If ever there was a prize for the most underrated TV sitcom of all time, never mind gold, Dear John, would win platinum every time! Despite being the brainchild of the legendary John Sullivan, Dear John is something of a forgotten gem. Today, Dear John conjures up images of Channing Tatum’s bare torso but back in 1986 before anyone had even glimpsed such delights, it was compulsive Sunday evening viewing with a catchy, bittersweet theme tune.
The show’s title refers to break-up letters sent by girls to their soon-to-.be ex-boyfriends – although for years, I thought ‘Dear John’ letters got their name from the show! Middle aged and recently divorced school teacher, John Lacey, is the show’s reluctant hero forced to start his life over again after his wife runs off with his best friend. With his love rival taking residence in the former marital home with his family, John is forced to find lodgings in a dingy bedsit, where his encounters with his eccentric, elderly landlady, Mrs. Lemenski lead to moments of great hilarity.
However John’s unlikely saviour arrives in the form of a group for the divorced and separated: The 1-2-1 Club. Chaired by the overbearing Louise “Were there ever any sexual problems?” Williams, the club consists of a group of unhappy, lonely misfits: The frosty, thrice married Kate; geeky Ralph with the runaway wife; insecure Eric /Kirk St. Moritz; Sylvia with the irritating laugh and transvestite ex husband and quiet, dowdy Mrs. Arnott.
It’s understandable why viewers warmed to this comedy masterpiece from it’s very first episode. Sullivan incorporated the themes of loss, heartbreak and middle aged loneliness with great sensitivity and humour. There are many touching and poignant moments where we see the characters evolve and bond, being supportive of one another despite their flaws and differences. Ralph Bates was outstanding in his realistic portrayal as the too-damn-nice yet downtrodden John. There was something about his hangdog expression that made viewers feel genuine sympathy for his character’s plight. Viewers lived in hope of John overcoming his adversities and adversaries but sadly it was not to be as the sitcom was cancelled after two series due to Bates’ untimely death – although the American version endured a lot longer.
Watching episodes of the show in my adulthood has brought back a barrage of great memories and has been a real revelation of how great this sitcom is. Fashion aside, there is nothing dated about this show: the jokes are still funny; the characters are believable and the sensitive social issues are still in existence today. This comedy is proof of what great writing can achieve. Such a shame they don’t make sitcoms like this any more.
And yes, I will be splashing out on the DVD collection!