There's a scene from 1989's An Eight is Enough Wedding that had been pretty intense for me as a fourth-grader.
David and Tommy got into a violent brawl resulting in Tommy getting thrown out of David's cabin-in-the-woods bachelor party. Fists went flying when little Nicholas let it slip that Tommy (a pre-Charles in Charge Willie Aames) was still abusing drugs and alcohol. I'm sure watching this melodramatic moment today wouldn't carry much resonance, but back then, never had I expected these once-wholesome characters to get so Jerry Springer on each other.
The Wedding TV-movie was a sequel of sorts. Two years prior, An Eight is Enough Family Reunion premiered on NBC to stellar ratings. It was this telepic that kicked off my late-80s/early-90s obsession with The Reunion TV Movie Event, a phenomenon known for popping up every sweeps period. Like millions of other nostalgic Americans, I savored the kitsch, the modernized theme songs and the new hairstyles worn by favorite characters. However, there was always the frustrating casting to deal with. At least one member of an original cast could never commit to the televised reunion. Viewers would have to settle for an imposter, an actor who had to face the challenge of playing a character already loved and recognized by a massive audience.
It was widespread across the entire reunion TV-movie circuit. Mary Frann stepped in for Betty Buckley, the original Abby, in Family Reunion while Sandy Faison took over the role in Wedding. And it didn't stop there. 1988's A Very Brady Christmas saw the bright brood return sans the original Cindy, Susan Olsen. In her place was Jennifer Runyon, and the telecast would be tainted forever. Olsen would later return for The Bradys in 1990 when the sunshiny sitcom turned into a nighttime soap. However, audiences still didn't get to enjoy the complete original cast; Maureen McCormick opted not to sign on as Marcia, and Leah Ayres stepped into her shoes, an actress whose future career highlight was a multi-episode arc on Walker Texas Ranger (she was never seen again).
*Blogger's note: I had secretly gotten a kick out of watching The Bradys. Marcia became an alcoholic, Jan was barren, Peter turned into a man-whore, and Bobby became paralyzed from a nasty racecar collision...Good frickin' times.
Perhaps my reason for having reunions on the brain is the slow-burning anticipation for my 10-year high school reunion in New York later this year - that, and my recent run-ins with blasts from the past, whether online (thank you, Facebook) or in person.
Last week I reconnected with college alumni over martinis at Lola's in WeHo, a group of faces I hadn't seen in quite some time. We gathered to say goodbye to an acquaintance who, after six unsatisfactory years, had decided to dump Los Angeles for the East Coast. The six of us who met that night were the TV geeks of BU's College of Communication, crew members of BUTV's Bay State, the longest-running college soap in the country. I had been the head writer during my junior and senior years, fleshing out my Aaron Spelling fantasies, participating in the casting of new faces and plotting out ludicrous twists and turns for future episodes. For a brief moment in time I had been a mini Melrose-esque mastermind, and - not to toot my horn - I was pretty damn good.
To be honest, I was hesitant to rendezvous at a bar I hadn't visited in four years to see people with whom I hadn't interacted in nearly six years. The rekindling of any kind of relationship is a taxing thing. There's the obligatory rehashing of what you've been up to/where you've been, the feigned interest in what others have accomplished, and the empty promise to "do it again soon." Then the reality settles in, the possible truth of the matter, which is: There's a good reason why you haven't been in touch with these people in such a long time. You either realize that A) Wow, these people have become pretty boring or B) Gosh, I'm so far removed from them because I've already created my own little world filled with my own fabulous friends, established inside jokes, and cherished shenanigans. What's the point of coming back together? Why bother restructuring a bridge that will never be crossed again?
My hesitation quickly went out the door after finishing two martinis and later scarfing down some onion rings at Hamburger Mary's down the street. Next thing I knew, I was riding down Santa Monica Boulevard in a BMW coupe driven by a guy I hadn't seen since we drunkenly swapped Banana Republic jackets at a 2002 wrap party in a basement somewhere in Boston.
On the other hand, reconnecting online with nearly forgotten friends at least gives you the luxury of hiding behind profiles and random invitations to quiz each other on Tom Hanks films. There exists a pleasure, albeit a brief one, you get from seeing how an elementary school buddy has grown and changed. Sure, it's cool and somewhat entertaining to see how the shy nerd has blossomed into a hottie, how the hotshot athlete has become a paunchy prick. It's cute to see that the girl who nicknamed me Hiko-Biko in junior high shares a similar love for Ugly Betty and The Killers. Seeing their transformations helps you appreciate your own metamorphosis and validate yourself a little more.
I'm fine leaving it all behind though. Since living in Los Angeles, I have learned to let go of the tiresome efforts to keep in contact with every human being who has ever said "It's nice to meet you" over a beer or Red Bull vodka at any given mixer. Scratch that - I haven't completely given up on it; I have just become more discerning in my personal process of friend-picking. It's a skill one learns to perfect, especially in this city of the sincerity-challenged.
What does it say about me when the only friends I'd want to be reunited with are the ones that can be saved on my TiVo?
I don't see any reunion TV-movie events on the horizon anytime soon, although a return to Melrose Place and 90210 is long overdue. Come on, writers. You're back to work. Resurrect Amanda Woodward and Brandon Walsh.
After all, isn't 90s nostalgia in?