[Happy Days] is the American Graffiti rip-off in which the producers made off with the movie's star (Ron Howard) and its ambience (small-town America in the 1950s), but with none of the sensitivity and sensibility that made the film memorable.
Graffiti's adolescents were caught at a moment of subtle tension, when their comfortable pleasure with the familiar was challenged by their yearnings for a larger, more stimulating world—a world that scared them, yet beckoned them on into adulthood. Happy Days' teen-agers hang around the same drive-ins, drive the same hot-rods, listen to the same rock music, but otherwise bear no resemblance to Graffiti's kids. Instead they are the inheritors of the Henry Aldrich tradition, in which the awkwardness, sexual inexperience and general unworldliness of youth are good only for an indulgent, nostalgic laugh. They are never touched by honest rue, let alone intimations of tragedy. The program is full of period references—Mickey Spillane, stuffing telephone booths, a wondrous new gadget known as the seat belt—but there is never a reference to the human heart. (pp. 109-10)
Richard Schickel, "Viewpoints: 'Happy Days'," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1974), Vol. 103, No. 17, April 29, 1974, pp. 109-10.