Weekend Viewing: Alyson Hannigan in 1989

This is one of those Weekend Viewing posts that gives us a chance to see a beloved TV star Way Back When, in this case, Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother). This was the first TV show she was in, a Sunday night sitcom that ran on ABC in the 1989-90 season, and following up on her role in My Stepmother is an Alien, this one could have been called My Nanny Is a Witch. Yes, in a strange mish-mash of Bewitched, Nanny and the Professor and Full House, a widower with three kids, one of them being Hannigan, gets a new live-in nanny who is actually a witch, sent to live with this family for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. The three kids know she’s a witch; the dad doesn’t; every week a spell goes wrong in some wacky way; in this episode, Hannigan is accidentally turned invisible; you know how it works. Corinne Bohrer, whom you know best as Veronica Mars’ mom, played the witch. Yes, we’re talking bad ’80s sitcom land.

When I found this on YouTube I was kind of hoping that this would be a true ’80s train-wreck, but it’s not bad enough to be good. Actually, despite many, many stupid lines, it seems like it might have been a little better than most of the fantasy shows of the late ’80s (or My Stepmother is an Alien, for that matter), but that’s not saying much because the ’80s were full of fantasy shows that bombed. (I’ve never figured out why the networks did so many shows about ghosts, witches, superpowers and the like; all these shows tanked except the Canadian My Secret Identity.) Hannigan is one of the things the show has going for it, and the other is Bohrer, who is attractive and likable even when she has to do dopey ’80s gags like bursting into song for no reason (the two songs that were most over-used in ’80s TV were probably “I Feel Good” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” and this episode has both of them).

Anyway, the interesting part, aside from ’80s nostalgia, is seeing an unknown Allison Hannigan doing much of what she would do in more popular shows. It’s easy to say, with hindsight, that someone seems destined for a brilliant career (flop TV shows are full of lovable performers who never had a regular role on a hit show, not because they weren’t “destined” for it but just because they weren’t lucky enough). But you can certainly see why Hannigan made it and those other kids, not to mention the dad, did not: not only is she likable, but her face communicates and “reads” beautifully. In act 2, when Hannigan is (of course) invisible and (of course, this is the ’80s) trying to get into a cool clique of snobby girls, you can see her doing all the Willow faces while she’s listening to what the girls are saying about her: the open-mouthed combination of outrage and hurt, the sad face that’s designed to make us all want to protect her. Joss Whedon has noted that they always tried to put Willow in danger because the audience was so protective of her and so upset when she felt bad. The reason is that Hannigan, like most good TV performers, knows how to communicate, without words — and that’s a good thing, since a show like this doesn’t give her many good words to say.

Theme song (see, back then, most shows had the theme song first and then commercials) and Act 1:

Click “read more” to see Act 2, with Hannigan demonstrating that she’s already a polished practitioner of the sad face:

Act 2, part 1:

Act 2, part 2:

Oddly enough, this show was canceled not because of the writing weaknesses but because of a little show called The Simpsons, that premiered in mid-season on the same night and blew this show — and this kind of show — into the last decade.

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