The TV Land Awards (What? They’re just as legitimate as the Emmys at this point.) recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of Bosom Buddies’ initial airing, and gathered the cast to give speeches and make nice.
And I know that it’s just TV Land, and they’d give an award to anybody who would show up at their ceremony, but it’s about damn time someone recognized Bosom Buddies: a truly funny show with a great cast and a longer-reaching legacy than you’d think.
Bosom Buddies was built around a concept that should have guaranteed creative disaster: two New Yorkers in their 20’s dress like women and create fake identities in order to stay at a cheap female-only apartment building. And the writing was admittedly hammy at times, occasionally sinking into a Three’s Company-like farce – the kind of writing that clearly marks the show as a product of 1980.
But the jokes hit more than they missed, and the cast, led by Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, transformed even the hackiest material into something more than it deserved. The two leads had fantastic chemistry, and Hanks clearly already owned the charisma of a superstar. As with all great sitcoms, these characters made you want to hang out with them, to be in on their inside jokes. And as the show progressed through its two seasons, it moved away from the cross-dressing conceit, and the slapstick that covering up the cross-dressing inevitably caused. Bosom Buddies switched from a high-concept show to something resembling a standard workplace sitcom (I’ve always thought Newsradio was BB’s closest relative on the great sitcom family tree).
But Bosom Buddies had more going for it than just the Hanks/Scolari transvestite combo platter:
- Opening credits set to William Joel’s My Life – making it the only sitcom to use a theme song from the Bosendorfer Bad Boy.
- Somewhere in all the silliness and drag jokes, a legitimate look at the issues and difficulties involved with getting through your mid-20’s, highlighted by some genuinely emotional moments.
- A show that focused on friendship over romance, a rarity on TV and in most forms of modern pop culture.
And look at some of the careers Bosom Buddies begat:
Tom Hanks is the world’s most likable movie star, and handily one of my favorite people ever. And before he was Forrest Gump, Jimmy Dugan or the creepy dead-eyed cartoon guy in Polar Express, he was Kip Wilson, the character who seems to hew closest to Hanks’ actual personality — a goofy, sarcastic nice guy in cad’s clothing (or lady clothing, as the case may be).
Bosom Buddies lay the groundwork for Hanks’ memorable guest spot as Elyse’s alcoholic brother on Family Ties (“It’s not Miller time…it’s vanilla time.”) and his early comedic film roles, like Bachelor Party.
Hanks also met his wife on the set of Bosom Buddies, so extra points for that.
In Hanks’ directorial debut, the criminally underrated That Thing You Do, he teased us with a Bosom Buddies reunion by having his character stand next to a TV set showing Scolari’s character. Damn you, Hanks! We’ve still never had a full-fledged Bosom Buddies reunion, but the world waits and hopes.
And speaking of criminally underrated, Scolari’s nebbish turn on Newhart was note perfect.
I love Holland Taylor. She’s always a reliable player when you need to fill out a cast, or need a guest star for an episode. She was Bosom Buddies’ secret weapon, and she’s brightened everything from The Practice to The Truman Show. She lends an air of elegance to anything she’s a part of.
Wendie Jo Sperber
Without Bosom Buddies, the world would never have been gifted with Babes, Fox’s lowbrow sitcom about three fat sisters, and the hilarity that ensued from their fatness. (Alternate titles: The Tubs; Are Those Elephants Living Above Us?; Holy Shit! Those Chicks Are Fat!)
Rest in peace, Wendie Jo. May you never be exploited in heaven.
The creator of Bosom Buddies went on to other startups, and he had some lowlights (The Naked Truth — Tea Leoni always deserved a better star vehicle), and some significant highlights (Action). Thompson may have cut his teeth as a writer on Laverne and Shirley, but Buddies was his first true creation.
So, 30 years down the road, hail to Bosom Buddies as a show that should be appreciated as something more than a launching pad for Tom Hanks. It was a traditional sitcom, certainly, but it could be quite weird at times, and featured quirky angles, occasionally great writing, and of course, a memorable ensemble.