12 Aug 2014

Was Mork & Mindy really kids’ TV?

When you hear about the death of a famous person, images flash through your mind as you recall what you can.

So when my wife told me about Robin Williams this morning, I first heard “O captain, my captain!” and “Goooooood Morning Vietnaaaaam” before my fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain settled on “Nanu Nanu”, from Mork and Mindy.

I never really got Mork & Mindy when I was eight or nine. I enjoyed it, but it was just a bit too surreal for me at the time. I’ve watched it since in strange hotel rooms on work trips to bizarre places on channels I never knew existed, and come to appreciate it more.

Mork And Mindy

But Mork was never really a children’s character. Like so many “children’s” programmes, it was really for the grown-ups. And here’s the evidence :

Exhibit A

Mindy McConnell: Mork, it can be against the law to go in somebody’s apartment when they’re not home, even if the door’s not locked.
Mork: Oh can you honestly say that since Watergate? Come on.

Most of the one-liners in Mork & Mindy are said to have been improvised, but one suspects they were located in the recesses of Williams’s extraordinary brain and recycled, rather in the way Bob Monkhouse did in routines.

Exhibit B

Mindy McConnell: Mork, you’ve been acting awfully strange lately. I mean, more strange than usual.
Mork: Oh, you’ve noticed.
Mindy McConnell: Noticed! How could I help it? Like, yesterday you spent all day walking and talking backwards.
Mork: Well, that’s all behind me now!

But it was the strange combination of speed, schmalz, social commentary and satire that clearly was the Robin Williams we would come to recognise and love.

This also explains why my mood determines whether or not I will stick with a whole episode of Mork & Mindy if I happen to catch an episode these days. If I’m feeling vulnerable and sloppy, there’s a good chance I’ll watch to the end. If I’m feeling hard-edged and cynical, I’ll tut and turn over.

Exhibit C

(This one is already widely doing the rounds today on Twitter/Facebook):

Mork: You see, Orson, loneliness is a disease of the spirit. People who have it think that no one cares about them.
Orson: Do you have any idea why?
Mork: Yes, sir, you can count on me. You see, when children are young, they’re told not to talk to strangers. When they go to school, they’re told not to talk to the person next to them. Finally when they’re very old, they’re told not to talk to themselves. Who’s left?
Orson: Are you saying earthlings make each other lonely?
Mork: No, sir, I’m saying just the opposite. They make themselves lonely, they’re so busy looking out for number one that there’s not enough room for two.
Orson: It’s too bad everybody down there can’t get together and find a cure.
Mork: Here’s the paradox, sir, because if they did get together, they wouldn’t need one. Isn’t that zenlack?

Of course, while Mork & Mindy introduced me and millions of others to the amazing world of Robin Williams, it was his stand-up routines that really made you sit up and tell your friends. Some of his wisdom is worth living your life by.

Exhibit D

“Never pick a fight with an ugly person, they’ve got nothing to lose.”

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