Friday, November 20, 2009

Family Ties

A few weeks ago, pattinase, offered up an essay assignment inspired by the book Prime times : writers on their favorite TV shows to her blog readers. I decided to take her up on her assignment and may even make this an annual thing for my blog. Without further ado...

Being born in the mid seventies, I'm very much a product of the eighties. I was too young by the time the seventies ended to remember much about them. Most of my childhood memories come from the eighties. There were a lot of family oriented sitcoms in the eighties, of varying degrees of quality. But the one show that captured my attention and interest more than any of the others of this era was Family Ties.

I'd tune in weekly to watch the trials and travails of the Keaton family. The liberal parents with their two daughters and their conservative son, Alex. In hindsight there was an innocence captured in this show that's disappeared in the years since. Granted the focus of TV has changed substantially since the eighties. But this show was an escape from the worries and troubles of real life. Its situations were amusing, its conflicts were trivial (by today's standards)-- Mallory debating whether or not to cheat on a test, Jennifer having trouble on a homework assignment and getting help from Alex, Mallory's boyfriend Nick trying to win the approval of the Keaton parents, the irrepresible Skippy Handleman's unrequited love for Mallory.

But the writers and producers realized they had a major talent on their hands with the young Canadian, Michael J. Fox. Initially the show divided the time somewhat equally among all members of the Keaton clan. But over the years Alex became more and more of a focal point. And when the show did start to tackle more serious issues like heartbreak and death, the stories were written around Alex's character as he dealt with the untimely death of his friend Greg and the end of his relationship with Ellen (played by Fox's real life wife, Tracy Pollan).

But the issues the show tackled regardless of how trivial or how serious they were, I could related to them. The Keaton family felt real, like the kind of family I wanted to know. Heck, I wanted to be just like Alex for most of the show's run.

When the eighties drew to a close and all of the stories had been told the cast of Family Ties made their final curtain call. And for a show that so defined the eighties, the curtain call was as much for the decade as it was for the show. Even the creators of the show later stated in interviews that Family Ties is a show that would not have been successful in any decade other than the eighties. There would be no reunions as the stories would never ring as true in any other decade as they did when they first aired. The snapshot of time was taken and it was time to put it in the photo album.

From time to time in later years I would catch the ocassional episode in reruns and I actually found it more enjoyable. I felt for Alex when Ellen left him and could even relate to his amicable parting with his other long-time love interest, Lauren (played by a young Courtney Cox in her pre-Friends days) shortly before the shows eventual end. I felt the vulnerability of Alex's parents, Steven & Elise, when his father suffered a heart attack. The realness was still there. The innocence was still there and it gave me a pang of nostalgia for the innocence that is now quite conspicuously absent from most television programming.


drewzepmeister said...

I used to love this show when I was a kid.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Always fascinating to watch a break out performance like Fox's. The writers have to scramble then to accomodate it. Witness now with Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory.

Perplexio said...

drew: As far as family sitcoms go, I don't think any show topped Family Ties.

Patty: Excellent point about writer's scrambling to fully embrace a breakout star.

Sheldon on Big Bang Theory is fantastic. If not for him the show would have gotten the axe about 6 episodes in. The episodes written prior to the writers realizing the comic gold they had with Sheldon are considerably weaker than the episodes written since then.

LceeL said...

What? You mean "Two and a Half Men" isn't innocent? (Well, actually, not after last night's episode)

Perplexio said...

LceeL: LOL, LceeL. Two & a Half Men can be described with many wonderful and colorful adjectives. But I don't believe "innocent" makes that list.

Graylynx said...

Found some old VHS tapes today. One of them was the Family Ties episode featuring blues great Brownie McGhee, with the commercials edited out. It's about to join my DVD collection!