Why is it that the US seems to be very good at creating unusual sitcoms? Â Sure the UK has produced a number of popular and well loved shows but if you like a more out there slant to your comedy the Americans seem to be best at it, from old classics such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie to the subject of this post, Mork and Mindy.
Mork and Mindy was actually one of the many spin offs from the immensely popular Happy Days, believe it or not! Â I know it might seem unlikely that a show set in the 1950’s could spawn a (then) present day show about an alien but its true. Â The character of Mork (played by Robin Williams in his big TV break) first appeared in an episode of Happy Days where he tried to abduct Richie Cunningham as a study subject to take back to his home world Ork. Â Luckily, the Fonz prevented this and Mork went back empty handed.
The spin off show started in 1978 and saw Mork returning to Earth in his egg shaped spaceship to further study humans. Â He befriends student Mindy (Pam Dawber) and ends up living in her attic space when she discovers that he is actually an alien, a fact that she keeps secret from her friends and family despite Mork’s often bizarre behaviour, strange language (shazbot is obviously a sort of curse word on Ork) and propensity to drink liquids through his finger.
Robin Williams was best known at the time on the stand up comedy circuit, and was skilled in the art of improvisational comedy. Â Much of Mork’s dialogue in the show was ad-libbed by Williams during filming, and indeed it got to the point where the writers would often insert gaps in the script for Williams to do his stuff.
Each episode of the programme involved Mork investigating some aspect of human life and then reporting back to Orkan leader Orson. Â Mork would do this telepathically, sitting cross legged on the sofa and chanting “Mork calling Orson, come in Orson”. Â Orson had a booming voice and despite never really seeing him we had to assume he was a bit on the portly side, since Mork would often refer to him using phrases like “Your immenseness”.
The reports consisted of Mork, clad in his spacesuit, talking to the unseen Orson in front of a black background. Â Of course, Mork never usually got things quite right, but these were often the only time in the show that Mork was anywhere close to serious. Â All his reports ended with him tweaking his ears and say “nanu nanu”, which I presume means goodbye in Orkan.
The show lasted for four seasons, and whilst initially extremely successful it suffered in future years when the format was meddled with. Â Initially the show featured Mindy’s father, Fred, and grandmother, Cora, as recurring characters, but in the second series, in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience, they were dropped and replaced by brother and sister Remo and Jean DaVinci who ran a deli, and grumpy neighbour Mr. Bickley, who wrote the rhymes for greetings cards.
The third season saw Mindy’s father and grandmother return to the show along with the DaVinci’s and in the fourth and final series Mork actually married Mindy and started a family. Â However, as had been previously mentioned in the show, Orkans actually aged backwards. Â One day Mork laid an egg (it was enormous, and must have been quite painful to pass!) and out came their son Mearth, a fully grown, more elderly man but who still acted more like a human toddler in the way he both spoke and dressed. Â To further emphasise the gag Mearth’s assigned Orkan teacher was played by a young girl, presented as being a wise and trusted member of the Orkan race.