As a kid watching reruns of THE BRADY BUNCH, the one episode I was happy to watch over and over was the one in which the whole gang went to Kings Island amusement park. Other people wanted to see the mixed family hit the beach to watch Greg hang 10, but I was all about seeing them break every rule of theme park etiquette in their mad dash to get Mike’s sketches to the manager’s office before his butt could be fired.
Over the years, I’ve tuned into shows I’d never watch under other circumstances just to catch glimpses of parks I’ve been to, hope to go to or know I’ll only ever experience vicariously. For seven seasons, I checked out the opening credits of STEP BY STEP just to watch the Lambert-Foster clan (headed by Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers) frolic at Valencia, California’s Magic Mountain. Heck, I even suffered through a painfully unfunny episode of DINOSAURS in which the prehistoric family were forced to vacation at WeSaySoLand… a park so lame even I wouldn’t wanna go there.
Not surprisingly, ABC’s shows have a long history of visiting their corporate overlord, aka Mickey Mouse, at his various vacation homes. Long before last night’s MODERN FAMILY had Gloria teetering around Disneyland in high heels, we got ROSEANNE joking that an old man sitting on a bench at Disney World was clearly a robot (told they haven’t been called “robots” for years, she quipped, “Sorry. Animatronic Americans.”) and FULL HOUSE’s Danny proposing to the world’s most clueless would-be fiancé, Vicky via fireworks above Cinderella’s castle at the Magic Kingdom.
Even soaps have gotten in on the act, with both SANTA BARBARA and ALL MY CHILDREN among the sudsers to have storylines unfold at Walt Disney World.
Without fail, these vacation-themed jaunts wind up happening during sweeps, and to be honest, I get far more excited about them than I do about the more typical weddings, births and deaths that tend to take place in record high numbers during the months of February, May and November. And the ones which unfold at Disney’s parks are almost without fail not-so-well-disguised advertorials for the House of Mouse… and yet, when done right, they’re a hit not only with me, but regular viewers as well.
Why? Because it’s something we can all relate to. What typical family doesn’t plan a vacation to Disney or some other amusement park at some point? Doing so is as normal as many of the other things we never see TV families do… like use the bathroom or… well, watch television. So is it any wonder that watching MODERN FAMILY’s Dunphy/Pritchett clan — the very picture of upper-middle class America — taking the type of vacation we all dream of hits home? We see ourselves in them and think, hopefully, that even if we can’t take that trip this year, maybe we’ll do it next year.
And unlike Gloria, we’ll be sure to wear sensible shoes.
Richard M. Simms is the executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine, author of Crimes Against Civility and so obsessed with Walt Disney World that he has a separate Twitter feed @mellowmickey on which to talk about the place. Seriously.