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Series / Who's the Boss?

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Blended family in progress.note 

Who's The Boss? is an American Dom Com starring Tony Danza, Judith Light, Alyssa Milano, Danny Pintauro, and Katherine Helmond. It was broadcast for eight seasons (1984–92) on ABC.

Widower Anthony Morton "Tony" Micelli (Danza) is a former second baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals, who was forced to retire due to a shoulder injury. Wanting a better environment for his daughter Samantha (Milano) to grow up in, Tony moved out of his native Brooklyn to take a job in upscale Fairfield, Connecticut as a live-in housekeeper for divorced advertising executive Angela Bower (Light). Joining them in the Bower household were Angela's son Jonathan (Pintauro) and her mother Mona Robinson (Helmond).

This series contained a number of role reversals unusual for the time period, such as a domestic setting where the woman was the breadwinner while the man stayed home and maintained the household. Additionally, the role of Angela's mother Mona as a sexually active older woman was quite unusual then. Also well known for its use of Unresolved Sexual Tension; the very slow-building romantic relationship between Tony and Angela was quite a rarity at the time.

This series contains examples of:

  • Accidental Marriage: After a trip to South Carolina in which they signed in to a motel as "Mr. and Mrs.", Tony and Angela somehow ended up as Common Law spouses under S.C. law. The ensuing effort to annul the marriage was less about ending the marriage than about Tony and Angela awkwardly dodging their own feelings on the subject.
  • The Alleged Car: Tony's van. Oddly, despite the Jaguar XJ's reputation, Angela's Jag *isn't* treated like one.
    • Averted later on when Tony gets a brand new Jeep.
  • And Starring: "And Katherine Helmond as Mona".
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the episode "Car and Driver" (where Samantha takes Tony's delivery van for a joyride), there's a scene in which Tony, Angela, and Mona are in the kitchen and they hear tire squeaking. Apparently there's a punk kid who likes to speed down the road of the Bower residence. Tony decides he wants to finally catch the guy who's doing it. As they run to the front door to catch him...
    Tony: Hey, you, get off that pedal! There's kids in this neighborhood! And pets! And the elderly!
    Angela: ...and sometimes I like to park my Jag in the street!
  • Bilingual Backfire: In one episode, Samantha's boyfriend helps her cheat on a chemistry exam in exchange for her helping him cheat on a French exam. While they're in the kitchen later with Mona, Samantha thanks her boyfriend in French for helping her cheat, unaware that Mona knows French also.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: In the episode "Not With My Client You Don't", Angela's assistant calls "hooker" an ugly word and prefers "call girl".
  • Bookends: The last scene of the last episode was more or less a reworking of the first scene of the first episode where Tony and Angela first met.
  • Broken Aesop: In "Road Scholar," Sam has her heart set on attending Tate University, a super-selective California school - a fictional Stanford, perhaps. But when she meets with an alum for her admission interview, he almost immediately shoots down any hope she has of getting in by explaining that he met with a boy earlier that day who'd been off saving the world over the summer, and what has she done lately besides being a kid? Then he reminds her that there's an excellent university just down the street from her and maybe she should consider that instead. The intended Aesop seems to be that you shouldn't overlook great opportunities by focusing only on the very best, which isn't a bad lesson; but the real Aesop is that if you're not an absolute rock star in everything you do, you shouldn't even bother aiming high. And that's not even touching on the kind of financial backing that other boy must have had and which Sam, through no fault of her own, does not.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Tony used to be a professional baseball player before he got a shoulder injury.
  • Clip Show: "Sit Down and Be Counted", "Life With Father", "The Way We Was".
  • Continuity Snarl: The season 7 episode "The Unsinkable Tony Micelli" has Tony become deathly afraid of water and refusing to swim because of a traumatic incident he suffered when he was 9 years old. However, the season 2 episode "Custody" had Tony swimming and surfing in the Pacific Ocean with no issues.
  • A Day in Her Apron: This is part of the show's whole concept. Angela is the high-powered advertising executive and not very good at housekeeping. Tony, on the other hand, is a retired baseball player and single father who is brilliant at cooking, cleaning, and similar tasks. They're not a married couple - he's her live-in housekeeper - but on those occasions when they have reason to switch roles, it invariably goes badly.
    • One episode has Tony and Angela helping with one of his daughter Sam's class projects, in which she and her schoolmates tag along on various careers. Sam has the option of going with one of them; she immediately picks Tony, thinking that it will be much easier to clean the house. Tony cheerfully gives her his to-do list the next day, which unrolls to spill onto the carpet, and then leaves for his college classes. When he comes home that night, he's surprised that she doesn't have dinner in the oven, which was one of the assigned tasks; she then reveals that she's on the fourth thing on his list.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Mona casually busts Tony over a fling with someone who wasn't Angela.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: In the episode Sit Down and be Counted, nearly at the end of the episode the census worker says that he'd like to write a story based on the Bower-Micelli household. Tony is upset after the last question, and leaves with Angela to the movies. Three months later, Angela and Tony are sitting in front of the TV, watching "Hank the Housekeeper", heavily based on their lives, with the main female character named Andrea. At the end of the Show Within a Show, cue the instrumental theme song. Although it only lasted for a few seconds before the real theme song plays.
  • Epic Fail: When Tony decides to go back to college, he takes the entrance exam and comes up quite short of the four hundred and fifty points needed to pass: two. Even the administrator can't believe it. Then he looks over the exam and subverts this. Tony accidentally filled in his first answer in the block for the practice question and the following answers in the blocks for the questions before them. So, he grades the test by hand and gives Tony a grade of over five hundred.
  • Everybody Knew Already: When Angela finally reveals her feelings to Tony, no one is surprised, not even someone who met them both that night.
    Tony: Who could've known she felt this way?
    Mona: I knew.
    Sam: I knew.
    Jonathan: I knew.
    Mrs. Rossini: I knew.
    Sam's date: I had a hunch..
  • Everyone Can See It: Near the end of the show's run, the only people surprised by Tony and Angela's attraction to each other were Tony and Angela.
  • Fake Band: The doo-wop group "Tony and the Dreamtones" is played by actual doo-wop group "The Mighty Echoes" (plus, of course, Tony Danza).
  • Fake Relationship: One episode had Tony and Angela pretending to be married for one person and trying to prove they weren't for another.
  • Family Man: The show is about Tony, a retired MLB player, moving to Connecticut with his daughter to become a live-in housekeeper for the president of an advertising agency.
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: In "A Well-Kept Housekeeper", Tony takes a job at a restaurant that features hot, nude men as the waiters. When Tony's daughter "Sam" shows up, Tony tells her that he doesn't approve of her being in such a raunchy place, to which Sam replies, "At least I have my clothes on!" Tony, the "nude waiter" is wearing shoes, long pants, and a vest, leaving only his arms and head exposed as he's so embarrassed by the outfit that he covers his chest and stomach with a tray.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: "Tony the Nanny": Tony Danza theorizes that Italian-speaking uncle Vito Scotti thinks that he's to blame for Scotti's daughter standing up to him regarding her fiancé, and he's right (according to Scotti's daughter's interpretation).
  • Game of Nerds: Averted. Tony, the former baseball player, is the manly one, and Jonathan, the geeky one, has no clue. He got a job with the Mets as a ballboy that lasted precisely one game, after he picked up a fair ball thinking it was foul and "costing the Mets the World Series".
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: Jonathan's actions in the aforementioned ballgame. He picks up a fair ball thinking it was foul and gives it to a couple cute girls in the stands. Jonathan then tries to scramble to get the ball back as play continues. In an actual ball game, contact with the ball by a ballboy or by a fan reaching out onto the field would result in a dead ball, and play would be stopped.
  • Homage: The house where the main characters live was designed as an homage to the house in the last season of I Love Lucy.
  • Honorary Uncle: When Angela's college roommate comes to town for their reunion, she thinks Jonathan is absolutely precious and asks him to call her "Aunt Trish."
  • House Husband: Tony. Not a husband, but certainly qualifies.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Tony and Sam's grandfather are discussing the latter's incarceration, describing it as "Jail, the slammer, the big house, the joint."
  • If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You: The B-story of the Season 8 episode “Mrs. Al” has Angela struggling to come up with a suitable campaign slogan for Le Fizz, an awful-tasting, French sports drink that Tony, upon drinking it, suggests is so bad it’s not even suitable for children (questioning why Angela gave it to teenaged Jonathan to taste-test), much less adults (quipping that the slogan should be “if swallowed, induce vomiting”). Eventually, Angela uses the drink’s taste as the selling point, using a paraphrasing of the trope name as the tagline for the commercial she shows to Tony and Mona at the end of the episode:
    Commercial pitchman (heard on TV off-screen, after spitting out the beverage in disgust): ”Something that tastes this bad must be good for you.”
  • If I Wanted X, I Would Y: In one episode, Jonathan decides he wants to be a stand-up comedian. His routine consists of a lot of unfunny and, at times, nonsensical "what is the deal with that?" style jokes. When talking about sushi, he says "If I wanted to eat raw fish, I'd bite a river".
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: In the episode "The Prodigal Son In Law", Jonathan asks Mona to help him with his homework as an excuse for the two to go upstairs, so that Tony can talk to Samantha about a family relative who has been sent to jail.
  • Imagine the Audience Naked: Tony gives this advice to a classmate when he has to give a presentation, but it backfires when he starts leering at the attractive girls in the class and ignoring the unattractive men, all the while oblivious to the questions that both sets of people are trying to ask.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Danza's former Taxi co-star Jeff Conaway appears as Tony's friend in the episode "First Kiss". Funnily enough, they evoke the trope The Danza by naming his character Jeff.
  • Large Ham: Tony definitely had his moments.
  • Lethal Chef: There are many jokes about Angela's lack of kitchen skills throughout the series, usually from Tony.
    • This is subverted in the episode "The Anniversary Show". Angela believes the Beef Wellington she made is the cause of Tony's sudden illness, but when they get to the hospital, it turns out it's a ruptured appendix.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: In the episode "When Worlds Collide" Angela wins loads at poker early on, and her son Jonathan gets four aces in the epilogue.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Tony is a macho meathead version of this. His fun-loving, appreciate life nature regularly conflicts with Angela's East Coast workaholic personality.
  • Marry the Nanny: Angela hires Tony as a housekeeper. She becomes a mother figure for Tony's daughter Samantha and Tony becomes a father figure for Angela's son Jonathan. They begin a long Will They or Won't They? relationship, with marriage being considered.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Downplayed with Angela and Tony, but sometimes played straight. One episode has Angela drinking beer while watching a sports show while Tony sits next to her, reading a magazine (and a magazine about dresses, at that).
    • Played straight slightly more often between Sam and Jonathan.
  • Mistaken for Dying: When Tony's father-in-law tries to tell Tony he's going to prison, he never gets the strength to finish his sentence, leading Tony to believe he's dying.
  • Mrs. Robinson: In one episode, Mona (whose last name just happens to be Robinson) comes home with her boyfriend, who is in his twenties. When she starts to show off the gold brooch he gave her, which he pinned over her left shoulder, it's missing, so she thinks she dropped it. As the family looks for it, her grandson finds it, pinned over her right shoulder blade.
  • No Longer with Us: Tony's father-in-law tells Tony that he (the father-in-law) is going to prison. But he can't bring himself to say the word "prison" and leaves off with, "I'm going to..." So Tony assumes that "die" was the unspeakable word that he was having trouble with. Hilarity Ensues as the father-in-law spends the whole episode enjoying the sympathy that is accorded to a terminally ill person.
  • No, Except Yes: A dark version in the following exchange:
    Tony: Angela, you ... you're telling me you got canned?
    Angela: No, Tony, people at my level don't get "canned". I got fired.
  • Not Hyperbole: Done unintentionally in "Tony Kills": The episode begins with Tony leaving to play a tennis match with his neighbor Fred. Just before he leaves, he announces "I'm gonna murder him" (i.e., beat him in the match). In the very next scene, a guilt-ridden Tony arrives home and tells the family that Fred had a heart attack during the match. Tony believes it was divine retribution after he saw Fred flirting with Angela before the match.
  • Offscreen Crash: Episode "Daddy's Little Montague Girl": Character shoves shopping cart out of a house in rage. House happens to be in hilly San Francisco (as opposed to the usual Connecticut locale of the show). Cart heard rolling for about 30 seconds.
  • Parental Substitute: Angela becomes a mother figure to Samantha, while Tony becomes a father figure to Jonathan.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: For Living Dolls, a short-lived spinoff about teenage fashion models.
    • "Charmed Lives" with Fran Drescher, as an aspiring model/actress, and Donna Dixon, as a photographer-turned-model, who are given an apartment to live in when they get hired to share a job as models for an Italian food company. There’s episodes were filmed, but never aired.
  • Raised by Dudes: Before moving in with Angela, Samantha was raised solely by Tony, which led her to have a very tomboyish personality.
  • Really Gets Around: Mona.
  • Rearrange the Song: The theme song, Brand New Life, was re-arranged three times: Version 1 was used in Seasons 1 & 2, version 2 was used in Season 3-most of Season 6, version 3 was used in the last eight episodes of Season 6, and version 4 was used in Seasons 7 & 8. Version 1 was in the key of C Major; the others were in the key of D Major. Not to mention the first lyrics was changed in Season 3 from "There is more to life than what you're living" to "There's a time for love and a time for giving".
    • Likewise, the ending theme was also re-arranged three times, with Seasons 1 & 2 being in the key of C Sharp Major, Season 3-most of Season 6 being in the key of D Sharp Major, and rest of Season 6-Season 8 being in the same key as the main theme, being ever so slightly changed for Seasons 7 & 8.
  • Retcon: In the fifth season, Leah Remini and Michael Lerned were introduced as Charlie and Trish in the backdoor pilot "Living Dolls". In this episode, Charlie is already working for Trish and living with other teen models. The episode is retconned in the sixth season episode "Life's a Ditch" where they're re-introduced and supposedly meet for the first time. This time around Charlie is a runaway and Trish takes her under her wing. The retcon was used to introduce the spinoff which was premiering the same night.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: In the episode "Jonathan the Gymnast", they show Danny Pintauro wearing a cast and telling Judith Light about how he got it from a nasty gymnastics fall rather than showing the fall itself.
  • Seen It All: Angela is in a funk when Tony tells her that her assistant talked smack about her behind her back. When she tells this to her mother, she correctly guesses the exact insult ("A two-bit tramp who slept her way to the top"), saying that's what all men say about women in a higher position.
  • Self-Care Epiphany: In one episode, Angela took the family to therapy to work on the kids' sibling rivalry. After observing Tony's behavior, the therapist recommended Tony join a support group for supermom burnout.
  • Self-Deprecation: While trying to talk Sam and Hank out of rushing into marriage, Angela concedes her and Tony waiting a whole eight years to hook up wasn't the best idea, either. She proceeds to get distracted rambling on about how waiting four or five years would've been fine, but to drag it out further than that was just silly.
  • Sex Sells: Tony takes an advertising class and makes a commercial for women's shampoo using a sexy lady coming out of the shower in just a small towel. Then Angela, who actually works in advertising, points out that his commercial won't actually sell the product because it's marketing to men but the product is for women.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: During the series' seventh season, the producers attempted to inject new life into the episode by adding a cute kid named Billy to the household; the explanation was that the kid, who was from Tony's old neighborhood in the Bronx, had been recently orphaned. The character was immensely unpopular with audiences; that, and Jonathan Halyalkar's inability to keep up with the more experienced cast's timing and pace (this was the 6-year-old's first acting gig), he was written out of the show at the end of the season. In the fall of 1991, it was briefly explained that Billy had gone to live with another foster family.
  • Shoulders of Doom: Most of Angela and Mona's outfits. And how.
  • Shower of Awkward: In an early episode, Tony catches Angela coming out of the shower, and awkwardness ensues.
  • Silver Vixen: Mona, Angela's mother, is well into her sixties, dates a great deal, and is the sexpot on the show.
  • Single-Episode Handicap: Tony sprains one ankle and then breaks his other leg (both because of things Angela did), confining him to a wheelchair for most of the episode. He's back to normal in the next episode.
  • Slippery Swimsuit: Subverted; Angela is rescued from the surf and wrapped in a towel. When Tony comes to see if she is alright, someone from the crowd hands her her top, and Tony assumes that this trope is in play. Turns out that not only did she remove it herself, but several people from the crowd actually saw her do it, much to her surprise and embarrassment.
  • Special Guest: In the episode "Hit the Road Chad", Ray Charles comes to the Bauers' to play a few songs.
  • Standardized Sitcom Housing: The house was made to have a more-than-passing resemblance to the one in the last season of I Love Lucy (both were located in Connecticut, within commuting distance of NYC....).
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Angela becomes very depressed when Tony tells her that Peterson called her a "two-bit tramp" who "slept her way to the top" behind her back. When her mother comes in to cheer her up, she correctly guesses what he said, saying that's what every man says when he's jealous of a woman in a higher position.
  • "Success Through Sex" Accusation: In "Protecting the President", Angela learns that one of her own vice-presidents has been talking smack about her behind her back, including a comment that she's a "two-bit tramp who slept her way to the top." When she starts to tell her mother about it, she correctly guesses exactly what he said, saying it's what all men say about women who outrank them.
  • Tomboyish Baseball Cap: Sam wore a baseball cap lots of times, especially in the first season.
  • Tomboyish Name: Tony's daughter Sam(antha).
  • Tranquil Fury: In the two-parter episode where Hank and Sam run off to marry (without telling Tony).
    Sam: "His eyes! Look at his eyes!"
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: The Upper Hand (UK)/Ein Job fürs Leben (Germany)/I kto tu rządzi? (Poland). There were also Mexican, Argentine and Colombian versions.
    • Katherine Helmond guested on an episode of The Upper Hand (obviously not as Mona).
  • Truth in Television: In one episode, Tony mentions that he skipped third grade, but made up for it by repeating tenth. Studies have shown that, in Real Life, many kids who skip grades early on do end up repeating later on.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Perhaps the Trope Codifier, along with Moonlighting.
  • Verbal Tic: Tony had "eh oh, oh eh!"
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: Frequently, usually in the earlier seasons.
  • Wacky Parent, Serious Child: Mona and Angela respectively.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Tony and Angela danced around the subject for so long (and in such increasingly ridiculous ways) that the supporting characters more or less hung a permanent Lampshade Hanging over it. It seemed they finally hooked up out of the desperation of the producers (they were an official couple only for half of the show's final season) than out of any real dramatic intent.
  • You're Not My Father: Subverted when Sam and Angela get into an argument, and Angela orders Sam to go to her room. Sam refuses and fires back with this trope. Tony then steps in, pointing out that he's her father, and orders her to listen to Angela.