Originally aired: November 11, 1980
Written By Lesa Kite & Cindy Begel
Note: I watched this episode for review off of a DVD-R. When I returned to it the next day for screenshots, it wouldn't play past the first two minutes. So, rather than include screen shots of the credits or Mr. & Mrs. C watching Perry Mason, I went without. As soon as I get a replacement copy, I'll add screenshots. Also, one or two points might be a little vague as I can't re-watch the episode.
What Happens: Mr. Cunningham is afraid that Joanie and Chachi are getting too serious in their relationship. He asks Joanie to take a Chachi-related moratorium. Joanie agrees. But, when Chachi shows up with Beach Boys tickets, it's too good to resist. Jenny Piccalo (in her first on-screen appearance) tells Joanie's parents that Joanie is staying with her for the night. The young couple goes to the concert in Chicago. It's awesome. (They played "Chug-A-Lug!")* But, their car breaks down on the way home. And, they must spend the night at a cheap motel... in the same room... with only one bed.
What I Saw & What I Thought: No Tell Motel is a very good opening to the first season without Richie and Ralph. It explains (in a slightly shoehorned manner) where they've gone (the Army) and puts the romance of Joanie and Chachi in the forefront, while giving the Fonz good stuff to do. It's funny, which always helps. It introduces us to Jenny in the most streamlined fashion. She is 1) boy crazy as she chases Potsie and 2) she plays by her own rules and always courts trouble. Erin Moran and Scott Baio are both very good in this. One could see how a spinoff might be created around these characters.
It's also a very odd opening episode because it wasn't meant to be the opening episode. The next one (Live and Learn) had that original honor. And that episode makes more sense in this spot. In that episode, Fonzie returns from a trip to Italy for the summer and begins teaching. Henry Winkler was now the main star of the show. So, that settles it nicely. But, the producers decided to go with this one. Which throws some chronological rocks into the mix (the timeline is-- this episode-- then The Fonz goes away for the summer-- then he returns for the next episode?) but puts the romantic plot-line at the front. It also does shortchange Richie and Ralph by limiting the talk about them to the opening scene.
There was no sign at the end of the previous season that they were leaving. The last episode of Season 7 is Ralph's Family Problem, which gives Ralph some good stuff to do but doesn't hint at what would happen here. Plus, that episode was actually made early in that season. Halfway through Season 7, Arnold's burns down and goes from 50s diner to 60s Swiss chalet. But, in Ralph's Family Problem, it's the old Arnold's. The episode before that one, The Roaring Twenties, only features Richie. Everyone else is in Fantasy Scenes from the 1920s. More will be made of Richie going away as the season goes on but this episode doesn't make much of it.
(America had to wait for two big TV cliffhangers to get resolved in the summer/ fall of 1980. Who Shot J.R.? and What happened to Richie and Ralph? We just didn't know about the second one until after it happened and the guys were no longer around.)
At this point, Joanie & Chachi haven't been together too long, episode-wise. So, there's an excitement to their romance. It doesn't have all the bickering and angst that would come out in Season 9 and in Joanie Loves Chachi. They're just two kids having fun. Yes, Mr. C is worried. but, isn't he always? It turns out that when they arrive at the motel their biggest worry is that Joanie's reputation will go down the toilet. There's some fun slapstick around trying to get comfortable in the room but not too close to each other. And, when the Fonz shows up everything, of course, gets awesome. The conceit that they can sneak off to Chicago and see a concert without Joanie's parents knowing but they will not sleep chastely in a large motel bed is lovely and very innocent and very Happy Days.
Turns out that if you want pervs, just ask Mr. C to get you one. He sets up Joanie on a date with one of his hardware store employees. The man is a super nerd! Except when he's alone with Joanie. Then, he's a pervy monster. And, Mr. C is worried about Chachi? Chach is always a gentleman, Mr. C. Like the Fonz.
No Tell Motel puts us into the Brave New World of the show post-Richie fairly smoothly. Joanie and Chachi are the cute couple. The Fonz is the Fonz. Jenny appears as she will remain. And the gradual reduction of Potsie's character has begun. For folks who felt that the show was about Richie, it all ended an episode ago. But, if the show is actually about the Cunningham family, then it's only right that Joanie (who we first saw when she was so young) steps up to the plate and gets her time to shine. And in a very different character arc than her brother had.
*That's a lie. No setlist is provided with the episode.