When deep-diving into a television series, it only makes sense to finish the run… especially when they’re short-lived. It’s with that, I just wrapped a first-time-watch of the iconic 1980s sitcom Bosom Buddies with a second season that gave me consternation. This show lends itself to many discussions, from star persona to sex and gender, a fascinating thought when looking at a show that barely lasted two seasons. Well, sit down, relax, and let’s talk about season two of Bosom Buddies. 

The second season of Bosom Buddies begins shortly after the first ended. Kip (Tom Hanks) and Henry (Peter Scolari) are settled into their routine. They live comfortably in the Susan B. Anthony Inn and are having no trouble balancing their dual identities.

However, there’s one little wrinkle… Kip’s dedication to the ruse is beginning to waver as his relationship with Sonny (Donna Dixon) grows. The cast remains the same… but within the first two episodes, Bosom Buddies shows itself to be aching under the constraints of the premise. 

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As I reached the conclusion of the second season, Bosom Buddies didn’t feel like the same show to premiere the year before. This starts with something as simple as the plot.

In the season two premiere, the show rips off the bandaid and exposes to the ladies that Kip and Henry are in fact, Hildegarde and Buffy. Do they lose their apartment in the Susan B. Anthony? No! As the episode ends, Isabel (Thelma Hopkins) informs the boys they must continue to masquerade as their alter-egos because the other women (outside the core group) don’t know their secret. This rule was ultimately short-lived. While Kip and Henry do continue to play their alter-egos until the end of the series, entire episodes pass where they don’t get in costume. 

This ends up changing the tone of the show. The title is Bosom Buddies after all. The root of the series’ comedy is identity-switching. In exposing Kip and Henry’s secret so early, the narrative tension disappears.

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As such, Hildegarde and Buffy become little more than a quick joke. There’s no drama in potential exposure and there’s really no fear if they appear as Kip and Henry. In fact, the show actually flips the joke showing Kip and Henry being so used to appearing as their alter-egos that they still answer the door in their character voices, even when dressed like themselves.

The show makes a second dominating change early in the season. Henry and Kip find the means to buy their own business, a video production company called Sixty Second Street. 

I will admit, I found myself a bit worried about this. The first season makes solid use of their previous advertising work as well as the chemistry shared between Ruth (Holland Taylor) and “her boys” as she affectionately calls them. Thankfully, the series brings enough forethought to retain Holland Taylor as a regular. Ruth and Amy (Wendie Jo Sperber) join the new firm as “silent partners.”

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A look over the press clippings surrounding the show’s second season describes Bosom Buddies walking a complicated path. A December 21st, 1981 article in The Modesto Bee quotes Donna Dixon, “Our show was a slow builder… but the summer reruns made it a hit… We’re all really happy to be back since we feel like a real family.”

In fact, the show’s press clippings after the debut season finale lend more than a hint as to why the show took a hard turn at the start of the new season. The San Francisco Examiner quotes Tom Hanks in an article dated 12 April 1981:To my way of thinking… there’s nothing funny about two guys posing as girls after 19 episodes. How can you still be fresh and unique? It hasn’t become painful or pedestrian yet but in the long run… we’ll have to look for another aspect.”

The article goes on to hypothesize that the show should be examining the “professional and personal lives” of Kip and Henry  “without the drag gimmick.” This interview quite directly telegraphs season two almost six months before it came to air. 

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These articles do draw some interesting points, particularly the Modesto Bee interview with Dixon. For those who’ve checked out our look at the first season, one of the primary critiques revolves around the misuse of the show’s talented women. The article quotes Dixon, “It’s nice that Sonny is becoming very sharp and witty… I had to play her (before) as more of a straight person for the boys. There’s still a lot of room for growth, but I think I’m going to be given that room.”

Now, I admittedly do not see eye to eye with the show when examining season two’s narrative shift. However, this does allow Sonny and Isabel to grow and develop as characters. Both have a lot more comedic lifting to do in season two and both actresses shine with the added responsibility. 

At the same time though, this does little to benefit Wendie Jo Sperber’s Amy who is chomping at the metaphorical bit throughout the second season. Since she always knew Kip and Henry’s secret, she already had a little more narrative lifting than the others.

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Unfortunately, the plot restructuring only serves to push her further into the background. This is true not only narratively, but romantically. While the first season ended with a sense of growth, as Bosom Buddies continues, it is fully invested in developing not only the Kip and Sonny romance but also Henry’s personal life (which doesn’t include Amy.) In fact, Amy finds herself relegated to playing little more than a zany secretary in many episodes. Think Marcia Wallace‘s character in The Bob Newhart Show. 

I suppose two happy couples don’t sell, but at the same time though the series’ initial romantic plot revolved around Amy’s crush on Henry. This is an arc that recurred throughout that first year.

This time around though, Henry is a man about town. In fact, he even tries out electronic dating! He finds a great girl who just so happens to be a Satanist (adorably played by Tom Hanks’ future wife Rita Wilson.) Unfortunately, though, we’ve known since the series premiere that Amy is head over heels for Henry all along. 

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When thinking this through, the focus shifting away from Hildegarde and Buffy likely forced the writers to drop Amy into the thankless role we see her occupying in season two. Season 2 Episode 9, entitled “The Slightly Illustrated Man” is truly the last time audiences really see Amy’s feelings for Henry before he firmly (but gently) puts her down. She’s forever destined to be a resident of the “friend zone.”

Ultimately, as a fan of both Henry and Amy, it’s difficult to watch the course of this relationship. Looking at the writing in hindsight, the show really has little choice but to force Amy into the background. Unless they intended on getting Henry and Amy together, Henry’s likability hangs in the balance. If he continues to reject (or ignore) her feelings, Henry looks like a jerk.

This is a testament to Wendie Jo Sperber’s acting abilities, but it also sets the series up for failure in this “will they or won’t they” relationship.  Once it becomes clear the answer is ‘they won’t’ the narrative options relating to this couple are limited. 

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While Bosom Buddies’ overall changes left something to be desired, there are some definite stand-out episodes in the second season showing the writers continuing to step out of their comfort zone.

“Cablevision” (s2e11) is probably the most striking example. The episode finds Kip and Henry trying to produce a public-access TV series. For much of the episode, we watch the zany results. Each of the performers is able to do what they do best in the half-hour. Thelma Hopkins receives another opportunity to sing. Donna Dixon shines in a chance to do comedy. Meanwhile, Peter Scolari showcases his rarely-seen acrobatic and juggling skills. 

When examining a show like this, it’s important to dive into the historical context. Do you know what that means? Scheduling. In a look over the 1981 TV season, the TV Guide is doing Bosom Buddies no favors. The first three months of 1981 find the sitcom moving no less than three times. This of course is a signal the network trying to find the right fit. It apparently wasn’t easy. In each spot, the show comes up against incredibly formidable competition in the form of The Incredible Hulk, Knotts Landing, and Magnum, P.I. 

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Bosom Buddies‘ ended in March 1982 with the episode “Not the Last Picture Show.” Like the most frustrating series finales, there is no sign of impending cancellation. There’s no closure. The finale follows as Kip (after Ruth implies he’s growing prematurely old) dreams that he, Henry, Sonny, and Amy are in fact, old. It’s a cute half-hour of television that fits the show’s quirky creative mold. Ultimately though, while it works as a season-ender, it’s a sad series finale.  

It would be another two years before Splash hit theaters, officially setting Tom Hanks onto the path toward his contemporary stardom. Meanwhile, Peter Scolari would remain a television mainstay in series like Newhart, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Girls. He continued to be active in the industry right up until his passing in October 2021.

Millennial and Gen-X audiences will likely remember Wendie Jo Sperber from her small, but memorable role in Back to the Future. Meanwhile, Thelma Hopkins would find another happy home on television in the cast of Family Matters. Donna Dixon slowed down towards the tail end of the 1980s after appearing in classics like Spies Like Us, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Wayne’s World. And when all is said and done, Holland Taylor remains the Queen of us all, even forty years later.    

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As the ending credits rolled on Bosom Buddies, I found myself disappointed. For a show that started with more potential than I expected, this narrative shift took the wind out of my sails. The narrative restructuring resulted in nineteen episodes with pronounced peaks and valleys. It certainly isn’t a dismal season, but it’s abundantly clear the creative team lost the creative voice. Ultimately, the show airing on ABC in the fall of 1981 wasn’t the same show brought back from the brink and unfortunately, when combining these factors with the many schedule moves, their cancellation really isn’t a surprise. 

The full series of Bosom Buddies is available on DVD.

A Nostalgic Look at BOSOM BUDDIES Season 1

Kimberly Pierce
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