At the start of the ‘90s, Parker Lewis was, as he would have phrased it – the coolness. From 1991 – 1993, he breezed through the halls of Santo Domingo High School with his two buddies, Mikey Randall and Jerry Steiner. The wacky triad often got into trouble that drove the principal Musso crazy.
What made this ‘90s sitcom so great was how different it was from the other teen shows of the time. Far from your regular “boy meets girl” narrative, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was surreal, innovative and downright absurd.
Where Did the Idea Come From?
It was the late ‘80s, and the head of comedy over at CBS asked screenwriter Clyde Phillips if he could come up with a new and fun comedy. Phillips agreed and started brainstorming, fishing out ideas from different places. Ultimately, there were a few sources that ignited the show’s fire.
Number one was 1978’s teen film, Three O’Clock High, which centered around a group of volatile high schoolers. Phillips watched that movie a bundle of times and eventually decided to do something similar. And two, Phillips was quoted saying that Parker Lewis is sort of like a modern-day riff on Tom Sawyer.
CBS Passed on It
Clyde Phillips teamed up with writer Lon Diamond and the result was one wacky, wacky script. “The script was way too out there for CBS,” Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter, “They didn’t really know what they were getting into when they asked us to come up with something that was stylish and crazy.”
Incredibly, CBS decided to pass on it. Instead, Phillip’s agent sent it to Fox, a network that was just starting out. Fox saw the potential in it and instantly bought the script. They hired Phillips and Lon to work as editors, and voilà! Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was born.
A Bunch of Crazy Writers in a Room
Phillips and Diamond worked with several other writers on the script, writers who would go on to become huge names in the business. But back then, according to Phillips, “We were just a bunch of writers sitting in a room thinking ‘How crazy can we get and still tell a story?’”
Whenever someone came up with a silly scene, Phillips and Diamond would normally react positively, saying, “If you can think of it, we can shoot it.” This gave everyone in the team the creative freedom they needed to experiment and have fun.
There Was Friendly Rivalry on Set
The writers were all very experimental, and they got a kick out of trying to outdo each other with camera shots and script ideas. “There was this friendly rivalry, very friendly rivalry,” Lon Diamon told The Hollywood Reporter.
The competitive air on set pushed the crew to come up with innovative ideas, such as unique technological elements and even magical realism. They weren’t afraid to break the fourth wall, do random voiceovers, and surprise their viewers with unconventional moments.
The Magical Realism Was Freeing
Parker Lewis Can’t Lose could have been just another teen flick. It could have been the ordinary “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again” sort of thing. But it was a lot more than that, thanks to the magical realism that was beautifully embedded into the storyline.
“We wanted to make it as original and as much fun as possible so that it represented, it resembled nothing else that was on television,” Phillips explained. Diamon agreed, adding, “It was another weapon to tell the story. It was freeing.”
Long Before the Go-Pro, They Used a Guitar Camera
In one of the show’s episodes called “Close but No Guitar, Mikey (played by Billy Jayne) stands on the roof of the school and plays the guitar while a bunch of fans are staring at him from down below. At one point, he throws the guitar to a lucky girl in the crowd.
The show’s producers decided to put a guitar camera on there and follow the guitar’s trajectory. Nowadays, you would put a GoPro on it. But back then, the guys working on Parker Lewis had to come up with other ways to make the shot memorable.
They Almost Burned Down Sony Studios
There was a lot of work to do on the set of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. Shots, costumes, props, stunts – they were all done over and over until producers reached precisely what they were after. Some stunts, however, were a bit more dangerous than others.
Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter that one crew member nearly burned down Sony Studios because he had napalm in his truck which caught fire (napalm is an incendiary mixture of volatile petrochemicals). Thankfully, a security guard saw it and was able to put it out.
They Broke Two Hundred Doors
Principal Grace Musso (played by Melanie Chartoff) would break the glass on her door every time she slammed it. How many doors did they break in total? According to Phillips, they probably broke three each episode, so that’s around two hundred in total.
Two hundred broken glass scenes meant that the team had to come up with different ways to break it. During one episode, Miss Musso didn’t break the glass by slamming it. She broke it by simply shooting it an evil look!
From Ozzy Osborne to “Weird” Al Yankovic
The set of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose saw all sorts of exciting guest stars. From Sonny Bono, who starred as a record producer, to big names like Ziggy Marley and Ozzy Osborne. Other guests included Phil Hartman and Marty Mull.
As the show grew in popularity, Phillips and Diamond were getting phone calls weekly by famous people asking to make an appearance. “I remember one time the phone was ringing, there were a couple of phones going at the same time!” Phillips recalled.
Fox Wanted More Romance
During the first season, the show was heating up. But after a while, executives over at Fox told Phillips they were afraid it was getting a bit repetitive. The network then gave the crew the license to mix it up and make it even crazier.
The network asked for more romance, so they ended up giving Parker a girlfriend. In retrospect, Damion believes it was a bad idea. “You never want to see Sam kiss Diane on Cheers. Once you do, the competition is over. So, the show flattened out a little bit in the third year,” he explained.
Getting Into Issues Like Drinking and Sex Was Necessary
The issue with shows that take place in high school is that if they go on for several seasons, the characters have to grow, and they also have to grow out of high school. For that reason, during the second and third seasons, the show had to deal with “grown-up” issues.
“We wanted our characters to grow,” Phillips explained, “We wanted to start dealing with real problems that teenagers face.” He called it a “natural evolution” that had to take place in order to keep the show on a roll.
Why Was the Show Canceled?
Fox was looking to broaden the audience and get more adult viewers on the Parker Lewis train. But Phillips and Diamond weren’t interested in transforming it into something else. “As the show evolved, so did the network,” Phillips explained.
“We just weren’t evolving in the same way,” he added. Nowadays, a show like Parker Lewis Can’t Lose would be on a channel like Disney or Nickelodeon. But back then, they only had Fox to rely on. And Fox wasn’t interested in a teen audience.
Many Showrunners Were Inspired by Parker Lewis
American screenwriter Bill Lawrence, the creator of Scrubs and Spin City, came up to Phillips and Diamond in their Fox office and gushed about how much he loved the style of the show. He told them he would find a way to use it in his future shows.
Other writers were also really inspired by this wacky teen series. Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter that most writers he meets tell him that the show completely changed how they view writing and entertainment.
Not Everything Fit
Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence recalled appreciating the sound effects in the series and all the different camera angles that were new and unique at the time. “[I loved the] fun quick cuts, pops back to what’s going on somewhere else, and a hard cut to a joke,” they shared.
But when Bill tried to pass that style on to Scrubs, he realized it wasn’t very suitable. After ten episodes of Scrubs, they removed all the sound effects. “It was too much for our show, especially if we had ’em in and out of a scene in which a patient was dying,” Bill chuckled. “It worked on Parker, but it didn’t work on my show.”
They Had No Boundaries Whatsoever
One of the show’s producers, Bryan Spicer, told The Hollywood Reporter that the set of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose felt like absolute madness, but of the best kind. He said that everyone on the team was expected to be as creative as possible.
“A lot of shows, they want you to shoot what’s on the page and not be creative and not transcend it. And Parker Lewis was all about transcending and bringing it to life on the screen and making it three-dimensional and creating a world,” Spicer explained.
Parker Lewis, the Coolest Kid Around
Parker Lewis was Santo Domingo High’s coolest kid. He was known for his wittiness, craftiness, and colorful clothes. Oh, and he was also able to bend time and space. Along with his best friends, Mikey Randall and Jerry Steiner, Lewis got into some wild adventures that never ceased to excite the viewers (and annoy principal Musso).
Parker was a chill guy with an easy-going mindset. His “not a problem” attitude was infectious, and it usually got him off the hook for pulling off ridiculous stunts. The character was played by Corin Nemec. Let’s see what he’s up to today.
Corin “Corky” Nemec Today
After Parker Lewis wrapped up its three-year run in 1993, Corin Nemec moved on to more mature roles. He starred as the lovable nerd turned bad boy Harold Lauder in ABC’s miniseries The Stand and has been finding steady work in TV ever since.
Corin has appeared on shows like CSI and Operation Dumbo Drops. Arguably his most memorable post-Parker gig was a recurring role on the sci-fi series Stargate: SG-1. In 2018, Corin Nemec published his very own mystery novel called Venice High!
Mikey Randall, Parker’s Laid-Back Bestie
Before landing the role of rocker and Parker’s best friend, Mikey Randall, actor Billy Jayne was already a familiar face in the industry. He had found work steadily as a child actor in the ‘80s, including a central on the TV show The Bad News Bears.
He also voiced different characters on Scooby-Doo shows, took part in the scary flick Cujo, and also had a recurring part as Brad Langford on Silver Spoons. Randall’s most well-known non-Parker Lewis gig was playing Buddy Griffith in 1985’s Just One of the Guys.
Billy Jayne Today
After his run as Mikey Randall came to an end, Billy kept landing gigs, taking part in dramas like Walker, Texas Ranger, and Charmed. Since the turn of the century, Jayne hasn’t been booking as many gigs as he had when he was a young star, but he’s still driven by that same rockstar energy he had on the show.
Billy has not only acted but he has also tried his hand in directing as well as serving as a cinematographer for a host of music videos by musicians like Louise Goffin and Buckherry. Even outside of Santo Domingo High School, Billy Jayne is one wild guy.
Jerry Steiner, the Crafty Third Point of the Friendship Triangle
Jerry Steiner was one crafty guy who always knew how to solve a problem. He was a skilled handyman with valuable items that he kept concealed in his trench coat (which he claimed was the property of NASA). Just like Parker and Mikey, Steiner was one entertaining fellow.
Steiner was a stereotypical nerd who addressed everyone in an extremely formal manner – Mr. Mrs. Sir etc… Troy Slaten, the actor who played Steiner, did an impeccable job of getting into character. His lines were believable and always gave you a reason to laugh.
Troy Slaten Today
Once the show wrapped up, Slaten landed a few more acting gigs, including a part on Night Stand (a talk show parody). He also starred in a leading role on Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad (a total Power Rangers knockoff).
Over the years, Troy Slaten slowly disappeared from our screens. He ditched acting to follow a more lucrative profession than show biz –law. He graduated with honors from UCLA and went on to study law at Pepperdine University.
He Ran for Judge in LA
In 2020, Troy Slaten, a defense attorney, and former child actor, attempted to swap professions and become an LA County Superior Court judge. When asked whether he believes that child actors tend to study law because of the exploitation they suffered as kids, Slaten slightly disagreed.
The former child star credits his parents and studio teachers for encouraging him to learn and strive to know more. He also thanked them for allowing him to take breaks in between acting projects. And lastly, he credits his obsession with Law & Order.
Larry Kubiac, aka The Kube
Larry Kubiac, also known as “The Kube,” was a 6 ft. 7”, 270 pounds fellow. While he looks like a huge dinosaur, Kubiac is actually really sweet. He was first introduced as a big, bad bully, but he rapidly changed into a friendly guy as the show progressed.
Not only is Kubiac friendlier than he seems, but he is also smarter! He ultimately became Parker Lewis’ ally. Kube’s ultimate favorite line to say is “Eat now?” and when he walks through the halls, he causes the earth to shake.
Abraham Benrubi Today
Abraham Benrubi’s incredible comic work as Kubiac made him one of the show’s biggest stars. Only a year after the series wrapped up, he landed a gig on a pretty high-profile show. Benrubi landed the part of County General desk clerk Jerry Markovic on the medical drama ER.
Benrubi starred in more than 130 episodes of NBC’s intense series. His deep voice has also come in handy. He’s voiced characters in shows like American Dad and Robot Chicken. He’s also used his voice to dub video games like World of Warcraft and Diablo III.
He Worked as a Roadie for No Doubt
This will probably come as a surprise for many, but in between the first and the second seasons of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Abraham Benrubi and his co-star Taj Johnson were on the road with the rock back No Doubt.
No Doubt were at the start of their career and needed roadies to join them on their debut tour. Benrubi and Johnson were more than glad to hop on the road and rock out with these up-and-coming rock stars.
Benrubi hasn’t been short of work. He’s starred as Mose Harrison in the 2003 feature Open Range. He’s also briefly appeared in films like Without a Paddle, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, Wristcutters, and National Lampoon’s TV: The Movie.
Other projects include Calvin Marshall, where he played coach Dewey, Bounty Killer, where he starred as Jimbo, A Country Christmas as Santa Claus, A Night in Old Mexico as Big Roscoe Hammil, and The Finest Hours as George Tiny Myers.
Principal Grace Musso
The principal of the school, Grace Musso is basically Parker’s nemesis. She’s a 5 ft. 5” tough cookie who is said to be in her mid-thirties (although she’s actually older). Her main goal in life is to get Parker Lewis expelled and out of school for good.
However, he keeps coming up with great excuses that get him out of any trouble he finds himself in. Musso breaks the glass door of her office every time she slams the door (or any time she looks at the door).
Miss Musso’s Turn-Ons
As for Musso’s turn-ons, she loves a bearded man and large masculine hands. The character was portrayed as being a head spinner and charming the men. She’s even dated an officer of each of the armed forces.
Musso has a lot of secrets she would rather keep under wraps, like the fact that she lives in a $600,000 mansion while cashing in only a $38,000 salary per year. For most of the series, Parker believes Musso is the worst. Until a new, stricter principal replaces her. That’s when Parker realizes how good they had it with Musso.
Melanie Chartoff Today
Before she played Principal Musso, Chartoff landed a side gig that turned out to be a major role that would last for more than a decade. She starred as the voice of Didi Pickles (and several minor characters) on the unforgettable kids show Rugrats from 1990 to 2005.
She also did the voice for the franchise’s films and video games. That role led her to do other great voice roles in big movies and TV shows like Jumanji (the animated series from the ‘90s) and Dr. Dolittle 3.
Melanie Chartoff Is Also an Inventor
In 1991, Chartoff teamed up with a talented group of scientists and created a product called the Grayway Rotating Drain. The device recycles shower and sink water, making it irrigation-ready. Chartoff stated that the device could save one household more than 20% on their water bills!
Nowadays, Melanie Chartoff runs her own website where she notifies her fans of her upcoming events. She even has a “contact me” column where you can find her email and Skype name. It’s evident that this actress is one down-to-earth darling.
Odd Woman Out
In 2021, Melanie Chartoff published her very own memoir titled Odd Woman Out: Exposures in Essays and Stories. She gets into detail about her upbringing in the suburbs, which she describes as an “abusement park.”
Far from a story about Hollywood or the entertainment business, Melanie’s book is about complex family dynamics and the effects of troublesome parenting on a child. It’s a truly eye-opening piece of work.
In the series, Principal Musso wasn’t Parker’s only enemy. The high schooler also had to deal with Shelly, his witty and confident little sister. The main difference between the two siblings was that while Parker Lewis made use of his power to advance himself, Shelly used her wits to get him into trouble.
Like Parker, Shelly is a true troublemaker who enjoys playing pranks on people. Her absolute favorite saying is – “My brother is a dead man!” and whenever she finds an opportunity to embarrass Parker, she’ll seize it.
Maia Brewton Pre-Parker
Like a lot of other cast members on the show, Maia Brewton had already performed in various other places before treading the halls of Santo Domingo High. She played supporting roles in two iconic comedies – Back to the Future and Adventures in Babysitting.
In Back to the Future, she played Sally Baines, one of the family members who’s next to Marty McFly when he crashed in 1955. In Adventures in Babysitting, she plays Sara, Brad’s sister, who wears a silver winged helmet.
Maia Brewton Today
When Parker Lewis wrapped up in 1993, Maia Brewton did, too. She has gradually stepped away from the limelight. Brewton’s only acting work since the show ended was a part in a short 2002 film. She also guest-starred in the sitcom Odd Mom Out (2015).
The reason for her disappearance is because, just like her co-star Troy Slaten, Brewton preferred to pursue a career in law. Maia also became a mother when her partner, Lara Spotts, delivered beautiful and healthy twin boys.
Marty Lewis – Like Father, Like Son
It seems like the troublemaker gene really runs in the Lewis family gene. Decades before Parker strolled through the halls of Santo Domingo High, it was his father, Marty, who filled a similar role. He was known as a total prankster.
Marty is a great dad. He’s a fun time but also knows when to draw the line and give parental support. He’s the owner of Mondo Video, a local video rental store that Shelly and Parker help out with during the weekends.
Timothy Stack Co-Created a Mock-Talk Show
The mid ‘90s introduced America to a host of trashy talk shows (all thanks to Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer, and Jenny Jones). Timothy Stack took the opportunity and co-created another talk show, except this time, it was a parody of the rest.
It was called Night Stand, and he hosted it, not as himself, but as a character called Dick Dietrick. Timothy moved on to other things after the mock-talk show, including a role on Son of the Beach, where he played an airhead lifeguard called Notch Johnson.
Timothy Stack Today
Son of the Beach ran for three seasons, but Timothy Stack kept Notch Johnson well and alive after it wrapped up. He wrote scripts for the long-running sitcoms, My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope. Both shows were created by Greg Garcia, and both took place in sleepy, small towns.
On both shows, Timothy Stack occasionally popped up as “TV’s Tim Stack.” This character was an exaggerated version of himself – a drunk and unemployed fellow still walking around in his lifeguard outfit from Son of the Beach.
The Julliard School of Cinema
According to the crew working on The Set of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, working there was like ”going to the Julliard school of cinema,” said director Rob Bowman. “It was the highest-calibre creative environment, with your professors, Lon and Clyde, pushing you to go well beyond your own preset boundaries.”
Bowman, as well as many others working on the show, felt like they “weren’t limited by anything except [their] own imagination.” That’s an incredible feeling to have while working on the set of a show!
“Look of the Film” Meetings
Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter that they would have these meetings called “look of the film” where they would talk to the director and brainstorm about what he or she had in mind. They then would be free to make their own suggestions.
The director would normally tell them, “You can go farther than that. It doesn’t have to look like anything else that’s on television.” Phillips said they had permission to go as far as they wanted. Thankfully, everything was done in good taste.
A Possible Reunion?
While a full-on reunion show is off the table, for now, the cast of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose has reunited here and there over the years for fan gatherings and autograph meetings. In 2019, Corin Nemec, Abraham Benrubi, Maia Brewton, Troy Slaten, and more cast members met up with fans.
One fan excitedly posted on social media: “I remember watching Parker Lewis when it was on the air, and it was such a fun and quirky comedy! Pinky loves her 1990s series and was lucky enough to meet the cast! Say what? I know!”
The Members Were Nominated Multiple Times
The young actors of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose were nominated several times for numerous Young Artist Awards. The show itself was nominated for Best New Family Television Comedy Series. As for the actors, Maia Brewton was nominated for Best Young Actress Starring in a New Television Series.
Troy Slaten was nominated for Best Young Actor Supporting or Re-Occurring Role for a TV Series. Corin Nemec was nominated for Best Young Actor Starring in a Television Series in 1992 as well as Outstanding Young Comedian in a Television Series in 1993.
The Show’s Legacy Lives On
While it ran for no more than three seasons, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose had a huge impact on the entertainment business. Not only in the acting scene but also in music. The light rock band Fall Out Boy released a song called Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (But I’m Going to Give It My Best Shot).
On SWV’s 1992 album, there’s a song titled Blak Puddin, where they sing “Parker Lewis can’t lose in Santa Domingo.” Another musical group referencing the show is the hip-hop group Naughty by Nature. They reference Parker Lewis in their hit single Hip Hop Hooray.
Childish Gambino Referenced the Show Too
In 2013, Childish Gambino referenced Parker Lewis Can’t Lose on his memorable Poundcake Freestyle, performed in October on Sway in the Morning. Hosted by Sway Calloway, the show let Childish Gambino take the stage and sing the line “I’m making moves, couldn’t lose, doin’ Parker Lewis.”
Lastly, another reference was brought up in House of Pain’s 1992 hit single, Feel It. They said the line “I can’t lose like Parker Lewis. I’m undefeated.” The show’s title is incredibly catchy and relatable. Let’s be honest, no one likes losing.
Home Media DVD Set
In 2009 (before Netflix and chill), Shout! Factory released the glorious first season on DVD. Die-hard fans could purchase and binge-watching the whole thing in one shot. The DVD set also included special features like exclusive interviews with crew members, creators, and cast.
Even though the cast and crew bring up both Melanie Chartoff and her character, Principal Grace Musso, the actress herself does not show up in any of the supplementary materials. Following the first DVD’s success, Shout! Factory released the second season in 2010.