Saturday, March 30, 2013

Coach: "The Stand In"

Today we are watching Coach starring Craig T. Nelson as Coach Hayden Fox; Shelly Fabares as his wife, Christine; the absolutely hilarious Jerry Van Dyke as Assistant Coach Luther Horatio Van Dam and Bill Fagerbakke as Dauber Dibinski.

This particular episode, "The Stand-In," also stars football great Troy Aikman as himself. For those of you who do not follow football, Aikman played with the Dallas Cowboys at the time and was the number one draft pick of 1989, which is somewhat important to the plot.

Hayden Fox (Nelson) is the head coach of various university football teams throughout the run of the series. He lives, eats, and breathes football. His partner, Christine, who eventually becomes his wife, does not always appreciate having to compete for his time, but learns to adjust to her husband's obsession with the game.

Craig T. Nelson. Photographed June 1, 2009 by Angela George.

After they are married, Christine and Hayden decide they want to have a child together, though they are both in their forties and Hayden has an adult daughter attending university. We watch the couple struggle in more than one show as they try various techniques, such as in-vitro fertilization, in an effort to conceive a child.

For instance, in the show "My Cup Runneth Over," which aired February 8, 1994, Hayden wears a special device designed to increase his sperm count. To show his love and dedication as a Valentine's gift to Christine, he also wears the device during a special appearance on her television talk show. The device, however, is filled with water and begins to leak, making it appear as though Hayden has wet himself. When they learn of the real reason behind Hayden's wet pants, Christine's audience, of course, falls madly in love with Hayden and his "I'll do anything" attitude to help his wife conceive.

But tonight, we are watching "The Stand-In," which first aired on March 8, 1994. As "The Stand-In" opens, Christine arrives at Hayden's office with a brown paper bag. She leaves the bag with Dauber (Fagerbakke) who puts it in the refrigerator, but Luther (Van Dyke) decides it is Hayden's lunch and takes the bag into the break room. Hayden arrives and asks if Christine dropped off the bag and Dauber tells him he placed Hayden's lunch in the refrigerator. Hayden explains that it is not his lunch, but a sperm sample and we hear Luther's half scream, half groan from the next room.

After the opening credits, we see Hayden and Luther in Hayden's office. Hayden begins to lament about the process of trying to conceive. "All the poking and prodding and the doctor with a look on his face like he's watching Brian's Song," he says, explaining his frustrations. "We've tried everything," he says, as he lists the many techniques the couple has gone through, and Luther replies, "Have you tried a bed?"

Then Dauber enters the conversation, explaining the benefits of using a sperm donor. Dauber appears to know quite a bit about sperm donations, which piques the interest of Luther and Hayden. Hayden asks the inevitable question, "How do you know so much about this subject?" Dauber explains that he once supplemented his income during his undergraduate years by donating sperm--with a profit of around $9000! Dauber directs Hayden to the nearest sperm donation clinic, but Hayden is still undecided.

Then Mrs. Thorkelson, the department secretary (played by Pat Crawford Brown) enters the room. She reveals that she has been listening in on the conversation and shares her insight into the experience of childbirth to encourage Hayden. "The whole experience of childbirth was the most meaningful for me and I know it will be for Christine," she says. "Don't give up."

Hayden decides to go to the sperm bank, and of course, he takes Luther. Hayden shyly explains his situation to the man at the front desk who asks Hayden if he would like to meet the donors. "You keep them here?" Hayden asks, shocked. The man smiles, then explains that they keep careful, detailed records of the donors and Hayden and Luther are escorted to a back room where Hayden is given a few catalogs.

Luther goes through one of the catalogs while Hayden looks at the other. Luther is explaining the qualifications and the two men discuss the donors with that wonderful word play typical of these two fine actors. Luther explains that one donor has a degree in international business and has curly red hair. Hayden shakes his head. "Red curly hair is out. It's okay if it's a girl, but if it's a boy he's just going to get beat up all the time." Luther then turns to the profile of a nuclear physicist. Hayden shakes his head. "Mutated genes," he says. Luther next proposes a prize-winning novelist, and Hayden replies with, "Alcoholic." Now Luther shakes his head. He turns the page to the profile of a mathematics professor. Hayden grunts. "Chalk in his hair, can't remember his own phone number." Luther groans and closes the book. "Everyone we pick is going to have something wrong with him," he says. "Well, I don't, Hayden replies. "Then why are we here?" Luther asks.

Luther then asks Hayden to make a list of qualifications he is looking for in a sperm donor. Hayden explains that he would like to find someone who is strong, intelligent, a great athlete, charismatic, a leader, charming personality, handsome, "but not like a Hollywood pretty boy," and "he has to have morals." Luther replies that no one is that perfect, except maybe Troy Aikman...and Hayden gets a sly look on his face as he digs through his wallet, searching for the phone number of Troy Aikman.

In the next scene, Hayden proudly opens the door of his home and Troy Aikman steps inside. "Honey, I have a surprise for you!" Hayden calls out. Aikman asks if Hayden has told Christine about the sperm donation plan and Aikman and the audience are equally shocked to learn that Hayden has not discussed the plan with Christine. When Christine enters the room, Hayden introduces Troy Aikman and tells Christine about all of his wonderful qualities. Then Hayden tells his wife that he has chosen Aikman as the sperm donor for their child.

The look on Christine's face is priceless. She grabs Hayden's arm and drags him outside. She tells him that this act is by far the rudest, most insensitive thing he has done so far, and Hayden is hurt. "Honey, I don't know what to do," he says. "I just wanted to give you the perfect baby."

And this is where the show becomes one of the most emotionally touching Coach episodes ever filmed as Christine tells her husband, "I don't want a perfect baby. I want your baby." Okay, it's funny, but still very touching.

Christine tells Hayden that she understands that he has been through a tremendous amount of stress in their attempts to conceive and that she will also understand if he doesn't want to try to have a child anymore. Hayden explains that he just can't stand to see his wife disappointed every month when she takes the pregnancy test, then he asks Christine if she wants to stop trying. With tears in her eyes and a soft, choking noise, Christine shakes her head and tells him, "No."

"But, what if it never happens?" Hayden asks. "Then it never happens," she replies, "and that's okay, too. If this is as big as our family ever gets, then I am still very, very lucky."

They hug, tell each other they love each other, then they both remember that Troy Aikman is still sitting in their living room. Hayden says, "It's hard enough telling a guy you want his sperm, how do you tell him you don't?"

Hayden enters the room alone. He pats Aikman on the shoulder and says, "You're going to have to sit this one out, Pard. My wife's got her heart set on the old man." Meaning himself, of course.

Troy Aikman replies, "Hey, coach, I understand. Everybody wants Joe Montana!"

The perfect ending. (Eventually, the couple adopts a baby boy named Timothy, who is played by twins Brennan and Brian Felker.)

Craig T. Nelson has been nominated for four Golden Globes. He has starred in numerous television shows and films, including Call to GloryThe DistrictMy Name is Earl, and his well-remembered performance as the father in Poltergeist.

Shelly Fabares, niece of the famed singer/comedienne Nanette Fabray, made her film debut at 12 years old as Rock Hudson's daughter in Never Say Goodbye. She also played the daughter on The Donna Reed Show and became a teen idol, appearing in numerous "bikini movies" in the 1960s. The reference to Brian's Song at the beginning of "The Stand-In" is intentional--Fabares played the wife of dying football player Brian Piccolo in the 1971 tear-jerker classic Brian's Song. Fabares was nominated for two Primetime Emmys.

Jerry Van Dyke is the younger brother of comedian and television and film star Dick Van Dyke. Jerry joined the Air Force in 1952 and quickly gained a reputation for his comedy routines in Special Service shows. I first saw Jerry Van Dyke in John Wayne's McClintock! and his performance as a college fop was outstanding. Van Dyke was nominated for four Primetime Emmys.

Coach was created by Barry Kemp, who also created the equally popular television series Newhart and TaxiCoach ran from 1989 to 1997 and was nominated for five Golden Globes for Top TV Series and Barry Kemp was nominated for three prime time Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. The nominations were well-deserved.

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