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Series: Charles In Charge

"Charles in Charge, of our days and our nights!"

Charles In Charge was a Dom Com that starred Scott Baio as a college-age "nanny" to the children of the families he lived with in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It debuted in 1984 in CBS, with the original premise of Charles being employed by the Pembrokes, headed by working parents Jill and Stan (the parents were played by Julie Cobb and eventual sitcom director James Widdoes) who hired a caretaker to handle their kids due to their work schedules – teenage daughter Lila (April Lerman), smart middle brother Douglas (Jonathan Ward) and youngest child Jason (Michael Pearlman).

Charles held the responsibility of handling his charges' problems, often finding ways to fix them before the episode's end; even still, the children/teenagers he takes care of sometimes are quick to overreact when a plan of Charles to help them goes wrong. When the series originally aired on CBS, the show debuted the same season as another Dom Com about a man employed by a family Who'sTheBoss (although that series featured a male housekeeper instead of a male nanny). In turn, he attempted to balance a normal social life alongside his college courses and role as a live-in caretaker. His best friend was Buddence "Buddy" Lembeck (Willie Aames), a girl-crazy underachiever; Charles' love interest in the series was the fair-haired Gwendolyn Pierce (Jennifer Runyon).

In 1986, a year after CBS cancelled the series following its first season due to insufficient ratings to earn a sophomore season, Universal Television (then owned by MCA) partnered with series co-creator Michael Jacobs (later known for creating My Two Dads, Dinosaurs and most notably, Boy Meets World) and original production company Scholastic Productions to revive the series for First Run Syndication, relaunching in 1987.

The show was then retooled for the second season, with only Baio and Aames returning; five new cast members were added (Sandra Kerns as married mother-of-three Ellen Powell, whose husband was serving in the Navy; James T. Callahan as Walter Powell, a gruff but well-meaning war veteran and grandfather of the three Powell kids; Nicole Eggert as Jamie Powell, the popular, boy crazy eldest child; Josie Davis as smart but self-conscious Sarah Powell; and Alexander Polinsky as Adam Powell, the youngest child and only boy of the three Powell offspring). It was during the syndication run that Buddy's personality begins to change, increasingly decreasing in intelligence to the point of being Too Dumb to Live. The show's primary setting remained in the house inhabited by the Pembrokes, who leased the house to the Powells after the Pembrokes "moved to Seattle" in the season two premiere "Amityville". The show became successful under its new syndicated format, and ran for five additional seasons, ending in 1991.


Tropes:

  • Absentee Actor: Sandra Kerns, who plays Ellen Powell, does not appear in most of the episodes during the fourth and fifth seasons, outside of two; however, Kerns is also absent from a few second and third season episodes.
  • All-Cheering All the Time: Lila's friend Paula Thackery is introduced as this in "Extracurricular Activity", Jason pegs it one the money that Paula is the cheerleader type (something Charles told Jason there was no such thing as, immediately before Paula enters).
  • An Aesop: In addition to giving advice (which, most of the time, is pretty sound), Charles occasionally drops life lessons to his charges; these instances, in a sense, make him The Obi-Wan of the show.
  • Annoying Younger Brother: Douglas in the CBS run.
    • Adam in the syndicated incarnation, to Jamie and sometimes Sarah.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: In the first episode, as Mr. Pembroke is trying to give Charles some dating advice in preparation for Charles' date at the house with Gwendolyn Pierce, before driving Mrs. Pembroke to work:
    Stan: "I'm telling you to be careful because you're a nice young man with your whole life in front of you, and the last thing you want to hear right now is..."
    Jill: "Honey, I'm late."
    Stan (after a short pause): "I think that about says it all, Charles."
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Averted in "Still at Large." A female teacher tells Charles that he's "a good looking man," but "an ugly woman."
  • Beautiful All Along: Enid in the episode "A Date with Enid".
  • Betty and Veronica: Sarah served as the Betty and Jamie the Veronica, for the affections of Mark in "The Boy Who Loved Woman".
  • Big Brother Mentor: Charles can be seen as this for both the Pembroke and Powell children.
  • Bottle Episode: In a rarity for a series' first episode, the pilot episode takes place entirely in the Pembroke's house.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The season two episode "Her Brother's Keeper" features a scene where Scott Baio and Willie Aames (playing themselves, instead of their on-screen characters) converse about whether Scott's the star or as Baio graciously puts it, "it's a team effort". Aames then tells Baio that he gets more fan letters each week than him. Both then promptly ask executive producer Al Burton for amenities in their dressing rooms.
    • In the series finale, "Charles Be De Mille," Scott Baio wakes up from a dream that he was the star of a weekly TV series (sound familiar?). He then hears the voices of the rest of the cast, informing him that It Was All A Dream, but that he could get back into it by closing his eyes and saying "I don't wanna wake up." When he does, the rest of the cast (in-character) reappear on the living room set.
    • In the episode "Brain Man", when Buddy keeps getting distracted, Charles says "Buddy, why do you keep forgetting the plot?"
  • Butt Monkey: Buddy devolves into this.
  • Can-Crushing Cranium: In the case of Buddy, it is averted in the episode "Judge Lest Not Ye Beheaded," Buddy takes out a coconut from a bag from a bag of coconuts. He smashes it on his forehead, and ends up knocking himself unconscious.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Buddy likes to think he's The Casanova, but he has had few girls actually accept dates with him.
  • Catch Phrase: Charles' "You had to (something that results in some sort of foul-up), didn't you?!", which is more often said to Buddy but occasionally said to other characters.
    • Other characters occasionally exclaiming "Doorbell!," when they want Charles to answer the front door in the syndication run.
    • Buddy addressing people he knows with "(person's name), It's me, Buddy".
    • Buddy's "Heeeeelp me, Heeeeelp me!" cry in the final couple of seasons.
  • Character Title
  • Chick Magnet: Charles is the biggest one in-series; Buddy, on the other hand, is hit and miss in this department, he does have a few girlfriends in the series but is more often turned down and/or slapped by females he comes on to.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Buddy, although mainly in the syndication run and increasingly so as the series wears on.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Mere seconds after introducing Jamie's favorite teacher (played by Sally Struthers), Charles and Buddy just happen to catch a TV show which reveals that Jamie's teacher is a criminal on the run from the law.
    • In another episode, Charles can't find Sarah so when he asks Jamie and Adam to help, Adam turns on the TV and guess who just happens to be on it at that exact moment? Sarah, who is on the news at a protest.
  • Cosmetic Catastrophe: Happens when Lila attempts a makeover on her friend Enid in "A Date with Enid".
  • Curse Cut Short: Through the series as had instances of the word "hell" (as a pejorative term) scattered through various episodes, as a family show, it has avoided using other profanities, as evidenced by these two instances of Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • In the season three episode, "Berkling Up is Hard to Do," Sarah tries to help a nervous Adam with his issues fitting in in junior high and being the smallest kid in school, an inversion of something Sarah has dealt with, as she is taller than most of the kids ("including the boys", Sarah's words exactly) in her junior high school class; Adam exclaims to Charles his interpretation that Sarah has volunteered to pound on anyone who picks on him. Charles then gives Sarah his own reinterpretation of the phrase "guys don't make passes at girls in molasses":
    "Sarah! Guys don't make passes at girls who kick—-" (Buddy rings doorbell)
    • In the season five episode, "Buddy Flips a Disc," note  Buddy prods Charles into rapping on-air (accompanied by Buddy beatboxing), leading to this line rapped by Charles:
    "I'd like to stay but I got to go. I don't wanna be on the radio. Thanks for asking, but I think I'll pass, 'cause I don't want to fall on my—- ear."
  • Disguised in Drag: Charles and Buddy in "Still at Large."
  • Drop-In Character: Buddy.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Buddy, who does this to himself.
  • Egg Sitting: In the appropriately titled "The Egg and Us", Sarah and Jamie are assigned a project to raise an egg as a child (which Jamie shrugs off somewhat, seeing as it is an egg, and not an animate object). Sarah leaves Charles to take care of their egg baby (which was given the name Amanda), Buddy, Walter and Charles are shocked to discover Walter went out with Buddy's grandmother, whom Walter knew from his youth. In shock, Charles drops the egg on the floor right in front of them and the girls, screwing up Jamie and Sarah's chances of getting a good grade.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Oddly enough, it turns out that Buddy's name is not so much a nickname as it is a shortening of his full first name, which happens to be Buddence. This is first revealed in the second episode "Extracurricular Activity", in a scene where Charles introduces Gwendolyn to Buddy:
    Gwendolyn: Hello, Buddy. Is that your real name?
    Buddy: Oh, that's just what people call me.
    Gwendolyn: Oh. Well, what is your real name, then?
    Charles: Yeah, Buddy, what is your real name?
    Buddy: Buddence.
    Charles: (stifling a chuckle) Buddence?
    Gwendolyn: Well, you don't mind if I just call you Buddy?
    Buddy: Well, everyone else does.
    Charles: I don't blame them.
    • Add to that the fact that he and his younger sister have rhyming names (Buddy and Bunny).
  • Expository Theme Song: The tune very finely summarizes the show itself, and the feelings of the children he looks after, saving many a fan from having to explain the program, so much as just show a friend the intro.
  • First Gray Hair: Buddy reacts disastrously to spotting a single grey hair.
  • Flanderization Buddy Lembeck; he starts out as a quasi-Book Dumb guy who thinks more about girls than studying, but as the series goes on, Buddy's intelligence substantially decreases, seemingly Taking Several Levels in Dumbass to the extent of virtually becoming Too Dumb to Live.
  • Girl or Guy of the Week: Most of the characters, except for the parents of Charles' charges, has had at least a couple of these.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In "The Egg and Us," Buddy's grandmother Gloria tries to explain how she met Walter, which leads to this exchange:
    Gloria: Only one thing happened that night and it wasn't romantic.
    Buddy: Oh, no. It was pure sex?
    • The final scene of "The Undergraduate," features Jamie asking Charles to explain to Adam about girls. Adam told Jamie that every time he tries to score on a girl named Anne Louise Harmon and keeps striking out, who happens to be a pitcher of his school baseball team. Adam later exclaims that Charles deciphering that he can't score when Anne Louise pitches the baseball is incorrect, saying "Are you kidding? That's the only time I score". Jamie and Charles promptly run after him.
    • In "Judge Lest Not Ye Beheaded", Sarah explains to Adam why she is choosing to enter a beauty contest (even though she objects to them) being held at the Yesterday Cafe.
      Sarah: I just entered the stupid beauty contest to blow the top off it.
      Adam: Great, I love a topless beauty contest.
    • Seconds later, Sarah threatens to Adam that she will tell Walter about "that stash of girlie magazines" hidden under Adam's mattress if he breathes a word to anyone about her reasons in entering the contest.
    • Towards the end of "The Organization Man," Buddy uses Charles' ridiculously intuitive electronic organizer My Little Winner to find out what Buddy and the girl he tutored, Mike Lewis, would do later that night, Mike looks at the organizer in disgust and slaps Buddy in the face, implying something clearly sexual. In the next scene, Buddy volunteers to help out at the Yesterday Cafe, but when he says that he could entertain Walter with My Little Winner (referring to the organizer), Walter gets the wrong idea:
      Buddy: I just wanted you to know I'd be more than happy to stay until closing if you need me.
      Walter: For what?
      Buddy: I could entertain you.
      Walter: Lembeck, how in the world could you entertain me?
      Walter: Get out! Out, I say! Get out! Out!
    • Walter throwing Buddy out results in the other young people in the diner leaving as well (Walter issued an ultimatum to all the diner's patrons earlier in the episode, to act with decorum or go home, which led to everyone leaving).
    • In "Brain Man", when Buddy takes and ESP test and gets all the answers right:
      Miss Pelling: Buddy, you have an enormous gift.
      Buddy: Thanks but how am I doing on the ESP.
    • Later in the same episode, Charles wants to sleep with a girl named Lily (named after the flower) and Buddy uses his ESP to predict that the blossoming flower will open its petals to a young stallion.
  • Grand Finale: "Charles Be De Mille", the plot involves Charles directing a variety show fundraiser involving the Powell children, only to back out in order to prepare for a test to get into Princeton University; he ultimately gets accepted into the school, resulting in his departure as the Powell children's caretaker.
  • Grandparental Obliviousness: Averted for the most part with Walter Powell.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Ellen falls into this category beginning in season four as her portrayer Sandra Kerns appears in substantially few episodes during the fourth and fifth seasons.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Sarah is a slightly watered-down, plain-clothes version of this.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Jamie Powell is this to some degree, in terms of her love interests.
    • Her younger sister Sarah mostly subverts the trope, though she has had occasional crushes and dates. In both sisters' cases, neither's relationships last for more than an episode.
  • Identity Amnesia: In two episodes (the two-parter "Charles Splits" and "All That Chaz"), Charles hits his head, resulting in him adopting an alter ego named Chaz, who acts similarly to Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli; in both episodes, the Powells and Buddy attempt to try and rid the Chaz alter ego (by hitting him in the head).
  • Idiot Ball: Buddy often comes up with ideas and thoughts that don't make a lot of sense.
  • In-Series Nickname: Buddence Lembeck prefers to be known by his nickname Buddy rather than his full name.
  • Ivy League For Everyone
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jamie Powell has shades of selfishness and thoughtlessness of others during the final four seasons, mainly at levels where Bratty Teenage Daughter may apply; however, it is often shown that she does care for her younger siblings and can be a well-meaning person at times.
  • The Klutz: Buddy experiences this at some points during the series, such as accidentally bonking a customer he believed was a food critic reviewing Sid's with a pizza tray in "Five Easy Pizzas" and falling over a table in "Daffy Doc".
  • Large Ham: Buddy becomes an Up to Eleven version of this by the fifth season.
  • Last Name Basis: Walter is the only main character who addresses Buddy by his last name "Lembeck".
  • Limited Social Circle: Charles' social circle consists mainly of Buddy and the Powell/Pembroke families. This could be stretched out in the first season to include his love interest Gwendolyn.
  • Local Hangout: Sid's Pizza Parlor, which was unseen until the second season. Lillian bought the place from the manager's father (both the dad and son are named Sid) in season two, but sold the business at the beginning of the fourth season. The hangout for the remaining two seasons became the 1950s-themed Yesterday Cafe, an antique diner which Lillian also bought and managed not long after selling Sid's.
  • Locked in a Room: Charles and Buddy get locked in a life-size animal cage in "La Cage Aux Fools" to protest animal testing at Copeland College, at Buddy's suggestion and Sarah's insistence. Hilarity Ensues when neither has the key to unlock it and the two get kidnapped by fraternity members at the behest of Stanley Willard, while still caged.
  • Meaningful Name: Buddy (as in 'friend', which he is to Charles).
  • Monochrome Casting: All of the main cast members in the series are Caucasian. In addition, very few actors of other ethnicities have appeared on the show, among those that have had guest roles include Black actors Phill Lewis, who played Bernie in the episode "Buddy Flips a Disc" and Jeff Robie, who played Sid (the manager of Sid's Pizza Parlor, which was originally owned by his father, before Lillian purchased it later that season) in a couple of season two episodes.
  • Ms. Fanservice: There are a couple of instances in which Jamie serves as this:
    • In "Amityville," Jamie walks into the kitchen donning a Madonna-esque outfit, complete with a tight blue/purple leather tube top and zebra print pants. Ellen promptly orders her to go to back up to her room and change out of the outfit.
    • In "La Cage Aux Fools," Sarah, Jamie and Adam wear costumes to go see the Rocky Horror Picture Shownote . Jamie wears a maid's outfit, which for the most part is rather conservative, other than the fact it came with garterbelt hosiery (visible only by the straps that are visible in the short distance between the costume's skirt and the hose).
  • No Name Given: The last name of Charles and his mother is never revealed throughout the series. It even has lent itself to an occasional gag in which Charles is about to reveal his full name, only to be cut off before mentioning his surname. This was lampshaded in the final episode ("Did you ever wonder why he had no last name?").
  • Nuclear Family: Played straight with the Pembrokes, but subverted with the Powells. In their case, the patriarch serves in the Navy and appears only in one episode throughout the syndication run, so Ellen is the only parent helping to raise the kids. Walter and Charles share the role of father figure in different ways.
  • Odd Friendship: Charles and Buddy’s friendship very much falls into this, particularly in the later seasons as they become so incredibly different (especially in intelligence, as Buddy greatly slides in intelligence while Charles remains fairly smart) that they seem to be the kind of friendship that would not work, but at times it is shown that they are very close friends.
  • One Head Taller: A combination gender-flipped and same-gender example with Sarah, Jamie and Adam.
  • Only Sane Man: Charles qualifies as this, something that is obviously not very difficult when you have a friend like Buddy, although he has his moments. Walter proved to have elements of this as well.
  • Paranormal Episode: The episode "U.F. Oh No" focuses on Adam believing that he spotted a UFO; Charles is originally skeptical about it, until he sees one for himself out the kitchen window later in the episode; Jamie, Walter, Adam and Sarah also see the object. It turns out that Buddy simulated the UFO as part of a college psychology project to see how people would react to the existence of seeing one, the only issue is that the UFO that Charles saw two nights before wasn't Buddy's creation.
  • Put on a Bus: In the season two premiere "Amityville", the Pembroke family leaves New Brunswick, New Jersey, to live in Seattle; they lease out the house to the Powell family.
    • The Bus Came Back: Gwendolyn Pierce, which was one of the original characters who did not return as a regular for the syndication run, reappears in the season two two-parter "Twice Upon a Time".
  • Really Gets Around: Charles and Buddy are serial daters (considering that they are college students, them playing the field is justified), both guys have had only a couple of girlfriends who appear in more than one episode.
  • Reckless Sidekick: Buddy slides more into this role as the series goes on; his recklessness had reached the levels where he nearly causes himself head injuries at the hands of a mallet and knocked himself out trying to smash a coconut on his head.
  • Retool: Upon moving to syndication, Charles' employers the Pembrokes were replaced by the Powells. In addition, the series added a prominent recurring (and by the end of season two, regular) role in Charles' mother Lillian, portrayed by Ellen Travolta.
  • Shrinking Violet: Sarah.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Lila in a couple of season one episodes, particularly the latter half of the pilot. Sarah in the later seasons, particularly in the episodes "Judge Not Lest Ye Beheaded", "The Boy Who Loved Woman" and "The Organization Man"note .
  • The Slacker: Jamie shows some shades of this, although she more or less qualifies as Brilliant, but Lazy.
  • Slapstick: Absent in the first season, some slapstick began to creep in to show during the syndication run. One of the most hilarious examples was in "Let's Quake a Deal", when Charles demonstrated a "Quakemaker", a belt that simulates earthquakes. When he set it to simulate a 4.5 magnitude tremblor, Charles was rocked all the way to the fireplace and tossed some light objects near the fireplace at a group of investors looking to resell the product; Buddy then turns it back on to simulate an 8.5 quake, Charles shakes all over the place (even nearly yanking the tie off of one of the investors) and Buddy ends up shaking himself then the "Quakemaker" winds up on his face after he gets it off of Charles and crashes into the kitchen. Only one of the investors decides to purchase an interest, but asks for 90% ownership of the product, which Charles turns down.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Sarah in the syndicated incarnation, although it is mainly seen in the latter half of the show's run. In one such instance, the season four premiere "No Nukes is Good Nukes", Sarah is part of a group of protesters picketing against nuclear weapons; she gets arrested, resulting in Charles, Jamie and Adam attempting to prevent their mom Ellen and their navyman father Commander Powell (who is visiting his family on naval leave) from seeing the story about the protester arrests on the local news. However, Walter finds out about it. In "La Cage Aux Fools," Sarah plans to investigate claims that Charles' school, Copeland College, is experimenting on animals, and plans to protest if the rumors of this are proven true.
  • Special Guest: Olympic gymnast Julianne McNamara and Samantha Smith, the girl who wrote to Yuri Andropov, in "Slumber Party".
    • Australian pop singer Samantha Fox, portrayed Samantha Steele, who Charles becomes involved with before finding out she's married, which turns out to be a fake story to create publicity and controversy in "Paper Covers Rock".
  • Spin-Off: The series had three proposed spin-offs, all three aired as backdoor pilots towards the end of season five (none being picked up to series) and fell under the trope Poorly Disguised Pilot. Each featured a main cast member playing a new character:
    • The backdoor pilot for the proposed Almost Family had Charles travel to visit the car wash owned by Lillian's look-alike sister Sally (played by Ellen Travolta), which is in danger of closing.
    • "Fair Exchange" was also a Back Door Pilot for a proposed spin-off that was to have revolved around the family of Jamie, Sarah and Adam's young cousins (which included Jamie's identical cousin Amanda, played by Jamie's portrayer Nicole Eggert) takes in a foreign exchange student from Romania. In the episode, Sarah travels to Albuquerque to visit their cousins in place of Jamie.
    • The episode "Last Resort" focused on Buddy's cousin (played by a blonde Willie Aames) working at a hotel in Hawaii and dealing with a wacky staff and even wackier guests.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Nanny to this show, as both shows feature broadly similar premises (fish-out-of-water becomes a nanny) and by way of Pamela Eells O'Connell, who has written for both shows (and co-executive produced the later series for a time).
  • Standardized Sitcom Housing: Subverted. The Pembroke/Powell home seen in the opening credits and some scene transitions is confusingly shown as a apartment-style building, though it is structured as a three-bedroom home with a basement (that is converted into an extra bedroom for Charles) and has a ground-floor front entrance.
  • Start My Own: Buddy and Charles create a business to look for caretakers for other families in their neighborhood in "Charles 'R' Us".
  • Sweater Girl: Some of the ladies that Charles dates.
  • Tomboyish Name: Mike Lewis, a female classmate that Charles is scheduled to tutor but has to pawn on Buddy due to having to chaperone Sarah's date and look after the diner, in "The Organization Man".
  • Tomboyish Ponytail: Averted. Sarah is the Smart Girl to Jamie's Girly Girl, though the younger Powell sister usually wears her hair in a ponytail while Jamie more often wears her hair down. There are some instances in which Sarah does wear her hair down herself, but these are fairly rare.
  • Uncanceled
  • Unnecessary Makeover: In-universe, in "The Boy Who Loved Woman", Sarah gives herself a makeover to try and win the affections of a boy named Mark who Jamie ends up asking out without realizing that Sarah is already interested in, modeling herself after Jamie; the impetus for this, Jamie inferring that it isn't fair for Sarah to compete with her for guys since they would more often pick Jamie. When Mark arrives, he asks Sarah why she looks weird. Charles helps her realize that she is smarter, more sensitive and warmer than Jamie is, which is why Mark was interested in her. Then Jamie walks in, leaving him to clarify that both sisters have their own great qualities. It turns out that Mark only asked Jamie out beacuse of her looks, and because Sarah was busy the night before, it turns out that he was more interested in Sarah.
  • Wacky Guy: Buddy.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: The first part of "Twice Upon a Time" features Buddy interrupting Charles' attempt to tell Gwendolyn (who already has a fiancee) that he is still in love with her at a going-away party the Powells and Buddy have set up by blasting music from the jukebox; Charles, in frustration, shouts to Gwendolyn to marry him in front of everyone (including Buddy and the Powells) at Sid's Pizza Parlor.
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Ben Stein pops up as Stanley Willard, an Obstructive Bureaucrat in various settings, who first appears in season two's "The Loan Arranger"note . In his penultimate appearance in the season five episode "Daffy Doc," it is revealed that Stanley is a mental patient, as he "mentally promoted himself right out of reality" to jobs he couldn't get promoted to quickly enough on his own merits.
  • Wild Teen Party: Jamie throws one of these (after Buddy suggested that Sarah would not allow one) after the Powell kids convince Charles to let them make their own rules, throwing out the entire house rules in the process, in the season five premiere "Summer Together, Fall Apart".

Breaker HighKid ComEl Chavo del ocho
CasualtySeries of the 1980sCheers
Chappelle's ShowAmerican SeriesCharlie's Angels
Central Park WestCreator/CBSChicago Hope

alternative title(s): Charles In Charge
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