I am a 28-year-old, sports-loving American male. And as such, I grew up watching a lot of TV. I realize those two things don’t necessarily go together. But ask any sports-loving American male contemporary of mine what he enjoys, and if he doesn’t say “TV,” he’s either a liar or a guy who wears full-body Under Armour out in public. We’ve all seen that guy. He grew up hitting stitched cowhide off a tee for hours on end under the watchful eye of his five-foot-six-inch father. The same father who couldn’t quite cut it as the backup second baseman on the junior college baseball team. The same father who made his kid do 500 pushups each night before bed. Wouldn’t you know it, that father turned his kid into a weirdo. And now that weirdo can’t seem to separate himself from moisture-wicking lycra. It’s a cruel world we live in.
But I digress.
The point is, I enjoy a good television show. I always have. And since I’m a kid of the ’90s, it only makes sense that I would be a big fan of sitcoms. Sitcoms are just the best. Or at least they were. Today’s sitcoms have nothing on the sitcoms of the past. A few stand out (the Modern Familys of the world, for one), but most waffle between being edgy and being funny. There was nothing edgy about the sugary sweetness of a Danny Tanner hug, the blissful calm of a Zack Morris time-out, or the teenage angst perpetually keeping Winnie Cooper at arm’s length from Kevin Arnold (for the love of God, they were supposed to be together!). All those things? They were fun. They were enjoyable. Why do we need edgy? What about a situational comedy says “edgy”? And don’t even bother to bring up all of today’s dramas. Holy crap, the kids of the 2000s are going to grow up and become the most dramatic mofos in the history of the world. All because they stare for hours at the trials and tribulations of Meredith Grey and all her friends (and some other people, too, I’m sure). Nobody needs more drama. If we really needed more drama, we could just stay at work all day. Television is supposed to be our distraction from reality. That’s why so many Americans sit and vegetate before Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Jersey Shore. Because it’s the only place we can go to get an everyday diversion. Here we are in 2012 and so-called “reality shows” are television’s break from reality. That makes no f**king sense. Everything is back-asswards. Up is blue, down is rutabaga. WE NEED MORE SITCOMS!!!
Okay. I apologize for all that. Been building up for awhile. Didn’t mean to take it out on all of you.
Anyway, among the sitcoms of yesteryear, I’ve always felt that we tend to overlook the greatness of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. Yeah, it only lasted five seasons (for the record, that’s still three more seasons than Davis Rules). And yeah, the only person who really survived the wreckage of the show’s cancellation was a young Raven-Symoné (though the great Don Cheadle did appear in a few early-season episodes as a friend of the title character). But come on. The show was every sports-loving kid’s dream come true. It was about basketball after all — at least in principle. And it hooked us early on with a Season One episode featuring Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin. Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin! We had their basketball cards! We knew them! They were famous! And they were on the show. That’s so totally rad!
But these are merely aesthetic details when you consider how impactful Mr. Cooper really was.
*Side note: If you’ve never seen Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, you may be waiting for me to give you the show’s synopsis. What does this look like? Wikipedia? I’m not going to give you a synopsis because that would be an inefficient use of everyone’s time. I realize I may be losing a few of you by doing this, but to learn more about Coop (that was his nickname on the show, which I now use affectionately in reference to the program as a whole), go here. Wikipedia is never wrong. Just remember, kids. If it’s on Wikipedia, IT’S TRUE! It has to be or they wouldn’t put it there. Duh. Continuing on.
What Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper really did for every sports-loving American male was prepare us for adulthood. More than any other show of its generation. And I’ll tell you why.
Look at most sitcoms of the ’80s and ’90s. They tended to center around one of two things:
1. Teenagers. Kids who were older than many of us, but who were by no means adults (ex. Saved By the Bell, The Wonder Years, Boy Meets World, etc.).
2. Families. Groups of people who usually ended up being united around a mom, a dad, or some other central figurehead (ex. Full House, Family Matters, Growing Pains, The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, etc.).
And then there was Mark Cooper. The main attraction on a sitcom bearing his character’s name, Coop was a single dude in his early-thirties who lived with roommates in a suburban Oakland home. Who struggled to make ends meet as a substitute teacher. Who moonlit as a high school basketball coach. Who had only recently given up the dream of playing sports for the remainder of his existence (he was an ex-Golden State Warrior, after all). Who didn’t enjoy an exciting career tending bar (Sam Malone), playing in a rock band (Jesse Katsopolis), nannying for a MILF (Tony Micelli), delivering standup comedy (Jerry Seinfeld), coaching a college football team (Hayden Fox), or pontificating over radio airwaves (Frasier Crane). Mark Cooper, you see, was who we would become. We just didn’t know it yet.
Coop embodied the essence of the reality so many of us now enjoy/endure. Maybe that’s why we forget the show. It was too similar to the very lives we lead now. Mark tried to live the dream. He failed. He barely had a backup plan. He eked by. He survived. His athletic career had fizzled. And for five years in front of us, he wandered around the purgatory of the transition period. He wasn’t married. He didn’t have kids. He infrequently had girlfriends. He owed his buddies money, he took shit from his bosses, he wisecracked his way out of trouble…HE WAS US!
Ultimately, Mark achieved a certain level of happiness. He pursued the woman of his dreams (who turned out to be his roommate, Vanessa), and got her to agree to marry him. Yeah, the show ended right there, but we have to assume they didn’t end up divorced like fifty-percent of the couples in this country. Which means Mark made it. He made it as far as most of us will make it, at least.
Fact is, we probably won’t become millionaires. We probably won’t live in expansive, three-story Victorians with members of our extended families. We probably won’t get famous — no gold records, no standup gigs in New York City, no NCAA championships. We probably won’t do any of what we had a tendency to see as kids growing up watching prime time television.
Except when it comes to Mark Cooper. He taught us everything we need to know, fellow sports-loving American males. Never forget that.
So thank you, Mr. Cooper. You’re truly one of the heroes of our generation.