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Wednesday, August 5, 2009
  DVD Review: Parker Lewis Can't Lose - Season 1

Ah, ‘90s nostalgia. As a guy who came of age in the decade that brought us grunge, round sunglasses and….’60s nostalgia, getting a chance to immerse myself once again in the gelled hair and brightly-colored shirts that were the height of ‘90s fashion thanks to the recent DVD release of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was a special experience. I watched the show pretty religiously when I was a teenager, and I think I even used it as a sort of guide to what to expect when I transitioned from junior high to high school (I was pretty disappointed by the reality, let me tell you). Parker Lewis Can’t Lose is an interesting show in that only a relatively small niche, generationally speaking, is even aware of it. But it seems like EVERYONE within that age bracket remembers the show vividly. So when I got the opportunity to review the long-awaited season 1 DVD collection, jumped at it. I desperately wanted to know if it held up to scrutiny a decade and change later.

And the verdict is….shockingly positive. Given that it was such a quintessentially ‘90s show (seriously, check out the haircuts on these guys), and that it was created with teens in mind, I feared that the harsh light of 21st-century scrutiny would be more than Parker Lewis could handle, but I was wrong. Sure, the fashion and pop culture references can be a little jarring (I had no idea Tom Petty was considered the peak of cool back then; he’s referenced in several episodes), but on the whole Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was pretty far ahead of its time when it debuted in 1990. It’s the first sitcom I’ve seen that really aspires to be a cartoon, utilizing sight gags and sound effects ripped straight from classic Looney Tunes shorts. It aired on Fox when that network was still the young upstart (if I’m not mistaken, Parker Lewis led into The Simpsons, which at the time was the hot new show everyone was talking about), and the producers’ desire to make something totally unlike anything else on the air at the time is evident even by today’s standards.

Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, in case you don’t know, follows a high school kid named Parker Lewis, who rules his fictional California high school, Santo Domingo High, through his coolness. It’s sort of like a TV version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which itself spawned a short-lived TV series that wasn’t nearly this good or funny), except Parker’s a much nicer guy who’s genuinely concerned with the greater Santo Domingo student body (unlike Bueller, who was always just in it for himself). With Parker are his best buds, rock star-wannabe Mikey and their faithful freshman sidekick, Jerry, who can produce almost literally anything from his apparently magical trenchcoat. Together they try to have fun (or in their slang, “achieve coolness”) while dodging their semi-evil principal, Ms. Musso, and her vampire-like student lackey, Frank Lemmer.

First and foremost, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose is just a fun show. It’s still really funny, and the wonderfully goofy, cartoonish vibe and neat camera tricks (there’s a cute little running gag of each episode opening with a POV shot from inside a locker or a fridge or something, with several characters checking in while the credits run) make it more than just another teen sitcom. There’s also no laugh track, something that’s a lot more common today than it was in 1990, when a sitcom without canned laughter was a pretty mind-blowing concept, but it’s definitely for the best, as many of the jokes in Parker Lewis Can’t Lose fly way too fast for any laugh track to keep up.

Corin Nemec gives Parker the right amount of cockiness without making him unlikeable, which is something of a feat considering how often Parker manipulates other people for his own ends. But he’s so unflappable in the face of expulsion or potential violence at the hands of school bully/giant Larry Kubiac (Abraham Benrubi, who went on to a lengthy stint on ER) that you always know the show will end with him declaring “coolness” with his buds. Overall Parker Lewis Can’t Lose is an amazingly fun and funny show that can now be discovered and re-discovered thanks to this excellent DVD set.



Shout Factory has once again gone above and beyond to provide a beloved cult show with a deserving DVD package. Parker Lewis is one of those shows that fans have been clamoring for basically since the dawn of the DVD format, and the wait was definitely worth it. The episodes look quite good, the original music has been mostly/all licensed (I heard Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady' in an episode, and I know that didn't come cheap), and the set is packed with commentaries with the cast and crew. There’s also a cool little featurette looking back on the show with new interviews with the entire cast. Everyone makes points similar to the ones I’ve made myself (the show was ahead of its time, a lot of people didn’t quite know what to make of it but its intended audience totally got it), and everyone’s got fond memories of the whole Parker Lewis experience. This DVD collection most definitely achieves coolness.

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