Welcome to the first installment of Forgotten TV. Today I’ll be taking a look at the pilot of the 1991 Fox Television show, Herman’s Head.
The first thing that you’ll notice when watching Herman’s Head is that it does not star Jonathan Silverman, co-star of Weekend at Bernie’s. This will come as a huge surprise to you if you spent the 28 years since Herman’s Head first aired believing that Jonathan Silverman was the star, and saying things like “Oh yeah, Herman’s Head. It starred Jonathan Silverman from The Single Guy and Weekend at Bernie’s.” If you happen to be that idiot you’ll eat a lot of mental crow on the day you settle in and look up Herman’s Head on YouTube, only to be greeted by William Ragsdale, an actor you were unfamiliar with who was in Fright Night but didn’t spend any time at all dragging around Terry Kiser with Andrew McCarthy. You will feel unearned shame, and because you were raised Catholic you will them broadcast that you feel shame.
I could have skipped all of the above and launched right into the review, but again, latent Catholic shame. Anyway, if you’re unfamiliar with Herman’s Head outside of it maybe popping up as a Simpsons reference on occasion, it’s the story of Herman Brooks. Herman is a man who moved from Toledo, Ohio, to New York City with the goal of becoming a magazine writer. He currently works as a fact checker in an office with Heddy (played by Jane Sibbett, Ross’s lesbian ex-wife Carol on Friends), Louise (played by Yeardley Smith, aka Lisa Simpson), Jay (Hank Azaria), and their boss Mr. Bracken (Jason Bernard, character actor who died relatively young and whose last role was the judge in Liar Liar). It’s a pretty straightforward young man in NYC sitcom, with Herman trying to advance in his career and meet women, accompanied by his hornball buddy Jay. The hook, and the title of the series, comes from what’s going on inside of Herman’s head. For Herman, the considerations that all of us make on a daily basis are made manifest, represented by the four figures who reside in Herman’s head. I wasn’t being flippant when I called this Inside Out before Inside Out in the title of the article. It’s exactly what this this is, and when that movie came out I had a lot of opportunities to make that Silverman blunder while LETTING EVERYBODY KNOW that I SAW THE PARALLELS between them. Herman’s personal Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Disgust are intellect, personified by The Genius, sensitivity (Angel), lust (Animal), and anxiety (Wimp). Whenever Herman is presented with a decision to make, his Fantastic Four start to banter.
Not a whole lot happens in the pilot episode of Herman’s Head. It mostly serves to introduce the players, which is most of the heavy lifting any pilot is tasked with. Herman has a big fact checking deadline, and he wants to do a good job to impress the big boss, who steadfastly refuses to remember Herman’s name. Jay breaks up with his girlfriend Connie. Connie goes to Herman for advice, who unbeknownst to her has feelings for her. They arrange to have dinner, Herman blows off his fact checking assignment, and he decides to take the dinner in a romantic direction. After Herman reveals his feelings Connie decides they should act on them, and while she’s in the bathroom Jay shows up and tells Herman he made a mistake in breaking up with her. Herman decides that instead of hooking up with Connie he should tell her that Jay has still has feelings for her, which he does. Back at work, Herman nearly gets fired for a huge fact checking error but it happens to be in the one article he actually checked, it’s chalked up to a printing error, and everything works out.
Most of the jokes in the show are delivered by Animal, who is cut from the cloth of the 1980s movie fat party animal, and while they don’t hold up since they’re typical 90s sitcom sexist dude jokes and weren’t particularly good jokes to begin with, at least they don’t resort to gay panic or women are the worst out of the gate like a lot of other 90s sitcoms. Louise and Mr. Bracken’s interactions where he provides the answers to fact checks while she’s getting the questions is the other source of humor, and it’s a good basis for their dynamic. Also, shout out to more current TV moms! Molly Hagan, who plays Angel, is Liv Moore’s mom on iZombie and Connie (who only appeared in two episodes) is played by Corinne Bohrer, who was also Veronica Mars’s mom.
Herman’s Head is a pretty run of the mill early 90s sitcom, so why did I re-watch it and feel the need to subject you to 1000 words on it? Why did it stick with me in a way that Homeboys from Outer Space or The Torkelsons didn’t?
I think it’s for a couple of reasons. The first is that the premise of the show is a very clever way to illustrate the choices all of us make every day (so clever that Inside Out later ripped it off). It’s even more clever to an 11 year old, which I was at the time. I liked the idea of having little people in my head arguing their case for any decision I was asked to make. The other reason was Yeardley Smith. I have since seen 80s movies that Yeardley Smith appeared in like Three O’Clock High but at that point I only knew her from The Simpsons and it was surreal hearing Lisa Simpson’s voice coming out of a non-animated character. I also didn’t get how she and Hank Azaria could be on both The Simpsons and Herman’s Head at the same time. These are the sort of things I used to worry about, before I had actual concerns.
A lot of Herman’s Head is on YouTube, because apparently nobody at Fox is overly concerned with protecting this particular piece of intellectual property. Whether you have hazy memories of it or are just finding out about it now, I recommend checking a few episodes out.
Did you watch Herman’s Head? What are some forgotten TV shows that you miss and mistakenly thought starred Jonathan Silverman? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.