Jeff Pearlman

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Breaking down Fonzie’s shark jump

So by now everyone knows about a TV show jumping the shark. Hell, jumping the shark has jumped the shark. The website was taken over by TV Guide, thereby killing any independence and originality.

All that being said, when’s the last time you actually watched Fonzie jumping the shark?

Personally, it’d been years. I grew up loving Happy Days, and I never had a problem with the cast going to California and the Fonz leaping over a shark … while still wearing his stupid, smelly, 15-year-old leather jacket. Tonight, however, for the first time in decades, I watched the clip. Do me a favor, take two minutes and do the same …

Let’s count the ways this is brilliant television:

1.The Fonz’s, ahem, bulge is bursting out of his bikini bottom.

2. I love the moment at :10, when Joanie says, “He’s still gonna do it!” Actually, it’s not her I love. It’s the guy standing next to her; an extra brought in for $50 to flash a look of … what? Terror? Shock? I-can’t-believe-I landed-$50-to-chill-with-THE-Erin-Moran! I especially admire the way he turns his head. “What! He’s still gonna do it!”

3. The shots of the shark, undoubtably filmed at an acquarium in Sea World, are terrific. At one point, you can actually see what appears to be a camera man swimming behind Jaws.

4. Director to Ron Howard: “Keep looking back! You’re concerned! You’re very concerned!”

5. That doesn’t look like Lori Beth sitting alongside Richie. Just an observation, not a criticism.

6. At :27, Richie yells, “Here we go Fonz! I’m heading for the ramp!” I’ve developed this terrible habit of late where, instead of losing myself in the moment, I picture the actors having to do this stuff. Especially voice-overs. I can literally imagine Howard in a studio, knowing this line is perfectly inane, half checked out of the show, thinking, “Are you fucking kidding me? This is what we’ve come to?”

7. At :31, Richie yells, “Are you sure you wanna do it?” But anyone who’s ever attempted to water ski knows there’s no possible way the Fonz could hear him. Yet he offers the ol’ thumbs up anyhow—the universal sign for “I’m a dork in a leather jacket with my bulge showing.”

8. The music confuses me. At about :36 it goes from suspense to Disney.

9. :39 is quite possibly the best scene in television history featuring 10 stand-in actors. They even found time to cast a single token black woman, quite the feat for one of the least-diverse shows of the era (though, if I recall, the band at Arnold’s had a black drummer who was accepted by the Fonz).

10. All that said, how’d the kid on the far right get out of junior high for the day.

11. :55—hot blonde consoles Ralph with a pat to the arm. I’d place Ralph Mouth and Jeff Pearlman in similar cool ranges for their ages. Hence, I speak from experience when I say there’s nooooo way she’d be standing alongside Ralph, let alone touching him.

12. :59 “He’s really gonna do it!” Love this, because if you watch the lips nobody actually utters the words. I’m guessing it was Moran in the studio, and they all got too lazy to line it up properly.

13. Why is Mrs. C holding what appears to be a coffee mug … at the beach?

14. 1:08 Hate to dwell on this, but look at the bottom of the water where the shark is swimming? The Fonz seems to be about, oh, 30 feet off shore. Doesn’t match up. Without shark authenticity, the scene is doomed.

15. 1:11—Another awesome facial expression from the shirtless guy next to Joanie.

16. 1:11—Potsie says, “He’s ready to make the jump!” The camera cuts to Potsie right around ” … jump!” but his lips aren’t moving.

17. 1:30—Props! Props! Supposedly Henry Winkler is pretty experienced on the water, and actually made the jump himself. Granted, there was no shark (spoiler alert).

18. 1:36—I 100% take that back. It’s a stunt double. Without question. Watch when he lands and hits the water.

19. 1:38—Joanie’s shirtless guy nails it yet again.

20. 1:47—Homophobic alert! Ralph and Potsie hug, then simultaneously do the “Hey, I’m not gay!” two-step. (I’m not sure the blonde is convinced).

21. 1:48—OK, hold on. Ralph and Potsie hug their blonde California hotties. I’m calling bullshit. Adam Sandler used to do this in his flicks, and it annoyed the hell out of me. There’s just no way these two ordinary-looking geeks land Christie Brinkleys. No way.

22. 1:50-1:54—What the fuck is Ron Howard doing?

23. Forget jumping the shark. The Fonz officially loses all previously attained cool points at 2:11, when he throws his arms in the air like a prom queen. It’s over. O-v-e-r.

24. Wanna know why the guy on the far right at 2:15 never returned to Happy Days? Because he’s a scene stealer. “Look, Biff, we wanted you to be happy. Thrilled even. But that little disco thing you pulled. Henry wasn’t feeling it.”

Man, that was painful.

  • Oh No Romo

    Jump the Shark was such a good site and then TV Guide had to crap on it.

    I personally enjoyed the Ted McGinley theory.

  • Jump the Kulk

    The music reference is good. At first I thought it was a CHPs moment with Ponch and Jon, and then Disney hijacked the scene.

    Quality.

  • http://michaeljlewis.wordpress.com lewis

    Can’t believe you pulled off a blog post about this and made me laugh several times. Nice job.

  • Lee

    Awesome. This post is an example of why there should be an internet.

  • David

    Jeff, how do you feel about the episode where Richie crashes his motorcycle and then falls into a coma. Followed by Fonzie breaking down into tears and asking God to save his friend. That might be even more cringe-worthy.

  • blmeanie

    I don’t know how you can crap on Happy Days. Perhaps your daughter and you haven’t seen enough Hannah Montana to realize how good HD was?

  • http://don'thaveone bh

    Hysterical!

  • http://don'thaveone bh

    Hysterical!!! (this is my third try to leave a one-word comment….I’m now headed out to jump a shark myself)

  • Ananda

    I was there when they were filming it. There actually was a shark there; granted, it was a nurse shark. Though, at eight years old, it was still scary to have a shark swimming just off shore at our beach. They did ski around there and jump that shark. The beach is called Paradise Cove and was then a private beach that you needed to own property at to access the beach.

    The one thing that really stood out at the time, aside from the scary shark in the water, was that Fonzie was short. He stood on a box for certain scenes filmed on the pier. I remember being baffled by that since he never seemed short till that moment.

  • Ed

    Best TV show of all time.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life