It's hard to remember now, with all the years of
reruns, jokes about Fran Drescher's voice, Beautician and the Beast,
the oddball tabloid stories, Happily Divorced and the inevitable
marching on of time, but for a brief white hot pop culture period, The
Nanny was by far one of the funniest shows on television.
Yes. That's right. I will go further. When it was
hitting on all cylinders, The Nanny was funnier than just about any
other network sitcom on television in the 1990s, with the exception of
Seinfeld (and possibly Spin City). It's most certainly
aged better than Friends or Frasier or The Drew Carey Show
or Mad About You.
Okay, towards the end the show got long in tooth and
they finally succumbed to the will-they-or-won't-they trap that has
killed so many sitcoms, but for the first few seasons at least, The Nanny
was a perfect storm of actress and role. The first season alone still
has as many laughs as just about any sitcom made in the 1990s. Yes, it was
You may just want to skim over the last couple of
seasons. Still, even with those later, less-rewarding episodes, this box
set is a multitude of riches.
And yet The Nanny was as simple as simple can
be: the old sitcom standby storyline of a person who has no business
bringing up small children suddenly landing into a care-giving position.
Fran Fine (Fran Drescher) was a flashy girl from
Flushing, Queens (as the catchy theme song explains) – big hair, tight
clothes, nasal voice, working class Jewish attitudes – who through a
completely ridiculous set of situations that could never occur in real life
becomes the nanny for the three neurotic children. Making that even better,
they are kids of a gorgeous and rich Broadway musical producer (and he's
straight!) Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy).
Therefore, Fran moves in amongst the upper crust,
sharing the to-die-for mansion with the family as well as Mr. Sheffield's
snooty assistant CC (Lauren Lane) and the Sheffields' crusty butler Niles.
As Niles, Daniel Davis was this show's secret weapon, creating one of the
most deadpan hilarious characters of 90s television. Niles regularly stole
scenes from his more demonstrative co-stars.
Even though she lived amongst the upper crust, the
Queens Jewish life always followed Fran around, mostly in the form of her
dim best friend Val (Rachel Chagall), her loud, boisterous mother (Renée
Taylor) and father (who was one of those sitcom characters who was often
discussed but not actually seen.) There was also a crazy funny performance
by Dick Van Dyke Show vet Ann Guilbert as the slightly dotty grandma
Yetta. ("One nice thing about senility, you're always meeting new people,"
was the kind of typically non-PC joke that worked much better than it had
any right to.)
The storylines were typical fish-out-of-water stuff,
as the streetwise Fran mistakenly causes a near catastrophe, but with quick
thinking and the help of a guest celebrity is able to save the day in style
(of course, this being the 90s, the style had more hairspray and loud colors
than today). It was a celebration of all things Jewish (including our
leader, Barbra Streisand), and yet it was relatable to any one of any
Somehow, though I'm sure it was not through lack of
trying, they never got Streisand to do a cameo as herself. However, a huge
and surreal grouping of b-celebs passed through these hallowed halls –
either playing themselves or a character.
Just a small sampling of these visiting celebs
include Elton John, Jason Alexander, Shari Lewis and Lambchop, Jay Leno,
Coolio, Roger Clinton, Elizabeth Taylor, Andrew Dice Clay, Bette Midler,
Milton Berle, David Letterman, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Billy Ray Cyrus, Lynn
Redgrave, Brian Setzer, Hugh Grant, Eydie Gormé, Dan Aykroyd, Michael
Bolton, Erik Estrada, Chevy Chase, Rita Moreno, Lainie Kazan, Celine Dion,
Cloris Leachman, Eartha Kitt, Shemar Moore, Margaret Cho and many more.
Pay particular attention to the season four episode
"The Rosie Show" in which a pre-feud Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump both
played themselves and didn't kill each other. Many of the actors – Steve
Lawrence and Whoopi Goldberg, for example – played both themselves and a
character in different episodes.
Despite the glut of b-celebs guesting on The
Nanny, there are surprisingly few future big stars who pop up here:
James (back then he was still called Jimmy) Marsden plays a caterer who
gives the oldest daughter her first kiss, a pre-Daily Show Jon
Stewart had a date with Fran, Nikki Cox was a local debutant and future
The Wire standout Lance Reddick played a stage hand.
However, in the long run, The Nanny was the perfect
showcase for its lead actress, Fran Drescher – even better than her breakout
role in This is Spinal Tap as record publicist Bobbi Flekman. (As a
special bonus, in the fourth season Drescher even revived the Flekman
character, essentially playing a romantic rival of herself for Mr.
The Nanny was
often corny or crass or silly, but it was also often surprisingly funny.
This is old-school sitcom making, and it's done damned well. Drescher has
been trying ever since to recreate the magic of the show, but I doubt it can
be done. The Nanny is one of those lightning in a bottle situations
that probably can't be duplicated, but for one brief shining period shone
Jay S. Jacobs
All rights reserved. Posted: May 26, 2015.