Boston Common was a short-lived sitcom that aired on NBC from March 21, 1996 to April 27, 1997. Created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, in what was their last big project before the much-more successful Will & Grace, the series centered around Boyd Pritchett, a young handyman from rural Virginia, as he moved his younger sister, Wyleen, to Boston, so she could start her life as a student at the fictional Randolph Harrington College. Boyd was only supposed to stay a few days to help Wyleen get settled in before returning home, only to end up falling in love with attractive graduate student Joy Byrnes, and getting a job as a maintenance worker at the university. Joy, though, was attached to snooty professor Jack Reed. Living in the apartment across the hall from Boyd and Wyleen was the pretty much always down Leonard Prince, and working with Boyd at the front desk in the student union was the sassy Tasha King, the student union supervisor.
Virginia-born comedian Anthony Clark played Boyd, with Hedy Burress playing Wyleen, Traylor Howard as Joy, Steve Paymer as Leonard, Tasha Smith as, well, Tasha, and, except for the pilot episode, Vincent Ventresca as Jack. In the pilot, the role of Jack Reed was played by Patrick Fabian. Sam Anderson played university president Wesley Butterfield until near the halfway point of season two. At the two-thirds mark of the second season, Tony Award-winning Welshman Roger Rees joined the cast as Butterfield's replacement, uppity Harrison Cross, and the role of university president became more prominent in the show, as Boyd and Cross began to clash on just about everything.
In addition to the principals and supporters, recurring roles were played by actors and actresses that already were or had not yet become well-known. In season two, Margot Kidder was cast as Cookie, the head of the university's theater department and Wyleen's drama teacher, while Zach Galifianakis, in his first television role, was cast as stoner student Bobby.
The series's first season aired in two parts, with the first six episodes airing on Thursdays as part of NBC's "Must See TV" block from March 21 to April 25, 1996, and the remaining four episodes airing on Sundays (August 11, 18, September 8, and 15) after the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. For its second season, the show was placed in the 8:30 PM Eastern time slot on Sundays, paired with 3rd Rock from the Sun. The second season began on September 29, two weeks after the first season ended.
Ratings for the series premiere were strong, as Boston Common finished third on the night, with its lead-in, Friends, finishing first with a new episode, and the show that followed it, Seinfeld, finishing second with a rerun. The show won its 8:30 Eastern time slot over Fox's Martin, CBS's coverage of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, and ABC's coverage of the World Figure Skating Championships. In its first six episodes, Boston Common finished no lower than seventh in the ratings on Thursdays. It ranked eighth overall in the ratings for the 1995-96 television season for all series, between Home Improvement and 60 Minutes.
For season two, however, ratings plummeted. Boston Common finished 51st in the overall ratings for 1996-97, two positions ahead of, of all shows, The Simpsons, but 23 spots below its Third Rock lead-in, leading to the show's cancellation.
After its cancellation, Boston Common aired in reruns on USA Network's "USAM" block, alongside other cancelled NBC sitcoms, such as Something So Right, The Naked Truth, Working, and another much more successful NBC sitcom from The '90s, Wings.
This show provides examples of:
- Affectionate Nickname: Wyleen called Boyd "Bo", and he called her "Leenie".
- And Starring: From the second episode to the last, Ventresca got the "And" credit. For the pilot episode, the last name listed in the opening credits was that of Fred Applegate, who was in the pilot only as a character named Sherman who hires Boyd. Applegate did not get the "And" credit. Rees's arrival saw him receive billing in the opening credits as the "With" credit.
- Benevolent Boss: President Butterfield.
- Birthday Episode: "This Ain't No Party, This Ain't No Disco..." (Season 2, Episode 3). In the episode's first minute, Tasha gives Jack a birthday card to give to Joy, as it's Joy's birthday the following day. This makes Jack realize that he's forgotten about the occasion. Jack reluctantly recruits Boyd to throw a Surprise Party for Joy, though at a cost: Jack will get Boyd a ski weekend at the university's condo on Mt. Killington in Vermont between Christmas and New Year's. The party must be thrown that night, as Jack has a lecture he can't get out of on Joy's birthday night. The two meet up that afternoon, and quickly put everything together (the party will be held at Jack and Joy's apartment), and invite guests. There's just one problem: they forget to have someone "go shopping" with Joy and accompany her back to the apartment for the party. Joy's having her own little party with Leonard, who's just lost his job because the university has cut his funding, and the two get drunk in the library, staying in the library until past Midnight. Joy finally returns to the apartment, where everyone's left, and Jack and Boyd are cleaning up. She greets Boyd with a "Hi, honey", and Jack with a "Hi, Jack" (the "Hi, honey" to Boyd got the Studio Audience riled up for a few seconds), before saying she's kidding. She notices the boys cleaning up, and asks what's going on. Boyd and Jack respond with a meek "Surprise!".
- Blood on the Debate Floor: It doesn't get physical, but it does get personal. DC and Wyleen have their freshman president debate at the Student Union in "The War Room" (Season 2, Episode 5). Unfortunately, their campaign managers, Boyd and Jack, are standing alongside them. The two (as in, Boyd and Jack) begin attacking each other, totally taking away from the candidates; it gets really ugly when one student asks DC and Wyleen what qualities that each of them possess that their opponent doesn't:Jack: [grabs microphone] Intellect.Boyd: [grabs microphone] Charm.Jack: Style.Boyd: Substance.Jack: Sense.Boyd: [grinning] Sensibility?Jack: [turns towards Boyd, leans on lectern] Joy!Boyd: [gasps dramatically, turns towards Jack] Oh, so it's personal, huh? Well, I'll tell you one thing: at least I don't tell my secrets to a male prostitute! Hello, is this on?! [chaos breaks out, and Wyleen leaves, humiliated; Boyd calls after her, to no avail, and realizes he's gone too far]
- The next day, Jack and Boyd apologize to each other.
- Boy Meets Girl: Boyd and Joy actually met twice in the pilot: the first time (about 5 minutes in) was when she was pestering Sherman to fix a drawer at her desk; the second time was near the halfway point, when they officially introduced themselves to each other.
- Butt-Monkey: Leonard. Pretty much every time he went to the Pritchetts' apartment to discuss some problem, they made as many jokes about him as possible. Not everything in Leonard's life was totally messed up, though.
- California University: Randolph Harrington College was based on a real Boston school, Emerson College, the alma mater of both Clark and Mutchnick.
- Celebrity Resemblance: In the Cold Open to the penultimate episode of Season 1, "Everybody's Stalking" (Episode 9), Leonard wins a $25 gift certificate from Joseph and Sons Market for being their 25th customer on their 25th anniversary. He also has his picture taken for an ad in the newspaper, and on billboards. After the titles, he is seen in the Student Union being recognized by many people. Boyd pretends not to know Leonard, and asks him if he were in the movie City Slickers, before saying he was thinking of Jack Palance. Boyd is making a reference to the City Slickers character Ira Shalowitz, played by Academy Award nominee (Best Supporting Actor for 1992's Mr. Saturday Night) David Paymer, younger brother of Steve Paymer, who played Leonard. If you've ever seen the Paymer brothers side-by-side, you'd definitely think they were twins. And no, at no point in Boston Common's run did David Paymer make an appearance.
- The Charmer: Boyd.
- Cold Open: All episodes in the series used one.
- Credit Card Plot: "Extra Credit" (Season 2, Episode 16) sees President Cross introduce a credit card program to the university, which, much to Boyd's horror, Wyleen applies and is approved for. Unsurprisingly, she goes nuts, and maxes out the card in two days, purchasing a cappuccino maker, a fancy stereo, and a dog that she puts a pink sweater on, among other things. After President Cross refuses to waive the interest rate, Wyleen goes down the street and gets another credit card, with half the interest rate of the university's card, intending to use her new card to pay off the university card. This leads Boyd and Tasha to invite other credit card companies with lower interest rates to set up shop in the student union, forcing Cross to drop the credit card program. At episode's end, Wyleen was able to take back the stereo, keep the cappuccino maker, and sold the dog to Leonard, where it immediately made itself at home on Leonard's bed, much to his dismay.
- Curse Cut Short: In the Cold Open to "The War Room" (Season 2, Episode 5), Boyd brings a TV and a VCR on a cart to Jack's classroom. Inside the VCR is a VHS of the first debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, which also happened to be the first-ever televised presidential debate (as well as the moment the election turned in JFK's favor for good). Jack begins playing the tape for his class; at first, things are fine, as Nixon is seen speaking about farmers. Suddenly, the audio changes into a Gag Dub done by Boyd and Tasha, with Boyd's audio appearing over Kennedy, and Tasha's over Nixon:Boyd: Those taquitos give you gas yesterday, or what?Tasha: I didn't eat 'em. Why? Did they give you gas?Boyd: No.Tasha: Oh, you lyin' sack of — [Jack reaches down, and unplugs the TV as the class laughs]
- Dance Party Ending: The pilot ends with Boyd getting down in the student union to Bizarre Inc's 1992 single "I'm Gonna Get You", which he was listening to in the cold open during his and Wyleen's drive to Boston (in this scene, Boyd was listening to the song on his headphones while driving!), with the night janitor watching (the song is playing on the radio that is on the janitor's cart), wondering What the Fu Are You Doing?
- Decided by One Vote: In "The War Room" (Season 2, Episode 5), Wyleen runs for freshman class president against arrogant classmate DC, recruiting Boyd to be her campaign manager. While running, Wyleen is also studying for an important midterm, which happens to be on the day of the election. Wyleen is so busy studying that she forgets to vote for herself, and loses by a final margin of 7-6.
- Did You Get a New Haircut?: In season two, Joy's blonde hair suddenly goes from a bob to a boycut.
- The Eeyore: Leonard all the way. In fact, Boyd said to Wyleen, "You're living across the hall from Eeyore", after they met Leonard in the pilot.
- Ending Theme: Literally an instrumental version of the theme song.
- Establishing Shot: Usually, outside the student union and the apartment building where Boyd, Wyleen, and Leonard lived. Also, a local grocery store, art museum, restaurants, etc., pretty much any place where there was a scene.
- Everybody Knew Already: Tasha pretty much figures out Boyd has a crush on Joy from the beginning ("Looks like love's found Forrest Gump."). Boyd also doesn't mind telling Wyleen and Leonard about it, either.
- Fallback Marriage Pact: Tasha and Leonard make one of these in "Mercury Retrograde" (Season 2, Episode 4), with the pact coming into effect once Tasha turned 40. Leonard then tells Tasha he would be 40 that coming August.
- First Kiss: Boyd and Joy kiss about five times while slow dancing at The Golden Spur in "Virginia Reeling" (Season 1, Episode 6).
- The Food Poisoning Incident: In the Season 1 finale, "A Streetcar Named Denial" (Episode 10), Boyd receives his great-grandfather's (also named Boyd) recipe for tuna sandwiches, which were popular back in Virginia. Boyd decides to start a side business selling the sandwiches, with Tasha and Wyleen acting as his partners, and Leonard doing the grunt work. With the first batch of sandwiches done, Leonard is to put them in the refrigerator in the school's cafeteria, as the Pritchett siblings' fridge is nowhere near big enough. As he walks through Boston, he gets sidetracked by an Ingmar Bergman film festival (the phrase "Twelve Hours of Abject Human Suffering" appears on the bottom of the theater's marquee). He goes into the theater with the sandwiches, AND STAYS FOR THE FULL 12 HOURS! He goes straight from the theater to the Student Union, where Boyd and Tasha await for the sale of the first batch. They sell like hotcakes; even Joy and Jack buy some. Later that night, everyone who purchased the sandwiches goes to the theater for a show featuring different scenes performed by members of the drama department, Wyleen being one of them. Leonard confesses to Boyd and Tasha what happened when everyone is complaining about not feeling well. They leave before the first scene, which Wyleen is a part of. Everyone else stays, and ends up running out to vomit, right when Wyleen and the actor she's performing with, Wade, kiss.
- Funny Answering Machine: Inverted: In "Everybody's Stalking" (Season 1, Episode 9), someone is stalking Leonard after his picture appears in a newspaper ad for Joseph and Sons Market. He brings his answering machine into the Pritchetts' apartment in order to play a message the man has left for him. Instead, he ends up playing a message from Video Planet, telling him the copy of Horny Sorority he rented is overdue. Predictably, Boyd and Wyleen burst out laughing.
- Homage Shot: The first post-credits scene in "A Cross to Bear" (Season 2, Episode 21) features an homage to Seinfeld: the opening notes of the theme song play, and the camera pans up and zooms in on Wyleen and Boyd's apartment. It turns out Wyleen is watching the beginning of a Seinfeld episode, until Boyd pushes her off the couch so he can watch Mr. Magoo.
- Hypocritical Humor: In "Everybody's Stalking" (Season 1, Episode 9), Wyleen becomes obsessed with a fat-free cookie called a Crack 'Um; meanwhile, Boyd and Joy have decided to take a break from one another, but he ends up becoming more obsessed with her than ever; this is no more evident than in the following exchange between the Pritchett siblings at their apartment:Boyd: Y'know, you're gettin' obsessed with those Crack 'Ums.Wyleen: I'm obsessed? Who moved all the way up to Boston just to hang around a girl he didn't even know?Boyd: You leave Joy out of this; you're the one that's cookie-crazed.Wyleen: I am not! [during this entire conversation, she's been eating Crack 'Ums crumbs off of the table]Boyd: Let me tell you somethin': You have a serious problem. [he says, as he opens the closet door, revealing a black-and-white close-up photo of Joy - which was actually Traylor Howard's publicity photo for the series - that is the size of a poster, pinned to the inside of the closet door, with a heart drawn around Joy's face] I think you should stay here, and think about what you have become. [he grabs something from the closet, and leaves]
- I Am Very British: President Cross. It is later revealed - in what turned out to be the series's penultimate episode, no less ("A Cross to Bear") - that he came from a poor background, having grown up in Berwick-upon-Tweed, near Skegness. His life turned around when he got into Oxford University. His Received Pronunciation accent is also a put-on, as he speaks in private with a Northumbrian accent. His ex-wife Lucy, who's featured in the same episode, is nothing like her ex-husband, still embracing her Berwick background.
- Jack, until he and Boyd found common ground following Jack and Joy's breakup.
- President Cross.
- Just Friends: Joy uses this exact phrase at Boyd in "Virginia Reeling" (Season 1, Episode 6) when he attempts to ask her to go line dancing with he and a group of friends at a local country & western bar.
- Large Ham: Boyd.
- Line-of-Sight Name: When asked what will be the first play shown at the school's new theater, Cookie de Varen stalls for a bit before seeing President Cross' tea set and picking up the teapot.Cookie: And the play I've chosen is... The Tea Ceremony.Cross: That's an inspired choice. What other plays were you considering? Death of a Stapler, perhaps, or My Fair Paperclip?
- Love at First Sight: Boyd stopped caring about trying to find an apartment for Wyleen to live in the first time he saw Joy in the student union.
- Love Hurts:
- Boyd being unable to win Joy away from Jack, although he gets incredibly close to doing so in "Mercury Retrograde" (Season 2, Episode 4).
- Joy breaking off her and Jack's engagement towards the end of the series.
- Love Interest:
- Joy (for Boyd).
- Towards the end of the series, Cookie for Leonard.
- Love Triangle: Boyd, Jack, and Joy.
- Mean Boss: President Cross, who often made fun of Boyd's Southern heritage whenever he got a chance. In what turned out to be the series finale, he basically forced Tasha to put up with the antics of the ill-mannered son of the university's biggest benefactor, even when that son was sexually assaulting her by grabbing her rear end.
- Mistaken for Pedophile: In "Virginia Reeling" (Season 1, Episode 6), Wyleen meets a famous country musician named Aubrey McLean, whose lead singer has decided to leave the band to finish high school. Wyleen asks McLean how old the girl is, and he answers 15, and says they've been together for six months. Wyleen responds, "You know what they say, Aubrey: '15'll get you 20.'" Aubrey assures Wyleen that his "attraction was strictly vocal."
- Mocking Music: Used at the end of "Hope Springs a Leak" (Season 1, Episode 7). Boyd, Wyleen, and Leonard are all at the Pritchetts' apartment, each one moping about a different situation: Boyd is upset that Joy still hasn't told Jack about her and Boyd's kiss; Leonard is distraught that the woman he slept with has suddenly gone back to her husband (Leonard was oblivious to the fact that this woman was yelling out her husband's name while they were making love; he thought she was yelling, "Faster!", when she was actually yelling, "Lester!"), and that his salary has been cut by 20% to help pay for the education of a rude Russian student who cares nothing about actually going to class; and Wyleen is angry over the fact that her singing career has ended before it's even started, thanks to bad booking by Tasha. Each character punctuates their stress with one last line (Boyd: "I can't stand waiting."; Wyleen: "I can't stand Tasha!"; Leonard: "I can't stand myself."), and then, Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" begins blaring from the street. The trio all look toward the window to the left of the apartment's counter (Wyleen's bed was also situated next to this window), before staring off into space again. Ironically, the song had been used in the Cold Open to punctuate Boyd's happiness over finally kissing Joy during his dream.
- Mrs. Robinson: In "Here's to You, Mrs. Byrnes" (Season 2, Episode 19), Joy's mother, Betty, comes to Boston to visit her and Jack. Betty takes a liking to Boyd, attempting to seduce him, which he isn't interested in. When Jack finds this out, he has a chance to tell Joy, but chickens out, and says that Boyd was only nice to Betty to show him (Jack) up. This leads Joy to go the Pritchetts' apartment, where Boyd almost lets slip what happened, until Joy tells him what Jack really said.
- No Romantic Resolution: We will never know if Boyd and Joy ultimately ended up together, or if Cookie accepted Leonard's proposal.
- Opening Credits Cast Party: More like a party for one. Shot on a late sunny afternoon in the Winter of '95-'96, the credits feature Clark dancing (very poorly) on a snow-covered roof to the show's upbeat theme song, the Boston skyline prominently in the background. He also frolics around on a snow-covered bridge, and throws a snowball at the cameraman's legs. Time Lapse shots of Boston are also seen, as are shots of various landmarks, such as the statue of Paul Revere.
- Out of Order: "Here's to You, Mrs. Byrnes" (Season 2, Episode 18) airs three episodes after Joy broke off her engagement with Jack. The reason for Betty's visit to Boston is to meet her future son-in-law. But Jack and Joy never got back together before or after this episode, so it had to have been aired out of order.
- The Peter Principle: President Butterfield, and, to an extent, President Cross, the latter of whom would be outsmarted on many issues by Boyd (and sometimes, Boyd and Tasha teaming up).
- Put on a Bus: Sherman (Fred Applegate) was never seen again after the pilot, and he was the one who hired Boyd. Two episodes later, it was revealed he had been fired by the university for trying to choke a student.
- Previously On: Used only at the beginning of "Hope Springs a Leak" (Season 1, Episode 7, the first episode after the long Summer hiatus in '96), detailing the events of the previous episode, "Virginia Reeling." This leads into the episode's cold open.
- Rags to Riches: In "A Night in Camelot" (Season 2, Episode 13), Boyd and Jack discover a pair of tennis shoes once belonging to President Kennedy in a box Boyd had brought out of the student union's basement. Jack calls Sotheby's to see how much the shoes are worth, having to leave a message because it's Friday afternoon. So, during the weekend, Jack, Joy, Leonard, and Wyleen take turns keeping an eye on the shoes, with one shoe going with Jack and Joy, and the other with Wyleen and Leonard. Come Monday, the quartet begin arguing about how to split the money. The phone rings in the student union, and a homeless man who had appeared earlier in the episode (played by Patrick Thomas O'Brien) answers it. When he hears Sotheby's quote for the shoes, he takes off with them, the other four too busy to notice because they're still fighting. The man later appears at an art gallery Boyd and Tasha are at, wearing a new suit, new glasses, and sporting a better hairdo.
- The Resolution Will Not Be Televised: In what turned out to be the series finale, "Sophomore's Choice" (Season 2, Episode 22), President Cross announced to a stunned Boyd that he was going to fire Tasha for breaking the nose of the obnoxious son of the university's biggest benefactor (even though the little snot deserved it; he did grab her rear end, after all). Also, Joy got a job teaching in the communications department, which was run by Jack. So, we never got to see how Professor Byrnes would do.
- Sassy Black Woman: Tasha.
- Sibling Rivalry: Boyd and Wyleen...sort of. It was more about Wyleen being irritated with sharing a space with her brother, and his antics drove her nuts at times. They loved each other, though.
- Southern Gentleman: Boyd.
- Stalker with a Crush: Sometimes, Boyd would go through Joy's mailbox in the student union, or wait around for her just to have a conversation. In by far his creepiest move in the series, he once went through Joy's trash to find pieces of a note she wrote him, only to throw it away. Attempting to piece it back together in his and Wyleen's apartment (with Wyleen sitting on her bed, nonetheless, and, like any normal person, asking, "Should I be worried about this?" when Boyd admits to her what he's doing), he finds that most of the ink has been dissolved by strawberry yogurt.
- The Shrink: Dr. Brenda Nidorf, the school psychiatrist. She sort of falls into the second group in this trope, as she doesn't mind telling Boyd what Jack tells her outside of her office.
- The Stoner:
- Bobby's friend Eskowitz.
- The Storyteller:
- Boyd almost always had a story about one of his and Wyleen's strange backwoods relatives in Virginia.note At least one of these stories was taken from Clark's set at the 1995 HBO Young Comedians Special. Boyd tells Joy about how his parents forced him to give up his pet cow because he tried to make it eat hamburger. This was a part of Clark's set. Too bad the series didn't last any longer; it would've been interesting to see how the writers could make Clark's story about reporting an Irish girl who wasn't a U.S. citizen to Immigration and Naturalization Services as revenge for dumping him into a Boyd tale.
- Cookie loved telling stories from her days in the theater, and had no issues dropping names of big-time actors she performed with.
- Thanksgiving Episode: "Gobble, Gobble, Aggch!" (Season 2, Episode 8). Boyd and Wyleen decide to stay in Boston for Thanksgiving, and invite Tasha, Leonard, and Cookie (Wyleen does this solely for the purpose of getting cast as the lead in the Spring play, which happens to be "Anne Frank"; Cookie catches on right away, but praises Wyleen for her sneakiness) over for dinner. Unfortunately, on Thanksgiving Day itself, Wyleen and Boyd are forced to drive to a butcher shop, where they purchase a live turkey, that, surprise, surprise, they can't bring themselves to kill. They name the bird Pauline, and decide to keep it in the bathroom on their floor of the apartment building until they can take it back to the family farm in Virginia. Jack and Joy show up after a bad experience at the homeless shelter, thanks to another yuppie couple. Joy accidentally kills Pauline after feeding the bird some of her cranberry relish (which no one else wanted). The gang heads down to the homeless shelter for dinner, before deciding to go to The Sizzler instead.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Throughout "Everybody's Stalking" (Season 1, Episode 9), Wyleen is obsessed with a snack food called Crack 'Ums.
- What Does She See in Him?: Considering how easily charmed she was by Boyd, Joy's relationship with Jack definitely falls under this. Heck, her defense of Jack's personality to Boyd in "Virginia Reeling" (Season 1, Episode 6), isn't exactly convincing, either, and one wonders if even she is questioning why she's going out with Jack, not Boyd. According to Joy, her own mother prefers Boyd. And the downfall of their relationship occurs when Cookie notices that they don't have any chemistry.
- Wrong Name Outburst: In "Mercury Retrograde" (Season 2, Episode 4), Jack says, "I love you, Joy." How does Joy respond? "I love you, too, Boyd." Nothing came of this, though. In fact, later on the episode, Jack proposes to Joy, and she accepts.