Sep 5, 2019

Teen Angels

A year before they caused a counterculture-establishment standoff with their Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-70), comic duo Tommy  and Dick Smothers starred in an "I've got a secret" sitcom, The Smothers Brothers Show (1965-66).

Dick, the "straight man," plays a young, hip, self-absorbed bachelor in the Bill Bixby mold.  The paranormal event that jolts him out of his heterosexist stupor is not a crashed spaceship, but a knock on the door: his irreverent, anarchic, "queer" brother Tommy, lost at sea two years ago, has returned as "an apprentice angel," assigned to oversee Dick's life and do good deeds.

The plots involved Tommy's good deeds -- reforming gangsters and juvenile delinquents, helping the homeless, helping a musician change his tune -- and Dick's fruitless attempts to continue his skirt-chasing in instead of accepting a supernatural, well-night omnipotent same-sex bond.

I don't remember much about the series -- I was very, very young at the time -- but I remember Tommy's marvelous nonchalance about gender transgressions. To liven up a nursing home, he puts on old-lady drag and cavorts with the old men.

Fast forward thirty years, and the premise was recast in Teen Angel (1997-98), starring Corbin Allred  (left) as Steve, a young, hip, self-absorbed high schooler in the Michael Cade mold.  Again, a knock on the door: his irreverent, anarchic, "queer' best friend Marty(Mike Damus), who died last year after eating a spoiled hamburger, has returned as "an apprentice angel," assigned to oversee Steve's life and do good deeds.

The plots involved Marty's good deeds -- mostly helping Steve pass tests, get on the wrestling team, get the lead in the school play, and so on.  The sibling relationship gone, Marty and Steve become a more obvious romantic couple; though they both display heterosexual interests, they are obviously devoted to each other.

Again, Marty displays a marvelous nonchalance about gender transgressions.  When Steve likes a  cheerleader named Jessica, Marty senses that she will reject him, so he morphs into Jessica to go on the date.

What can we learn about the social changes between 1965 and 1997:
1. MORE heterosexism.  More tongue-lolling, leering, moaning insistence that boys and girls together are the meaning of life.
2. MORE subtext. More touching, more tenderness, more caring.
3. Humorous gender transgressions are ok, but you still aren't allowed to be gay.


  1. Do you have any more underwear shots of Corbin Allred?

  2. Dick Smothers always played "girl-crazy," and Tommy Smothers always played the "gay" one.

    1. Well, his name is Dick. (And now I'm wondering when that joke became standard fare. Seemed to be used in DC Comics a lot in the 80s, so some time in the 70s?)

    2. A few minutes of internet research reveals that no one knows how "dick" became slang for "penis," but it dates at least from the 1940s. In "Kiss Me, Kate" (1948), Cole Porter includes a "dick joke," when Bianca sings that she will go with "any Tom, Dick, or Harry, any Tom, Harry, or...Dick."

  3. The first one is obvious to explain. Moral panic about gays in the 80s, coupled with looser (hetero)sexual standards in the 70s. These things never left until the new millennium, and even today, Hollywood doesn't seem to get it.


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