Elliott Gould And Ke Huy Quan Starred In This Forgotten '80s Sitcom

The sitcom has been a staple of American television practically since the medium began, and continues to be. Yet there's something about the '80s sitcom that feels so quintessential, as all the pieces of what makes up a typical sitcom are not only present but exaggerated: a heightened concept, an ensemble cast, a cheesy title, and an even cheesier theme song and intro sequence to go with it.

The surreality of sitcoms — particularly the '80s sitcom — has become a source of parody in recent years, best seen in Casper Kelly's brilliant 2014 short for Adult Swim, "Too Many Cooks." One of the many running gags in that short involves the continual addition of cast members, premises and genres to the titular fictional show, and it's very possible that the gag was inspired by the phenomenon of TV shows suddenly and inexplicably changing gears mid-stream.

While some shows that have switched up their cast, premise, and even their title went on to have success (such as "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" becoming "Saved by the Bell"), others remain shrouded in obscurity, which makes their existence even more fascinatingly mysterious and bizarre. One such show is 1986's "Together We Stand," which was then turned into "Nothing Is Easy" after just a few episodes. The history of the forgotten, short-lived sitcom is filled with connections to famous actors like Elliott Gould and Ke Huy Quan, other TV sitcoms like "The Brady Bunch," and boasts not one but two theme songs, the second of which weirdly (and hilariously) comments on the show's behind-the-scenes situation.

From The Brady Bunch to the stars of The Long Goodbye, The Goonies, and E.T.

The genesis of "Together We Stand" actually begins 12 years prior to its September 1986 premiere on CBS. During season 5 of "The Brady Bunch," executive producer and writer Sherwood Schwartz wrote an episode titled "Kelly's Kids" which aired on January 4th, 1974. This episode was what's known as a "backdoor pilot," a proof-of-concept for a proposed new series that airs as part of an already existing series. As seen in this clip from the episode, a "Kelly's Kids" show would've been about a Caucasian married couple who adopt three boys: one Black, one Asian, and one white.

After "Kelly's Kids" failed to make it to series, the concept was continually pitched by Schwartz to other networks, eventually finding it a home at CBS in the wake of "The Cosby Show's" success. Revamped as "Together We Stand," the show was now about a Caucasian married couple who believe they can't conceive and adopt a daughter, find out they actually can conceive and have a biological son, and then are convinced by a social worker to adopt two additional kids, an African-American girl and a Vietnamese boy.

Creators Schwartz, Al Burton and Michael Jacobs put together a cast of established adult actors as well as up-and-coming child stars. Elliot Gould of "M*A*S*H" and "The Long Goodbye" fame was cast as David Randall, and Dee Wallace (then Wallace-Stone) from "E.T." and "Cujo" was cast as Lori Randall, while Scott Grimes (who had just appeared with Wallace in 1986's "Critters") and Ke Huy Quan (of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Goonies" fame) were two of the children, with Katie O'Neill and Natasha Bobo as the remaining kids. As this pair of promotional spots for the series indicates, CBS was expecting a big family-friendly hit.

Together We Stand gets pulled ... and turned into Nothing Is Easy

"Together We Stand" proved to be a misnomer of a title, the show finding itself pulled after airing just six episodes. Star Wallace remarked to the A.V. Club in 2017 that she was very fond of the original idea for the series, saying "it started out as this really positive show that talked about really gutsy things," believing the cast and crew to be "pioneers" for dealing "with beautiful human issues within the family while we were being funny."

The series would've ended up as just another one of the dozens of unsuccessful TV shows produced over the decades were it not for CBS deciding to bring it back ... albeit in severely altered form. According to Wallace, "they decided to get rid of Elliott Gould's character, and they brought in some other producers, and it became this negative show that I didn't like at all." The series was now titled "Nothing Is Easy," and the pilot (or repilot, if you will) now saw Wallace's Lori struggling to keep custody of her adopted children after the untimely death of her husband due to an offscreen car accident. A new cast member was added, Julia Migenes (playing a bitter divorcee friend of Lori's), and the series attempted to carry on without a clear sense of direction, much like its characters.

The change in title, cast and premise weren't the only obstacles "Nothing Is Easy" had to overcome, as CBS continued to move the series around its schedule. Wallace believes all the trouble "was due to a change in regime at the top of the network," believing the series to be a victim of the mentality that sees new executives think "well, this wasn't my show, and even though it's doing pretty well, I'll bury it anyway." As it dwindled in viewership, "Nothing Is Easy" barely aired seven episodes, leaving another six unaired and unseen to this day. As Wallace sums up the experience, "it was Camelot, and then it was hell."

A 'Too Many Cooks' joke in real life

Given "Together We Stand" and "Nothing Is Easy's" fade into obscurity, their existence alone would make for an odd nostalgic footnote — to reference the film that doubles as Ke Huy Quan's big comeback, "Everything Everywhere All At Once," the series seems like a weird verse-jump spin-off of itself.

The series' respective theme songs add a deliciously ironic, totally hilarious icing on the sitcom trivia cake, something that blogger Phil Yu recently pointed out on Twitter. The theme to "Together We Stand" features lyrics that seem to emphasize the unlikely existence of the show: "How could this have happened?" the male and female singers croon incredulously, making the word "unexpected" pop out later in the song. The tone shifts rather noticeably when it comes to "Nothing Is Easy," and the new song's lyrics seem to be a meta-commentary on not just the loss of Gould's character but the many behind-the-scenes changes: "Nothing is easy but you have to play the hand that you were dealt," the now solo female voice sings. "Nothing is easy, we'll just rearrange the bad into the good," goes another phrase, sounding almost like a motto for the people making the show. The song ends with the singer belting "we're gonna be alright!" and the irony is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Put back-to-back as in that YouTube video, the theme songs and intros make up their own version of a "Too Many Cooks" gag, a joke that would maybe be criticized for being too on the nose were it not for the fact that it's real. Both versions of the series have remained unavailable for viewing ever since their initial airing — unlike other failed sitcoms, not even a single episode has emerged onto the internet. While that's likely not a huge loss, the fact that the only surviving fragments from the show are these song intros makes the series seem that much more intriguing — and, of course, highly surreal.