Retro Television Review: City Guys 2.13 “Saving Private Johnson” and 2.14 “A Gift of Friendship”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Today, the 2nd season of City Guys come to an end with L-Train considering his future and Al considering the true meaning of friendship.  Let’s get to it!

Episode 2.13 “Saving Private Johnson”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on December 5th, 1998)

It’s career day at Manny High!  Dawn wants to be a doctor.  Al wants to be a stockbroker.  L-Train wants …. well, L-Train doesn’t know what he wants.  In fact, he’s so upset at his bad midterm grades that he decides that he’s going to drop out of school and join the Marines!  Ms. Nobel is stunned and says that she feels like she failed with L-Train.  L-Train tells her it’s not her fault.  Ms. Nobel wishes him luck and she also wishes for peace….

It’s interesting to watch this episode today because we know what the future would have held for L-Train if he had joined the Marines.  L-Train would have eventually ended up in either Afghanistan or Iraq.  From that perspective, this storyline feels a bit different in 2022 than it probably did in 1998.  Of course, L-Train doesn’t end up joining the Marines.  He’s not allowed to join because the Marines discover that he’s dyslexic.  L-Train returns to school, confident that he will now be able to get good grades and go to a good college.

This is one of those “very special episodes” that shouldn’t work but it does.  This largely due to the performance of Steven Daniel, who bring just the right hint of melancholy to the scene in which he tells Nobel that he’s dropping out of school.  L-Train was often a one-joke character but Steven Daniel always played him as being someone who was secretly far more intelligent than even he realized.  Daniel took the role seriously, even if the show’s writers often didn’t.  Steven Daniel was often this show’s secret weapon and this episode shows why.

Episode 2.14 “A Gift Of Friendship”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on December 12th, 1998)

It’s the Christmas season and Dawn and Cassidy are in charge of the canned food drive.  Ms. Nobel is proud of them but, unfortunately, some of the students aren’t as concerned about helping out as Ms. Nobel believes they should be.

For instance, Chris, Jamal, and L-Train are all excited because Chris’s uncle has a place in Florida and he’s willing to let them use it during the Christmas break.  They just have to pay their own way to Florida and that won’t be difficult.  Chris has a rich father.  Jamal has a middle-class father.  L-Train gets a job walking dogs.  However, by going on vacation, they won’t be around to help “feed the poor.”  Ms. Nobel tells them that she’s very disappointed in them.  Considering that 1) it’s their Christmas break and they can do whatever they want with it and 2) none of what they’re planning has anything to do with the school, I have to kind of wonder just how exactly it is any of Ms. Nobel’s business.

Meanwhile, Al hasn’t even donated any food!  Al keeps saying that he’ll bring some food “tomorrow” but, unfortunately, Al can barely afford to feed himself.  Al’s father has been laid off and Al is planning on dropping out of school so that he can take on a full time job so that he can help support the family.  Ms. Nobel is not happy to hear this and that’s not really a shock.  I mean, first L-Train tried to drop out and now Al!  Plus, Chris and Jamal would rather spend their break on Florida beach than getting mugged in New York City!  Ms. Nobel has failed them all!

Anyway, it all ends on a good note.  After Jamal reveals that Al’s family is struggling, Everyone goes to Al’s apartment and they give him and his family food.  Ms. Nobel dressed up as Santa Claus and announces that there is a janitorial job at the school for Al’s father.  Al realizes that there’s nothing wrong with accepting help.  It’s not a bad message for Thanksgiving and Christmas, though I did have to wonder just how exactly Ms. Nobel could just magically give someone a job.  I mean, seeing as how Mr. Ramos is going to be working at a school, it seems like he would have to at least pass a background check before he was hired.  Also, does Ms. Nobel offer a job to all of the out-of-work parents who have children enrolled at her school or is she just making an exception for Al?  Indeed, for all the time that the students spend singing her praises, Ms. Nobel really only seems to care about L-Train and Al.

Obviously, this episode presented me with a lot of unanswered questions.  But it also ended with everyone gathered in front of a Christmas tree and singing Silent Night and that was a nice moment.  It appealed to my sentimental side.  That said, I do hope that Chris, Jamal, and L-Train still went down to Florida because, seriously, they had nothing to feel guilty about!

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Scene That I Love: Preparing For Thanksgiving in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is not only Thanksgiving but it’s also my birthday.  If CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, Freeform, PBS, Nickelodeon, or any of the other stations really want to give me a great present, one of them could cut a deal with Apple TV+ and start broadcasting the Peanuts specials again.  It’s really not Thanksgiving without A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving airing on ABC a week before the holiday!

(Lisa and I watched it on Apple TV+ last night but it just feels like something that belongs on regular television.  That’s just the way that I’m used to watching it, I guess.  Knowing that I was watching the show along with thousands of other people at the same time added to the experience and it made the special’s message feel even more important.)

Since the special wasn’t broadcast this year, I’m going to go ahead and share my favorite scene.  Charlie Brown has unexpected guests coming for Thanksgiving.  Luckily, Snoopy, Woodstock, and Linus are there to help him prepare a meal.  Toast and popcorn balls might not seem like a typical Thanksgiving dinner but, as this special shows, it’s not the food that makes Thanksgiving special.  It’s the company.