Saturday, April 16, 2016

Carol's Carnival - Growing Pains episode from Season 6, 1991.

Growing Pains is a show that I grew up with and cherished as a kid.  I always related to the show because the characters were just a little bit older than me and the setting of the sitcom was Syosset, close to where I lived on Long Island.  The show had a lot of wacky humor, but it also dealt with some more serious issues from time to time.  Mike Seaver, played by Kirk Cameron, was usually the central character.  Because the show lasted 7 seasons, later episodes focused more on his siblings.  My favorite character on the show was the nerdy, uptight, sometimes snobby and insecure Carol Seaver played by Tracey Gold.  She was the first TV girl that I ever had a crush on because her character was both pretty, smart and extremely vulnerable at times.

Revisiting the show, 25 years later, the episode that really stands out to me is "Carol's Carnival" which originally aired near the end of Season 6 in 1991.  It's a somewhat unusual episode because the focus here in on Carol and the bulk of the episode takes place at a carnival, rather than at the Seaver home.  Kirk Cameron and the Seaver family only appear in the framing opening and ending sequences.  Without those sequences, this episode could stand on it's own as a short film.



When brother Ben lures nineteen year old Carol into driving him and his date to a carnival, she quickly gets dumped by her surprise date, a Sophomore at Yale.  Feeling rejected and out of place, Carol sulks while her younger brother has fun.   While sitting on a bench near the ferris wheel, the ride operator, a 36 year old man named Jake, takes notice of her.

"Hey Beautiful," Jake shouts over to Carol.    He leaps over the bench and sits beside her.  She takes note of him.  He is dressed in denim.  She is not impressed.  "You can't just abandon the ride".

"Let them spin darling," smiles Jake.  "I see a woman in distress".
"Don't call me darling"
"Alright I won't...sweetheart".

Jake is on the make.  He puts Carol on the ferris wheel and then fakes a stunt to have the ride get stuck, while he repairs it and then injures himself.  Feeling bad for him, Carol helps to carry him back to his trailer.  It is there that he recites Shakespeare and impresses Carol with his intellectual side.

"Have you tried the whip?" he asks.
Innocent Carol looks puzzled.
"I mean the ride..." he continues.

After the carnival ends, Carol forgets about her brother and begins to explore the fair more thoroughly with Jake.  "I've never had my own carnival before," she says with starry eyes, "This isn't anything like I thought it would be."

Jake wants to bring Carol back to his trailer but she is oblivious.  They stop by a costume display.  "I want to stop here", Carol says.  "To try on a costume.  To be someone else."

"Who do you want to be?"

"Someone who is loved for who she is."

"And if there is no costume here for that?"

Queue the music for Carol Seaver's "coming out" party.  The montage shows Carol dressing as first, a stripper, then Marilyn Monroe and finally as a gypsy (a costume which she wears for the remainder of the episode).

"What do you want to do next?" she asks Jake.

He smiles.  "What do you think?"



They go to the funhouse and he holds her in front of the funny mirror.  "I look beautiful in this mirror, but that's only because it's distorted."

"No, look at me Carol. You ARE beautiful".

They kiss.

"I was afraid of letting a stranger get close to me.  I'm not afraid anymore.  You make me feel so beautiful."

He takes her back to the trailer.  She is ready.  Ready to give herself to him completely.

"I need you to know me," she confesses, "I need you to know everything about me.  I trust you completely."

But Jake doesn't trust himself.  This is more than Jake bargained for when he decided to hit on this younger girl.  He didn't expect her to fall in love with him.  And it scares him.

"Shut up," he says.  And he kicks her out of the trailer.

Carol is crying.  It's the last night of the carnival.  She wonders if she could do anything right.


She wanders around, taking in the moment for what it's worth.

Jake finds her, kisses her on the forehead, reassures her that she is special and beautiful.

She doesn't lose her virginity, but she leaves the carnival a more confident and mature woman.
_____________________

The episode was written by Rich Reinhart, who was also a producer for the show and wrote around 8 other episodes.  The part of Jake was played by Jake Acovone.