The one-hour TV pilot The Best of Times, which aired only once in a summer burn-off time slot, represented ABC’s attempt to tap the early-’80s youth market with a narrative-driven musical variety series that incorporates both slapstick comedy and heartfelt drama.
If you didn’t see The Best of Times then—and you didn’t—what we’re insisting here is that you watch it now. Truly, there’s no other way it can be believed.
The Best of Times, in its astonishing entirety.
The Best of Times chronicles a group of teenage Southern California friends in a format that combined comedy bits, song-and-dance routines, and dramatic monologues about the state of adolescent angst during the emerging Reagan years.
Shining brightest among the cast of multi-talented up-and-comers are Crispin Glover (as “Crispin”) and Nicolas Cage (as “Nic”). Yes, them—the two most gloriously off-the-wall Hollywood actors and pop-culture-jammers of their generation.
Indeed, Crispin and Nic laugh, joke, romp, belt, boogie, and, at various points turn serious and break the fourth wall to lay it out for us at home as to just how tough it is to be a well-scrubbed, muscular, beaming-smiled Los Angeles County high school senior in designer jeans and tube socks at the dawn of the ’80s. After all, MTV was still like a whole month away from even existing!
Crispin frantically buys a Talking Heads cassette from Jackie Mason, spazzy dances.
Crispin-as-“Crispin” functions as The Best of Times’ nice-guy narrator and affable, semi-hapless hero. Early on, he introduces us to his upbeat-but-not-untroubled cabal of pals, then tells it to us straight.
“Nice group, right?,” Crispin says straight into the camera. “Well, we’re all teenagers and we’re all treated as faceless members of this society. Our parents bug us at home, our teachers always hassle us at school, and when we drive, the cops are always on our backs. And everyone thinks you’re on dope! Well, I just want you to know that teenagers are woven into the fabric of American life, and, without us, there’s no future. We’re not just interested in having a good time and goofing off. We are concerned.”
Just then, a nearby phone rings. Crispin picks it up and squeaks in a panicked voice, “What?! Alright, I’ll be over!”
He turns back to us and says, “I’ve gotta go! The gang’s at the 7-Eleven store and they’re out of quarters!”
From there, The Best of Times takes us through a sun-soaked day in the life of these perky-yet-somewhat-perturbed pubertoids. We see them variously working at a convenience store, hanging at the video arcade, jamming with a garage band, hitting the beach, playing touch football, and, once a commercial break or so, bursting into not-entirely lavish production number covers of contemporary pop staples such as “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “9 to 5.”
Nicolas Cage and The Best of Times Kids sing, dance, and look really, really cool.
However goofy the musical bits are—and the word “goofy” may not have even been fully defined prior to The Best of Times being broadcast—they’ve got nothing on the serious solo “rap sessions” that occasionally occur when, as Crispin does up top, a character directly addresses the camera.
The show’s absolute giddy highlight showcases Nicolas Cage delivering a heavy monologue about registering for the draft and potentially dying on a battlefield in El Salvador.
Nicolas Cage shares his fears and feelings about “this here El Salvador thing.”
Adorned in an ab-hugging tee with the Pacific coolly rolling in and out behind him, Nic sidles up to us and says:
My dad’s all for this military build-up. He says our country can’t be too strong, and we gotta show the other side we won’t be pushed around. That’s fine. But being strong means taking chances, like this here El Salvador thing.
Do you think there’s gonna be a war? I mean, like… I’m registered! They call up the draft, I’m in there, man! Dad says it’s my patriotic duty; but, shoot, I mean, you don’t even get to choose a nice place! Why do they even have wars in places like Korea and Vietnam anyway? Why not somewhere real neat—like… like the French Riviera? Or, or Bermuda?
But you don’t think there’s gonna be a war, do ya? I wish my dad wouldn’t talk about it all the time. My mom looks at me and starts to cry! And dad says the Army’ll make a man outta me. [Flexes his bicep] Look at that! Huh? I thought I was a man already.
Dad was in the Korean War. He talks about boot camp and how he and his friends went off to Tokyo. Sounds like fun! But when I ask him, ‘Hey, Dad, what about combat?’, he dummies right up… gets this faraway look in his eye… and changes the subject. I’ll tell you one thing—you date a girl and start talking about maybe going off to war, and she gets real cuddly and affectionate. So I guess it’s got its good points.
Anyway, I’m not gonna worry about it. I got college next year if I can keep my grade level up. [Dramatic pause] I never got good grades. It’ll be a tough four years. I just hope we don’t have a war! It kind of spoils things, you know what I mean?
After that, everybody meets up at the big high school dance and The Best of Times sashays on into magnificently dunderheaded teen TV history.
They do not make them like this anymore. Your loss, Millennials.
Crispin hits the school dance, mocks his parents for dancing to Chubby Checker.