Episode: On the Fence (1×02)
Director: David Trainer
Teleplay: Jeff Sherman
Main Cast: Ben Savage, William Daniels, William Russ, Betsy Randle, Will Friedle, Lee Norris, Rider Strong, Lily Nicksay
Guest Cast: DeJuan Guy
Original Air Date: October 1, 1993
Lunchtime at Cory’s school. Bowlcut’s place as the sheep/goat has been filled by a random black kid. Unlike Bowlcut’s, RBK’s haircut made an unfortunate comeback. Today’s scintillating discussion topic is… which superhero the young lads would want for their dad. Uh… weird thing to do. Unless, of course, the discussion is limited to superheroes whose powers are hereditary, in which case the real point would be… whose powers would I want to inherit? I’d vote Superman (infinitely powered Silver Age version, of course, minus Supes’ arrogant personality and the Super Sons). RBK and Shawn vote Batman and his Batmobile, but Cory’s totally right about Superman being the one to go with. Shawn notices class dweeb Stuart Minkus sitting alone, so he whips out his “2000X Hydro Saturator” Super Soaker knockoff, and takes aim. RBK pulls out his own “Hydro-Sat 3000Z,” which he used his connections to obtain, because the toy isn’t even on the market until the upcoming Christmas season. Having had enough, Minkus opens his french horn case to reveal yet another souped-up non-Super Soaker. Having no water toy of his own, Cory fills up a water balloon at the water fountain, but then he turns around to see that every single kid was armed and had their sights trained on his body. “I’ll get one, I promise!” he pleads as they assault him with water. The kids tuck the water weapons away just as Mr. Feeny walks through the door. Upon seeing Cory’s wet shirt, Mr. Feeny scolds, “Mr. Matthews, the water fountain is not a toy.”
Alan arrives home from work, and is greeted by Amy telling him that the boys’ bathroom plumbing is having issues. As Alan goes upstairs to fix the plumbing, Cory comes down to the kitchen, where he begins trying to suck up to his mother with compliments. Being a mom, she calls him out on his feeble attempts, so he changes tactics and builds a case with the ludicrous “What If” scenario of a living room fire, and putting it out. Amy agrees to buy him a water gun, but reneges when she sees the $49.99 + tax price tag. “C’mon, mom! You and dad blow that much money on food every week!” protests Cory. Having fixed the plumbing, Alan comes back downstairs. With a clear ulterior motive in mind, Cory asks his dad how much money he saved by not calling a plumber. Amy tells Alan that Cory just wants the $50 Hydro-Sat 3000Z, and Alan tells Cory that it might make a good present for Christmas. Hey, he’s lucky to even get that much out of his parents. 99 out of 100 times, all I ever heard from my parents was “no way, not ever,” and they were true to their word. I think that it’s kids who grew up like I did who make up the nostalgia market on online auction sites. ‘Cause I still kind of want a Hollywood Hair Barbie and a Tamagotchi, and since my parents still won’t buy these for me (and rightfully so, at my old age), I’d have to get them on my own.
Speaking of people blowing their disposable income on random useless crap, upstairs in the boys’ bedroom, Eric shows off his new programmable watch, which he bought with his first paycheck. And which he can’t program to do anything but play the “CHARGE!” song and to display “12:00.”
The next morning, Alan is put to work fixing the kitchen sink. Cory comes downstairs, begging Alan for a job at the market like Eric has. Alan says Cory should just enjoy being a kid for now, because he’ll be having car notes and mortgages soon enough. Cory: “I want to be able to afford stuff!” Alan: “So do I!”
Mr. Feeny’s pre-essay grading gardening is interrupted by Cory, who thinks that Mr. Feeny will find his essay on “The Raven” to be interesting, although he thought Poe was a “major freakoid.” Mr. Feeny: “You have no idea how major a freakoid.” Is there any Romantic-era artist who wasn’t a major freakoid? Readers, leave a comment or send an e-mail if you can think of anyone. Please. I’d like to know.
Anyway, Cory asks Mr. Feeny if he could shovel his snow all winter in exchange for $40 right now. Mr. Feeny is no dummy, so he instead asks Cory if he would paint his shutters–$5 per shutter X 2 shutters per window X 8 windows. After doing the math, Cory figures out that he would earn $58 bucks for his work. Given the choice of turning this into a Teaching Moment or swindling an 11-year-old (which could also be a Teaching Moment, depending on how you look at it), he grins and agrees to the $58.
Cory paints the shutters as instructed, with 3 coats. Alan and Mr. Feeny review Cory’s work, and when Cory hands one of the shutters over the fence to Mr. Feeny, it is apparent that now Alan’s side of the formerly white fence is now striped with green. Uh oh!
Cory’s in his back yard, trying to explain to his mother that he had no idea that the paint would pass through the shutters. Amy asks him if sunlight passes through his bedroom shutters. Cory calls himself an idiot, but Alan says he’s just kid. I think the whole “being a kid” thing is today’s theme/anvil. Just maybe.
Cory’s got the white paint out, and has begun repainting the fence. Shawn, Black Kid, and Minkus come over, wanting Cory to go to the big neighborhood “Water War” with them.
Cory, bluffing, says he’d rather paint the fence, and that he wouldn’t let them paint too, even if they really wanted to. Shawn and BK express their hurt feelings over being left out. Hmm, says I. This seems vaguely familiar. Minkus throws up his hands in exasperation and asks the others if he was the only person to read this summer’s reading list. Ohhhh! Well, if I hadn’t already recognized this derivative plot line as being from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer the first time I saw this episode, Minkus just explicitly called it out. Way to cite your sources, teleplay writer Jeff Sherman! Cory then offers the boys $7, his remaining balance after buying the Hydro-Sat 3000Z. They accept after negotiating that lunch would be provided.
“He got out his worldly wealth and examined it—bits of toys, marbles, and trash; enough to buy an exchange of work, maybe, but not half enough to buy so much as half an hour of pure freedom. So he returned his straitened means to his pocket, and gave up the idea of trying to buy the boys.”
Huh? Wha? Oh sorry. I got the urge to re-read some of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. No idea why… Anyway, while Tom whitewashes Aunt Polly’s fence, he ponders his options (since he’d rather be doing just about anything else), and determines that hiring a classmate or two to do the work for him just isn’t in his budget. So I guess if Tom”s 1st idea didn’t work and his other idea did… it is not a retelling of the exact same story if Cory’s hiring workers idea did work and manipulation did not, in the “new” story. Gotcha.
Back in the kitchen, Morgan is tying Eric’s work apron, while he stresses about possibly being late for work. And no wonder, since his watch always says that it is “12:00″… how is he supposed to know what time to leave? Cory comes in, grousing that his workers now want dessert. This prompts back-and-forth complaining about Eric’s and Cory’s respective jobs.
Cory brings chocolate shell coated vanilla ice cream bars out to his workers. Minkus ventures that he’d prefer a Heath Bar-flavored bar, so Cory exasperatedly rolls the bar around in some nearby soil. Not liking the present working conditions, his employees decide that they’d rather go to the Water War. Cory protests that he’d paid and fed them already, but they leave anyway. Left with no other options, Cory resumes painting the fence. Mr. Feeny comes over to look at Cory’s work, and notices that some of the green paint had crept over to his side of the fence. He demands that Cory attend to that paint. Apparently, this is the straw to break Cory’s back, for he falls down to the ground over-dramatically. Mr. Feeny tells Alan that his own father had a strong work ethic, and he put Mr. Feeny to work from sunrise to sunset. “And look how I turned out,” says Mr. Feeny, as he goes back into his house. Alan then tells Cory that he doesn’t want him to work anymore. Cory exhaustedly tells Alan that after the two days of painting, plus having to purchase additional white paint to fix the green paint mishap, he owes $8. “Welcome to adulthood,” says Alan. Isn’t that the truth? *sigh* Alan notices Cory’s Hydro-Sat 3000Z lying on an outdoor table, and tells him to go take it to the Water War. He says that his most important responsibility is to be a kid. Sounds like a 90s commercial. Chuck E. Cheese’s comes to mind.
Cory runs into his bedroom after the Water War, having had a blast. Poor Eric lies on his bed, exhausted from his half-shift of grocery bagging. Eric says that he doesn’t know how his father manages to put in 12-hour days of such hard work. “It’s like he’s not human, ” says Eric, as Cory looks outside his window to see their father finishing the fence. Cory says, “It’s like he’s Superman.” Oops, I forgot about that particular plot theme/anvil already.
At the dinner table, Cory thanks his dad for taking over the fence. Alan says it’s no big deal, but Cory puts on a John Wayne-esque accent and says that after working all day, he comes home and does Cory’s work. Cory pulls out a smaller Hydro-Sat, and starts squirting at his family members. “I’m just being a kid!” he says. Uh, yeah, that would never fly in my house. He tells Alan to check underneath the table, where an identical smaller water gun was taped. Cory says that he traded in his Hydro-Sat 3000Z for two 1500s. So I guess that is the exchange rate for Hydro-Sats, and he is able to figure that out, but he cannot figure out that ($5 x 2 x 8 =/= $58). Alan is thrilled to be a “kid” after a hard day’s work, and the Matthews Family Water War commences in the backyard. In the chaos, Amy deposits Morgan on the kitchen counter next to the cookie jar.Epilogue
Morgan is still on the counter, with the giant cordless phone. She dials 9-1-1 and tells the voice on the other end that he parents are “outside, fighting.” Mr. Feeny comes out of his house, concerned about his flowers. In a shocked voice, Morgan says, “They just shot the neighbor!”Final thoughts
This was a pretty interesting episode. It did steal half its plot from Mark Twain, and quite brazenly. But, considering that this was one of my favorite parts of that book, I can’t say that I hated its implementation here. I always considered Tom to be a pretty average boy, much like Cory, so I think it’s a good fit.
The other half of the episode’s plot seemed to fall in line with the Home Alone-era “let kids be kids” thing. Of course, to effectively be a kid, it means that one has to buy all of the newest and coolest toys and products (see: Talk Boy Tape Recorder, Talk Girl Tape Recorder, Trix cereal, Burger King Kids Club). In this episode, in order to be a kid, Cory had to have a $50 Super Soaker knock-off. Apparently he couldn’t be a kid without this toy, or at least couldn’t be one that measured up to his peers unless he could compete with them. Even though the episode concludes with Cory “nobly” trading in his Hydro-Sat 3000Z for two smaller ones… their monetary value is the same. I don’t know, I think I’m just torn on accepting this message. On one hand, I had a lot of fun in my childhood playing make-believe with whatever older toys or household items I was able to find, without having to spend any additional money on the hottest new toys. But on the other hand… the 90s were an awesome decade for toys? And although my siblings and I didn’t get many of the cool items we saw in the commercials…we were granted a couple of Super Soakers. So I can’t exactly hate on Cory for wanting and getting some souped-up water guns, now can I?
Wait, that was who?!/I know them from ___
DeJuan Guy, who played Black Kid/”Ellis,” was in The Little Giants, which I think I saw. He also did some random TV show guest spots (I probably only saw him in Sister, Sister and possibly The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, back when).
Continuity (or lack thereof)
Mr. Feeny mentions growing up with a taskmaster father. Here, it is established that Alan manages a grocery store. Eric is still into Heather from the pilot episode. Stuart Minkus debuts in this episode.
The wisdom of Mr. Feeny
To Cory: “You are worth every inch of that C+ I gave you in math.”