With the release and success of the movie American Graffiti, the 1950s, and the culture that went along with it, suddenly became the decade that the teenagers of the 70s were yearning to be apart of. With the new 1950s craze, a television show, that took audiences back to the 1950s each week, was suddenly given the green light, despite being previously turned down by the networks. That show was none other than Happy Days. Happy Days gave viewers the opportunity to travel back to a time when life was simpler. From the very first episode, Garry Marshall and his crew felt that it was more important to tell the characters' stories rather than spend the time introducing the characters and filling in the audience to what each character's role would be in the series. They knew the audience would love the characters even more if they were given the chance to get to know them through stories and create their own opinions about them, rather than being told what they should think and feel about each character. They were absolutely correct.
In the "second" pilot, the audience is introduced to the All-American teenager, Richie Cunningham, whose problems and struggles of being a teenager in the 1950s would lend itself to the plot of each week's episode. Ron Howard's boy next door looks and personality, allowed the audience to not see Richie Cunningham as a character, but rather as a well-loved friend from high school or the boy who lived next door. They could also identify themselves with Richie as he faced some of the same problems they had or were currently going through. A simple character was able to bring together the generation gap between parents and children by showing the children of the 70s that their parents, the children of the 50s, went through the same "growing pains" they did and truly do understand the struggles they are currently going through. So, it only makes sense that the show's writers would make Richie's first "growing pain" something every person went through at least once in their life, young love.
After weeks of pining over Mary Lou Milligan, played by Kathy O'Hare, Richie finds himself fixed up with her thanks to his best friend Warren "Potsie" Weber, played by Anson Williams. After being informed by Potsie of Mary Lou's reputation, Richie becomes unsure to whether or not he wants to go through with the date. Richie finally gets up the nerve, with a little help from Potsie, and asks Mary Lou to the movies. However, she informs him that she cannot go because she has to babysit that night. Assuming that his worries are over, Richie is blindsided when Mary Lou asks him if he would like to help her babysit. After being pressured into it by Potsie, Richie, reluctantly, agrees. Potsie continues to try to help Richie with Mary Lou by informing him that when Mary Lou begins to twirl her hair it means she wants to neck. Potsie even takes it a step further when he brings a bra, closed by hooks, to Arthur's, later renamed Arnold's, so Richie can practice unhooking it. This, of course, mortifies Richie and makes him even more nervous. It is because of these little moments, throughout the episode, that it becomes quite apparent that the innocence Ron Howard brings to the character of Richie Cunningham is the reason why viewers instantly fell in love with the All-American boy.
Before Richie asks Mary Lou out to the movies, the audience meets two other characters that they would grow to love; Ralph Malph, played by Donny Most, and Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler. The writers made it very clear that Fonzie was your typical James Dean character minus the leather jacket. The network executives were adamant that Winkler could not wear his, now iconic, leather jacket because they did not want the audience to see Fonzie as a "hood". Nevertheless, the all-knowing, Don Juan of Arnold's makes his presence known with a simple head nod and his, soon to be famous, thumbs up gesture. The audience doesn't even hear Fonzie speak a word until the last two minutes of the show, but the presence of "cool" can be felt from the character throughout the entire episode. Ralph Malph, on the other hand, is far from the lovable, joke-telling goofball that viewers adore. Instead, he seems to be just another high school classmate of Richie's. The audience doesn't really get the chance to experience Ralph Malph's larger than life personality in this episode, but thankfully, his personality becomes quite apparent in future episodes, showing "he still has
The audience is also given an opportunity to meet the rest of the Cunningham family in this premiere episode. While the majority of the family is only on the screen for a matter of minutes, viewers still receive a brief glimpse at the personalities of the characters that make up the remaining Cunningham family. This allows the viewing public to quickly realize that Richie is nothing like his two other siblings, Chuck and Joanie, played by Gavin O'Herlihy and Erin Moran, respectively. Richie's older brother, Chuck, is your stereotypical jock, who is so obsessed with sports that there is very little room left "upstairs" for anything else. Joanie, on the other hand, keeps her two older brothers in check with her quick wit and sarcasm, proving to her brothers that even though she is their younger sister, she can still hold her own. Richie's mother, played by Marion Ross, is your classic 1950s housewife and mother. Marion Cunningham believes that her main purpose in life is to take care of her husband and children, which she beautifully demonstrates to the viewers as she persistently questions Richie at dinner, wanting desperately to know why he hasn't eaten a single thing. While the personalities of these three characters are very much present in this episode, their personal relationships with Richie are pretty much nonexistent, except for one. Howard Cunningham's, played by Tom Bosley, wonderful relationship with his middle child can be seen throughout the entire episode. Whether it is making Richie smile at the dinner table knowing his son is a ball of nerves or giving Richie advice about coming clean to his friends about the lie he has told, viewers can immediately see the close bond between these two characters. Bosley's and Howard's heartwarming portrayal of father and son will, ultimately, create one of the greatest father and son bonds in television history.
"All The Way" magnificently sets up the tone and personality of the show, allowing the audience to have a better understanding of what the show's creator, Garry Marshall, wanted for this heartwarming television series. It is always said that if you truly want to understand something you need to start back at the beginning, so by watching the episode that started it all, viewers will begin to understand why a show that captured America's heart more than 40 years ago is still attracting new generations of viewers and will continue to do so. Just like those who viewed it in 70s, they, too, want to be given a chance to see what life was like so very long ago.