I haven’t seen Coach for a very long time; I haven’t watched episodes in syndication, in fact I’m not sure it’s even in syndication beyond non-network affiliate stations such as the Lehigh Valley’s WFMZ. Heck, it might not even be on that channel anymore. Regardless, I watched a whole bunch of the show during some of its later seasons. Being that I really can’t remember any episodes (except one), it must not’ve been very good. If I remember correctly, it was on in a programming block that included Home Improvement and maybe even The Drew Carey Show and Spin City, though I’m probably mixing up the seasons. So anyway, the episode in question.
The year was 1996, the month, March, the date, Tuesday the 19th, the weather, probably cold. I don’t remember much about that day other than (now) looking back in hindsight and hoping that I was too cool for Home Improvement in 7th grade. I wasn’t, but of course, I don’t remember which episode of Home Improvement was on that night. Beyond TV-related events, it was what I remember to be the middle of the time when people were filing (and winning) ridiculous, common-sense lawsuits. The woman who sued (and won) McDonald’s because she burned herself while drinking their coffee and driving was the most widely covered instance of this, but there were plenty of examples. Whether March 1996 was the breaking point for the “frivolous lawsuit movement” remains to be seen as family-oriented television shows are notorious for being way behind the times with their social commentary (think of the “very special episode” of 7th Heaven that dealt with huffing considerably after the network news shows all had their own marginally more timely “special reports”).
So, again, being that I saw the episode once and actually don’t remember many details of it (specifically the details of the plot and the ending), I’ll try my hardest to review it as thoroughly as possible. Sort of thankfully, I actually found a mini-episode capsule where I learned the title (“Van Damn [sic] vs. Fox”), the airdate, and a recap even thinner than what I can remember. Roughly, Coach, played by Mr. Incredible holds a barbecue and one of his assistant coaches, Luther Horatio Van Dam (I’m not making that up), grabs a meat skewer from the grill, then severely burns himself as he attempts to eat the meat. Instead of worshipping at the altar of personal responsibility, Luther (played by that guy whose brother’s name makes girls giggle) decides to sue Coach for negligence. They’re good friends, but Luther Horatio Van Dam isn’t the brightest bulb in the box and sees the opportunity for a quick buck all while not being to talk clearly due to the burn in his mouth. Yes, hilarity did ensue. Some other stuff happened between the announcement and the trial, but I don’t remember what it was. At the trial itself, Luther has hired a high-powered defense attorney while Coach, due to what he considers the ridiculousness of the lawsuit, represents himself. The basis of Coach’s argument was rather simple: it was Luther’s fault for grabbing (then eating) the meat, there’s no way he could be held responsible for someone else’s idiocy.
Needless to say, my dad was rooting for Coach’s populist defense, but the court actually found in favor of Luther. Even more needless to say, my dad was outraged (Outraged!) at the result. Whether or not he threw pizza at me, I don’t know, but it could’ve happened. In terms of the characters, I don’t remember the ending (there was a sizable amount of screentime post trial), but somehow Luther Horatio Van Dam decided not to pursue the money and everyone remained friends.
The Episode of Coach Where Luther Sues Coach receives 4 stars due to its handling of a topic “ripped right from the headlines” (just like Law & Order!). Granted, I’m sure it hasn’t aged well, but one more time, I haven’t seen it since that day in March 1996, and being that I remember it at all means it did something right. Of course, it probably missed the “sell by” date for jokes about frivolous lawsuits, but I think I was at the age where my media expectations were a bit less sophisticated than they are now (and yet I still watch wrestling). 1996, those were the days.