After having been through the mill with each other (not to mention a full season of "Joanie Loves Chachi"), Joanie struggles with the fact the magic is gone with Chachi. She is now taking her education as a teacher seriously, while Chachi is concerned with his softball games and her attendance therein. Joanie confides to her father that she gets an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach when she sees Chachi, as she knows they're only going to fight. She comes to the conclusion it's over for good. Chachi, on the other hand, rallies to win back her affections in the most grandiose manner possible - leading to an unexpected, emotional, and definitely unusual denouement for any Happy Days episode in its 11-season history.
If I had to choose, The Ballad of Joanie and Chachi is the best, and most realistic episode dealing with romantic troubles of the "new" Happy Days (1980-1984). The writing is surprisingly deft, and there's no sugar-coated tying up of affairs in the final minutes. This is especially rare in an episode that doesn't end with the caption, "To Be Continued."
There must be a reason this episode stays in my mind 25 years later, and I believe it's due to the heartfelt approach taken. Anyone who has been through the gut-wrenching end of a relationship where the magic has seemingly disappeared into the ether will relate strongly to this Happy Days outing.
Where many of the episodes throughout the entire run of the series were somewhat superficial when attempting to deal with deeper issues (don't get me wrong; HD is my favorite show), this one is anything but. One scene were Howard is driving Joanie (while lamenting why he can never beat a particular traffic light before it turns red) at night, and she then bears her soul and weeps, knowing her relationship with Chachi is over is spot-on. It's so well-played one feels he or she's in the backseat observing a personal moment, and certainly not a sitcom. Otherwise haunting is the empty and dimly lit Arnold's diner when Chachi needs consoling from Fonzie. I never forget the perfect advice offered by a compassionate Winkler: "Right now, the pain is bigger than you are. But, every day, the pain will get a little bit smaller, until you are bigger than the pain."
Please take a second look at this episode (if possible, as we are still far away from the DVD release of Season 11). Of all the 200 plus episodes he directed, I think there's a reason the great Jerry Paris picked this one in which to appear. If you've ever had your heart broken, and you're a Happy Days fan, you'll find a special place for this one. A real gem.