Do the following words make your heart beat just a little faster?
'One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Shlemiel, shlimazel, hasenpfefer, incorporated."
If they do, then ABC has something truly special for you with "The Laverne & Shirley Reunion," at 8 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2).
The above doggerel, of course, was chanted at the start of each episode of "Laverne & Shirley" by Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams). For those linguists in the audience, it translates literally as, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Foolish person, chronically unlucky person, rabbit stew, incorporated," according to Leo Rosten's "The Joys of Yiddish" and "Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary."
Who says watching sitcoms, like "Laverne & Shirley," pickles the brain? Personally, I think my life is just a little bit richer for having heard those words almost every week from 1976 to 1983.
Worse, though I hate to admit it, I must say that my life is a little bit richer for having watched this low-budget, clip-job special that ABC is selling at top dollar to advertisers tonight.
I smiled, I chuckled, I laughed out loud (It's true -- I have no shame) the first time the special showed a clip of Lenny and Squiggy walking through the apartment door and saying, "hello, girls," in those cartoon voices.
I thought, "Lenny Kosnowski (Michael McKean) and Squiggy Squiggman (David L. Lander) -- could there be two dumber characters?".
The answer is no. But, then, I thought of all the pundits and cultural critic who saw the feature film "Dumb and Dumber" recently and rushed into print with essays about the dumbing-down of America. Not one of them seemed to remember Lenny and Squiggy or the fact that during the 1977-1978 television season "Laverne & Shirley" was America's highest-rated sitcom, with an audience of about 30 million television homes every week.
Furthermore, the three nearest competitors in Nielsen ratings that year were "Happy Days," "Three's Company" and "Charlie's Angels," each with just under 30 million television households tuned in each week. Do you still think "Dumb and Dumber" is a new phenomenon and that "dumbing-down" is really anything but a media buzzword coined by cultural snobs who have no real understanding of the history of popular culture?
"Laverne & Shirley," with Lenny and Squiggy, was dumb and dumber squared. And, yet, I'm serious about feeling enriched by them.
I'm not ready to compare the sitcom to Moliere and 17th Century farce -- as did Fred Silverman, the chief programmer at ABC in the mid-1970s. But the physical comedy -- especially by Marshall -- approaches the work of Lucille Ball.
More important is that these two dreamers -- working as bottle-cappers as the mythical Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee -- are so blue-collar. At some of its best moments, the sitcom dealt humorously with social class tensions, which are seldom discussed in a medium that religiously celebrates the myth of America as a classless society.
I wound up embracing this special -- even the flat-out lies Williams and Marshall now tell about how much everybody loved each other. The truth is that they fought like cats and dogs.
Now, if I could just fathom the deeper meaning of the opening chant. Could it be a proverb -- something like, "It is a foolish and unlucky person who builds a business based on rabbit stew."?