Between reading Full House Reviewed and Beth watching a lot of Norman Lear programs recently, I’ve been thinking about spin-offs, crossovers, and shared universes. I’m sure most of you are aware that The Jeffersons and Maude are both spin-offs of All in the Family, the former being about the Bunkers’ former neighbors and the latter Edith’s cousin. Good Times was in turn a spin-off of Maude, with Florida Evans having been Maude’s maid. And I’m not sure when I learned that Family Matters is a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, Harriette Winslow being the elevator operator at the newspaper where Larry and Balki worked.
I guess if Balki had trouble working a revolving door during the opening credits, he might have had similar trouble with the elevator. He presumably figured it out eventually, though, because Harriette was laid off from her job. I was wondering if that was when they disappeared Judy in order to save money, but that actually wasn’t until much later, and Wikipedia says that Harriette got another job in the same episode. So many shows have the characters living way beyond what their means would be in real life. Even the dirt-poor Bundys had their own house. On the other hand, I would actually think Carl Winslow would have been making a pretty good living as a Chicago cop. And their next-door neighbor was a professor, so he apparently was pretty well-off. Steve Urkel must have had access to some pretty expensive equipment for his inventions, not to mention all the money he would have had to spend paying off property damage from those same inventions. Getting back to my original theme, Steve appeared on a few other Miller-Boyett shows, his excuse for showing up on Full House being that he was visiting his cousin in San Francisco, who just happened to be in DJ’s class.
When Mark Linn-Baker appeared on Full House, however, it wasn’t as Larry, although he was still somebody’s cousin. I think they should have had one of Jesse’s relatives mention visiting Mypos. That was supposed to have been near Greece, right?
Of course, crossovers don’t always necessarily mean a shared universe. Sometimes they take place in episodes that are out of continuity for whatever reason, and other times they make no sense whatsoever. Characters from The Critic and The X-Files both appeared on The Simpsons, even though The Simpsons was a fictional show within the context of those other programs.
And while the idea that something can be both real AND the subject of fictional media might work in Oz books or Marvel Comics, it wouldn’t be that appropriate on sitcoms about middle-class families. I mean, not only are they not getting any money from a show all about their lives, but they’re not even aware of it? Actually, that reminds me of an episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon where some guy was stealing superheroes’ secrets in order to sell comics about them, and it ended with a fourth-wall-breaking gag in which Michelangelo acknowledged that there already was a TMNT comic.