, Maynard G. Krebs, ever got loose in an emergency ward.
The mere existence of Doogie Howser being chased around the hospital by a nurse who coyly tells him, ''You're such a good doctor, we forget sometimes you're only 16,'' is enough to make me miss the days of Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. I'm glad Doogie wasn't on my ''Youth Forum'' show. I wouldn't have stood a chance.
Perhaps the smartest smart kid of all is Lisa Simpson, sister of the bratty Bart, in Fox's animation hit ''The Simpsons.'' Lisa is sent home from school for being, as she puts it, ''the saddest girl in grade No. 2.'' She is beyond S.A.T.'s or dating dilemmas. Lisa has stumbled onto existential angst. She wonders if it would make any difference if we never existed. Lisa is a very deep and very wise child. Franny and Zooey would, I believe, have approved.