Today, we look at a touching episode of What’s Happening!! that showed the softer side of Dee.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
All this month, I’ll be spotlighting great Black-centric TV episodes.
A problem that affected most shows involving younger characters is that the audiences will quickly latch on to the most over-the-top of the younger characters, and the show will slowly devolve into cartoonishness centered around that younger character. That’s basically what happened to What’s Happening!!, where Fred Berry’s outlandish Rerun character soon became the driving force of the series. And hey, the character was obviously interesting, so I get it, but it’s a shame that we lost the style of stories that the series opened up with, which were a good deal more heartfelt and down-to-Earth.
A perfect example of this was Season 1’s “The Hospital Stay,” where Raj (Ernest Thomas) goes into the hospital for a minor knee surgery. His roommate is a cranky old man played by Mel Stewart (Stewart was, like, 40 at the time, which was odd casting). Raj’s younger sister, Dee (Danielle Spencer), a standout on the series due to her acerbic nature, is able to cut through the gruff of the older man and actually befriend him. She discovers that he is estranged with his daughter due to her marrying a White man years ago. Dee also learns that the old man used to be a professional baseball player.
Raj, Rerun and their other friend, Dwayne (Haywood Nelson), can’t find any evidence of the old man having ever played baseball, but Dee and her and Raj’s mother (Mabel King) come home with a book Dee bought about the Negro Leagues. The old man is listed in there as a star player, and there’s a great bit where they reflect on all of the great players of the Negro Leagues who never got to be remembered the same way that other star players were (I think that we’ve generally done a better job with that in recent years, where players like Josh Gibson DO get enough coverage that baseball fans know them as well as they know most other older players. Not, like, Babe Ruth levels of fame, of course, but I think Josh Gibson is now as well known, or if not better known, than some major White former stars, like Mel Ott or Rogers Hornsby).
The gang comes up with a scheme to get the old man’s daughter (Hope Clarke) to visit her father, as Raj and Dee have figured out that while he was nominally in there for a hip injury, he has a lot more health problems than that, so the woman isn’t going to have much time to see her father again.
She visits a few weeks later, explaining that they DID get to reconnect, but he has now passed (it’s kind of weird that she was grateful enough to come visit Raj and Dee after her father died, and to give Raj her father’s radio, which he guarded closely in the hospital, but not grateful enough to let them know to come visit him BEFORE he died).
Dee was such a smartass that it was nice to see a softer side of the character. The whole episode (written by Alan Eisenstock and
Larry Mintz, and directed by Mark Warren) was very well handled.
Okay, if I’m going to have 328 more of these (and 20 more this month), I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at email@example.com!