There are many reasons to celebrate the surprise success of Mork & Mindy, but I will always be grateful that the genius of Robin Williams inspired ABC to spend the money to convincingly depict him shrinking to mouse-size (and beyond).
After the first, unexpectedly popular season, ABC tried a number of ways to fix what wasn’t broke about Mork & Mindy, starting with a two-part opener to the second season, “Mork in Wonderland.” In the first part, Mork comes down with a sinus infection, and Mindy gives him a capsule to shrink his membranes. Of course, Mork forgets that Orkans are “all membrane,” and so commences the slow shrink. After a hilariously unhelpful house call by Exidor (above), Mork’s shrinking seems to halt at action-figure size.
This tabletop exchange between tiny Mork and full-size Mindy seems to have been shot concurrently, with Robin Williams on a blue-screen set and Pam Dawber across the studio in the normal apartment set, with a monitor and speaker set-up so they can interact in real-time and keep their sightlines matched up.
Considering how much of the show’s success depended upon Williams’s improv, doing this kind of exchange in real-time was crucial. The latter portion of this sequence is a single 45-second take.
Of course, Mork’s not done shrinking, and after telepathic conference with his handler Orson, Mork decides that some Brewer’s Yeast from the kitchen might counter-act the effects of the capsule. He descends to the floor by shimmying down a strand of spaghetti, evades the trampling feet of an unaware neighbor, then hides in a mousehole until Mindy returns home, just as meets the mousehole’s usual resident.
(I suppose we should be grateful that Mork specified which yeast he needed.)
And so ends part one of the season opener. In part two, Mork shrinks to sub-atomic level and arrives in an alternate universe with the series cast playing roles opposite from their normal characters (as the cast was shifted around in the second season, some of the new faces were completely unfamiliar to viewers). At the conclusion, the capsule’s effects wear off and Mork grows back into Mindy’s apartment, but it’s very rapid and there is no interaction or special effects.
By 1979 standards, Mork’s handheld shots with Mindy above really were groundbreaking. Not even the contemporaneous film The Incredible Shrinking Woman with it’s much larger budget attempted that kind of handheld. It wouldn’t be until Gulliver’s Travels (1996) that size fantasists got to see anything on live-action TV to surpass “Mork in Wonderland.”
Originally posted: 15 Apr 2016