35 Years Ago: ‘Fast Times’ TV Series Can’t Live Up to the Movie
On March 5, 1986, a short-lived television version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High debuted.
The series - titled Fast Times - was based on the hugely successful 1982 movie. In its favor, the sitcom brought along several key creative minds who were behind the original film.
Amy Heckerling, who directed the movie, served as a producer on the series: she also directed three of the first four episodes. Cameron Crowe, who wrote the original Fast Times screenplay, as well as the novel it was based on, served as a creative consultant for the show. Further notable contributors to the series included Moon Unit Zappa - daughter of Frank Zappa - who served as a technical consultant, and Oingo Boingo, the Danny Elfman-fronted new wave group that provided the show’s theme song.
Still, Fast Times was doomed from the start.
The show’s biggest asset - the popularity of its movie predecessor - also served as its biggest detriment. The series couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a sequel to the film or a stand-alone piece. Most of the characters from the movie - including Jeff Spicoli, Linda Barrett and Brad Hamilton - appeared in the show, but they were played by lesser-known actors. Meanwhile, Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli reprised their roles as teachers Mr. Hand and Mr. Vargas, respectively.
Having this some-but-not-all new cast proved jarring to viewers, who were unable to separate the film from the series.
Watch 'Fast Times'' Opening Credits
Complicating matters further, a new character was introduced who was not featured in the movie: Ms. Leslie Mellon, a new-age-type teacher played by Kit McDonough. Had the series created an entirely new cast of characters, that would have been one thing. Had it stuck purely to those introduced in the movie, it would have been another. But instead, Fast Times chose this uncomfortable in-between, reflective of the creative purgatory the show found itself in.
The new cast members certainly didn’t lack talent. Courtney Thorne-Smith, who played Stacy Hamilton on the show, would later find success on series such as Ally McBeal and Melrose Place. Patrick Dempsey, who played Mike Damone, went on to greater career heights on the series Grey’s Anatomy, as well as major feature films like Sweet Home Alabama, Enchanted and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Still, being put in the unenviable position of portraying characters who were already made iconic onscreen by other actors proved a daunting task.
In the end, Fast Times buckled under the pressure of its predecessor’s success. Upon its March release, critics tore the series apart, claiming the endearing comedy of the movie had been “sanitized into blandness.” One even went so far as to suggest CBS air the Emergency Broadcast System or footage of someone reading the Yellow Pages rather than “subjecting even a few stray viewers to this video swill.”
Fast Times lasted just seven episodes and was gone before the end of April. The show is currently unavailable on most streaming platforms, but a couple of episodes have popped up on YouTube, which you can watch below.