Garry Marshall Critical Essays

Introduction

Garry Marshall 1935?–

American comedy writer, scriptwriter, and producer.

Within the past decade, Marshall has created a television empire in the realm of situation comedies, a success paralleled only by that of All in the Family creator, Norman Lear. In retrospect, Marshall's success is not surprising since he has long been one of televisions most prolific writers. In addition to having written for the Jack Parr Show, he has composed material for almost every major television and Las Vegas comedian. He also wrote for the Emmy-winning Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the first situation comedies to consistently address timely issues. He created The Odd Couple and The Brian Keith Show in the late 1960s but is best known for the hits he created in the 1970s which include Happy Days and its spin-offs, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy.

The success of Marshall's series lies in his ability to portray the humorous side of everyday living without being overbearingly comic or strenuously serious. They are considered by many critics to be among the most thoughtful of contemporary comedies. Happy Days's Fonzarelli is the best expression of this balance. Despite his tough exterior he has a sensitive nature, and in the final analysis will do the right thing without losing stature among his friends. He is goodness made palatable to young adults and he has become a hero to many of them. Marshall has correctly identified a trend within our current culture back to the values of the 1950s. Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley both reflect and reinforce this value system. The Fonz balances all-American Richie Cunningham just as the adventurous Laverne DiFazio balances the character of the hesitant Shirley Feeney. In Mork and Mindy, Mindy guides the alien Mork through his innocent questioning of current American traditions and mores.

Many television critics have been negative in analyzing Marshall's work. Although most of these critics will grant that the shows do attempt to examine serious questions, they point to what they feel is a lack of depth and intensity. Marshall responds that he writes mainly to entertain. The immense popularity and longevity of his series indicate that he has struck a responsive chord within a large segment of the television audience. Marshall has created series that are in many ways as instructive to young adults as they are amusing.