Cage #1: The Best of Times (1981)
Nicolas Cage’s very first credit on IMDB is a little-seen TV special called “Best of Times.” This was made as a pilot to an ABC series that thankfully never came together. I can’t speak to why exactly that is, but I suspect it has something to do with how incredibly shitty it is.
The Best of Times is about a bunch of teenagers in southern California who struggle with the usual run of teenage problems. Except school. The main message I took away from this show was kids never went to school in the early 80s. Okay, they did visit the school occasionally to hang out on the front steps and walk together on the lush green lawn, but classes were not really a problem. That’s not what the writers want you to remember. They open and close the show by equating teenagers to a trodden upon class of citizenry, perpetually nagged by parents AND teachers alike, oh my. Poor sons of bitches. They should have a march. Crispin Glover serves as our puffy-haired, only slightly whiny, everyman host named…Crispin.
I guess this was one of those instances where using the cast’s real names was just going to make things easier on everybody. Nicolas Coppola plays Nick! Julie Piekarski plays Julie! Etc, etc. All except for Jackie Mason, who plays shopkeeper Mr. O’Reilly. Call me crazy, but Jackie Mason doesn’t strike me as a member of the O’Reilly clan. Luckily, not much is made of his name in the show, so I’m just nitpicking.
What brings this particular group of friends together is a mystery. Crispin is your average Joe, Nick is a hyperconfident douche nozzle who hangs out at Muscle Beach, and we also have the biggest nerd in the school, the most virginated of virgins in the school, the head cheerleader, the tomboy, and the “fat” girl who totally isn’t fat, but they show her eating a cruller or something at one point. Do they all live on the same cul-de-sac? These people don’t seem to have any similar interests beyond sudden outbursts of dance and song (I’ll get to that shortly.) Even when Crispin introduces Nick to us, who is performing 1-armed pushups on the beach, he implies that he feels physically threatened by Nick, therefore he has befriended him in an effort to not get beaten up. Or something? I know, I know, it’s a late disco-era attempt at a teen variety show, so just what in the fuck am I expecting in terms of character depth? Even in Saved By the Bell we had this problem of jocks inexplicably hanging out with nerds. At least there it could be argued that Screech was allowed into the group just to make the others look better by comparison. Even if he was stalking Lisa. I’d like to think that the youth of America used to be a kinder, gentler group of people, more prone to socializing outside of their caste, and by the time I reached high school the structure had disintegrated so we were all left to scrounge and scrape for friends wherever we could find them. I know this is incorrect, though, because I have seen Revenge of the Nerds. At least the girls manage to find some common ground: makeup, clothes, and boys, duh. Ah, it was a simpler time.
There is a musical element to the show and I don’t know if that’s because musical TV was hot shit at the time or if some ABC development executive thought it would bring in a more eclectic crowd. Maybe I should ask my parents if this was a common format for TV back then. Regardless, I will illustrate the quality of these musical numbers with a GIF.
Come on, that’s all you really came for, isn’t it? While that particular part includes no singing, just a Stomp-like flash mob in Jackie “O’Reilly” Mason’s convenience store, other scenes have the gang dancing like maniacs and performing cover versions of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” at a car wash and Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” while Crispin Glover tries on pants and gets publicly groped by all of his close female friends. These sequences do not have anything to do with a story or any character’s dramatic arc. They come out of nowhere with the flimsiest of setups. ‘I remember working at a car wash once, NOW WE’RE AT A CAR WASH!’ ‘I hate chores, LET’S SING ABOUT CHORES AND THEN PLAY FRISBEE!’
To take a break from the musical chicanery, we get the occasional monologue delivered directly to the camera, showing us that not only our host Crispin has this ability. Subjects of these speeches include:
- Crispin: Adults think my music sucks and I’m on pot!
- Nick: I don’t want to be sent to war in El Salvador!
- Jill: I’m lonely and jeans are too expensive!
If the actual goal of the show was to convince grown ups that teenagers are well-rounded humans with thoughts and desires that are more than just skin deep and therefore deserve some modicum of respect, they could have done a better job here. The jeans speech especially leaves me dry. Jill claims that teenagers started wearing jeans because they needed their own identity. I could be wrong, as history has never been my strong suit, but I think teenagers started wearing jeans because they were cheap and The Man didn’t like them. If those designer brands are too expensive for you, kid, pick up some Wranglers instead. Solid jeans, those. And The Man still hates them.
The only value this has is as a curiosity piece to Nicolas Cage or Crispin Glover fans. Given the opportunity, I would extract any information regarding The Best of Times I could out of them. I want someone to make a goddamn documentary about this pilot. Again, not because it’s any good, just because it’s where Crispin and Nic started out. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and we all know what a huge star he became, but I think it’s clear that Cage had “it” even this early. He behaves like such a buffoon that it’s clear he has no internal limitations. He was only limited by experience. Every moment he is on screen he is 100% committed to his role, no matter how retarded he looks. This will be the defining trait of his entire career. Despite the early signs of his future greatness, I have to give The Best of Times a single big-headed Crispin Glover out of a possible ten.
Since you are without a doubt eager for more pain, you may view Best of Times in all its majesty here: