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Saturday, 5 October 2013

Retro Review: Fame TV Series

(*Originally posted on IMDB 2010) 

Debbie Allen - Choreographer, dance consultant, constant staging, director
Duration: 1982 - 1987 (NBC)
No of seasons: 6
Release date: Jan 7 1982 (US), June 17 1982 (UK) 
Produced by MGM
Cast: Debbie Allen, Carlo Imperato, Gene Anthony Ray, Albert Hague, Carol Mayo Jenkins, Bill Hufsey, Valerie Landsberg, Jesse Borrego, Erica Gimpel, Lee Curreri, Nia Peebles, Cynthia Gibb, Lori Singer, Janet Jackson


'In Hindsight, The TV Show Was Superior To The Movie'

Just like with the movie, I myself was too young to ever remember the TV series of Fame. I was 1 years old at the time (was born in 1981 and an 80s baby)- I never saw a single episode on TV in the UK when it was aired. But as I grew up, especially in the 00s, I read lots of things on the internet about 80s pop culture and the impact it had everywhere. Fame, as well as Flashdance and Footloose were the embodiment of the 1980s dance revolution. Culturally, it spawned things like Lycra and knee length socks. 

The Fame TV series was launched in 1982 amidst the back of the global success of the film itself- yet whilst the movie was gritty, raw and powerful in places, fans especially felt as if they knew very little about the characters themselves and how they had ended up at the performing arts school in New York. Thankfully, throughout the 6 seasons, the show was able to address that issue and focus more on the characters and their individual and collective situations. 

The movie was good, but looking back on it, it did lack that element of 'character' development. Yes we got to see Coco, Montgomery, Doris, Danny and Leroy but their parts were relatively speaking very small. There was also criticism from some fans that the themes in the movie rendition were too adult-orientated and R-rated, for a film supposedly depicting life at and behind a performing arts school. As well as the film played on 'stereotypes'- i.e. the black kid who is angry, aggressive in the shape of Leroy; Montgomery the closeted homosexual. 

Fame's appeal was now broad and mainstream- the movie's swearing, nudity, R-rated hardcore stuff had to be 'cleaned up'. Again, die- hard fans of the movie weren't too happy with this, but for everybody else it was just what this series needed to further extend its mass appeal to the audience. 

Many teenagers and young people who inspire and aspire to become a dancer, actor/actress or undertake other forms of performing and fine arts, would want to enroll at a performing arts/creative arts college or institution to help fulfill their ambition. Fame was that one series that showcased the lives of students at the NY performing arts school, as well as that of the tutors themselves. 

As well as it was the first real television series that gave viewers a glimpse of life in a performing arts school and for us to see what it was like as a student and a working member of staff, both within the school of the arts and outside of it. We got to see their professional lives, in addition to their personal lives and their personal relationships with other people. 

Dance student Coco Hernandez was now played by Erica Gimpel- she replaced Irene Cara, the original actress of that role in the movie, after she had disagreements, issues with the people behind Fame and her record company with regards to royalty payments for her hit, 'Fame'. In addition, the roles of Montgomery and wisecracks Doris Schwaltz and Danny Armatullo were performed by P.R Paul, Valarie Lansberg and Carlo Imperato respectively. 

The only main cast survivors from the original movie to make their transition to the small screen, were Gene Anthony Ray as would- be dancer, Leroy Jonston and Lee Cureri as music student Bruno Martelli. and then- newcomer, Julie aka Lori Singer joined the ranks. 

Carol Mayo Jenkins played English Lit teacher, Miss Sherwood, Professor Shorofsky was undertaken by the late Albert Hague and last but not least, Lydia Grant- who having lusted after Leroy in the movie, became a hard- as- nails, tough talking drill sergeant/ dance tutor. She was played by the ever talented and sublime, Debbie Allen. 

Debbie Allen's role in the movie was once again very minor, but in the show itself, she became a regular cast member and as Lydia waved her magic wand, slipped on her dancing shoes and danced and sang like never before. For all her production, directorial efforts on other shows, her association with Fame will live on in memory for generations to come. She was in many respects, the heartbeat of and driving force behind 'Fame's success and phenomenon. Almost everything she touched turned to gold. Debbie choreographed most of the dance routines, directed and produced the show, as well as act, dance AND she sang on the show too. Just wow! 

When I purchased the first season on DVD and throughout each episode, I was engrossed in and drawn by the quality of the story lines, as well as the dialogue. The writing in Fame is superb. The characterisations were much better suited for the small screen, as opposed to the big screen and it showed throughout with each episode. The original music numbers are great too, I felt like dancing myself! And the performances from all the cast members were fantastic. 

Overall, the TV series of Fame is better than the original movie. It is very much an extended version of the movie but has none of the expletives and adult themes. Of course, there was also the remake of the movie that came out in 2009 and whilst that is also more family orientated, that version of Fame is aimed more at the kiddie market, as opposed to (elder generations of) fans of the original film and TV show. 

If you are a fan of the 80s, and want to feel artistically and creatively inspired, then be sure to get hold of and watch Fame the TV series. 

'Fame', we'll always remember your name! ;)


Overall: 9 out of 10 

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