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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Retro Review: The Nanny

Duration: 1993-1999 (CBS) 
No of seasons: 5 
Release date: (US) 3 November 1993
DVD release by Shout! Factory 
Produced by: High School Sweethearts, Sternin & Frasier Ink
Cast:  Fran Drescher, Charles Shaughnessy, Daniel Davis, Lauren Lane, Nicolle Tom, Benjamin Salisbury, Madeline Zima, Renee Taylor 

Fran Fine (played by Fran Drescher) is a nasal voiced cosmetics seller from Flushing Queens, New York, who was fired from her previous job. To make matters worse, she is also dumped by her boyfriend. Fran then finds herself selling cosmetics in upper Manhattan and living under the roof of her new employer: a Broadway producer from the UK, widower Mr Maxwell Sheffield (British actor Charles Shaughnessy, who was known to U.S audiences on the soap opera 'Days of Our Lives'). And interestingly, in Max we have one of the few leading characters of a US sitcom, who isn't American. He hires her to be his nanny to his 3 children, Maggie, Brighton and Grace and from there on wards, Fran becomes quite attached to the kids & over time, she changes theirs and their father's lives in a positive way. 

This plot and the show's nanny premise follows in the same footsteps as NBC's first 2 seasons of 'In The House' and ABC's 'Who's The Boss?': here we have a person who had a previous job in an earlier life, only for it to be cut short in unforeseen or unfortunate circumstances. S/he is then turning their attentions to babysitting, or to put it another way - looking after the children, whilst the parent is out working. In addition, to save rent costs, they would live in the same house as the employer. They would sleep in a separate room. Notice that with The Nanny, In The House and Who's The Boss?, 2 striking similarities they all share, is that first of all, the relationship between the parent and babysitter, is always male and female driven. Rarely in nanny sitcoms are both the characters of the same gender; Tony and Angela, Marion and Jackie, Fran and Max. 

The other similarity they have is the nanny employees work for their employers, who have a) been divorced from a previous marriage or b) their partner died or passed away. Here with nanny sitcoms, we don't see plots where the set of parents, hire the babysitter and for them to take care of their kids. It's been mostly single parent characters. 

In contrast to In The House and Who's The Boss?, The Nanny sees the main female character operating as a nanny, as opposed to the male character on the other shows. 

The Nanny is the better sitcom compared to the other 2 shows. Why?, well because whilst I really enjoyed In The House and Marion and Jackie's camaraderie and interactions, I felt that by looking at it from a show's standpoint in terms of the direction, In The House should've stuck with the nanny theme throughout the series and kept Debbie Allen on board for the entirety of the show. They didn't and the show tanked afterwards. With 'Who's The Boss?', looking at it today, it was sort of cheesy and dated but it was also nice. It played it too safe for my liking and it lacked the cutting edge & silliness The Nanny had. 

The Sheffield household is finally completed with CC and Niles (the other Niles who is not from Frasier); CC is Max's business partner who becomes smitten with jealously over Max and Fran's developing friendship as employees and friends, whilst Niles the butler is the show's very own Geoffrey of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air/Florence Johnston of The Jeffersons with his brand of deadpan & acerbic humour and sarcastic wit, as well as digs at CC. The pair of whom continually snipe at each other at every given opportunity. 

Fran's mother Sylvia (played by Renee Taylor, who was on a season 2 episode of Caroline In The City) treads a fine line between wacky and subtle and understanding and supportive of her daughter's decisions. Fran's family and friends form the backbone of her Jewish upbringing & roots, and this translates well into the humour too. 

The formula on this show is very old school: it has a whiff of 'I Love Lucy' blended with 'Who's The Boss?'. People have complained about Fran Drescher's Queens 'New Yoik' voice as being too nasel-y and grating, but with a premise like this, and the way the show is presented to the audience, I think this works to Fran's advantage and it gives character to Miss Fine. 

One may aptly sum up The Nanny as the Jewish 'Who's The Boss?'; because that is what it is, and it is like I said earlier better than 'Who's The Boss?'. What made this show tick was its approach to the traditional multicam sitcom that was old school in nature but it also felt fresh, edgy and inviting in its delivery. Whereas everyone dressed and looked so conservatively with their dark suits and attires, Fran would come out wearing a red dress or leather outfit. Or dress and look & act like a man in the hilarious episode, 'Stock Tip' from season 2 (see image below).  

A lot of viewers today may not appreciate the traditional multicamera situation comedy with the audience laughter in the background; which is a type of programme American television today is sorely and desperately lacking today. But for those who do appreciate multicam sitcoms, The Nanny was and is a really good show.

There aren't too many complaints about it, but if I have to have 2 tiny gripes in regards to The Nanny, it is that the final season wasn't as good as the earlier seasons and though I enjoyed the romantic chemistry between Max and Fran, the show was less amusing and funny during the last season. Though I'm glad it didn't last more than 6 seasons and that The Nanny had a good send-off. 

Fran and Max's relationship was handled really well by the writers; even when they got together and were eventually married, it held up on its own and didn't crack and disintegrate into pieces like other sitcom couples' post-will-they-won't-they relationships, due to the poor writing and change of direction of the shows. Usually, when 2 people get together, it signals a jump-the-shark moment and the downfall of a sitcom; not with The Nanny. My favourite episode, which also best typifies their relationship and love they have for one another, is when Fran and Max are stranded on a desert island on the season 6 opener 'The Honeymoon's Overboard', right after getting hitched

Overall, The Nanny is one of the most interesting and underrated sitcoms of the 1990s alongside heavy hitters such as Friends, Frasier.  

Personally speaking, it is better than the previous decades' 'Who's The Boss?', The Nanny is an example of how to do the nanny sitcom (no pun intended) justice, without making it corny and schmaltzy. Entertaining, amusing to boot with some really great characters you'd root and cheer for, if you're a fan of multicam sitcoms and don't mind a bit of romance on the side too, then The Nanny is worth recommending. 


Season ratings (out of 10)

1 to 5 - 9 
6        - 8
Overall: 9 out of 10 

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