Happy Days, “Smokin’ Ain’t Cool” (season six, episode 17; originally aired 1/16/1979)
By season six, Happy Days had leaned right into the trappings that made its studio audience squeal with delight, and abandoned much of what it started out as: a coming-of-age show about young Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) growing up in Milwaukee. After the show switched to a live set, and Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) became the series’ undisputed star, Happy Days undoubtedly grew more shallow, but no one could deny it was a crowd pleaser.
Since the Fonz was the key to the show’s success, he developed almost supernatural abilities: turning on jukeboxes by punching them, attracting women by snapping his fingers. He could jump sharks and win dance contests with equal aplomb. The Fonz was also the best at the “very special episode” tough talk, succeeding where well-intentioned Richie and even Howard Cunningham himself might fail.
Like Greg Brady before her, sitcom sibling Joanie Cunningham eventually discovered that the road to the local “cool club” was paved with cigarettes. From Happy Days’ very beginning, girls had worn cute car jackets that announced club names like “Mixed Nuts” on the back. No longer the squeaky 12-year-old she started the series as, teenaged Joanie is recruited by the Magnets, who are focused on two things: dance decorations and cigarettes. Where Greg’s brief dance with tobacco resulted in one coughing fit and a major misunderstanding due to a switched jacket, Joanie’s seems a bit more treacherous. She lights up numerous times, at Arnold’s, in her bedroom, even the family kitchen in the middle of the night. Half the fun for her seems to be preening about, pretending to be a sophisticate. Or maybe cigarettes come with their own imaginary friends, who knows.
Many try, but none can dissuade, until the formidable Fonz himself enters the sanctity of Joanie’s bedroom to give her the tough talk like only he can: “Smokin’ ain’t cool.” Since Fonz was, at that particular moment in time, the absolute harbinger of coolness, this isn’t as painful a very special episode as it might have been, hopefully helping to prevent his many young admirers from ever lighting up.
The show labored on much longer than it should have, into 11 full seasons, until its initial trappings of nostalgia were almost forgotten. Instead, the show itself has turned into a bit of a nostalgia piece: a squeaky-clean sitcom fueled by considerable cast chemistry and the power of one tremendously appealing star. “Smokin’ Ain’t Cool” captures Happy Days at its schlocky peak, as it attempted to use its then-considerable powers for good.
Availability: Season six of Happy Days is available in a DVD box set. Some episodes are also available on Hulu.