Sunday, February 10, 2008

Family Ties Season 3! Why would one watch this? Out this coming Tuesday. (****4/10)

Why indeed? There must be some hardcore Family Ties fans out there in the world. I assume they are 80s fanatics, the same folks who insist that vinyl ALWAYS sounds better than CD, who subscribe to the Game Show Network and play along with the 50,000 Dollar Pyramid, who crank We Built This City and Duran Duran at every party, and who still wear jean jackets with Motley Crue logos on the back. I'm certain these people exist, and I imagine they have followed the careers of Michael J. Fox and Alan Thicke for a good chunk of their natural adult lives. They may be the same people who purchase Three's Company box sets and eagerly anticipate the next season of the Rockford Files on DVD. But I must admit, I am not one of them. My formative years occured some time after the 80s were over, and I feel good about having missed that decade for the most part. I feel I may have benefitted from being exposed to the likes of Guns 'N Roses a little earlier, or perhaps watching Raging Bull when I was much younger. But I caught up on those few shining moments of the 80s in a few short weeks, and I feel I can now comfortably leave the decade completely in my wake.

Growing up IN the 80s, I was a sheltered child. Oh, I would occasionally be able to watch Hockey Night in Canada with my dad on a Saturday night, getting bedtime measurements like "ten more minutes or four more whistles, you pick". Invariably I would choose to go to bed after four more whistles, because there was a chance that four whistles would take longer than ten minutes, and then I would win. Had I been a contestant on those 80s game shows, I would have been, every time, the guy who chose the "mystery box". And I also relished the arguments that would arise. A goal, I would insist, did not count as a whistle, nor did a shattered pane of glass. Those were unforseen stoppages, and therefore could not be included in my expectations of play for the rest of the game, and as such I still have three whistles to go. My father would counter with the always-logical "go to bed". I lost most of the arguments, but I felt I had made my position understood, and that as I trundled off to bed, he would at least feel bad sitting there, watching the rest of the hockey game, regretful that he had sent me to bed despite my victorious logical arguments.

But that was about all the TV I watched. I was allowed to watch Wonderstruck after school, a program which seemed delightful to me at the time simply because it was science-related and I was (and still am) somewhat of a science nerd. I was also allowed to watch Degrassi Junior High, but I quickly decided it was not worth my while, because each episode would be followed with a long, painful discussion with my mom concerning my opinions on the issues raised on that particular episode. "What do you think about abortion?" she would say. "Can't I go to bed?" would be my reply. After a while I gave up on even watching the show. As the years progressed, I began to feel more and more as though I was getting away with something when I managed to be quiet all night and maybe, just maybe, mom didn't see me there and I would catch an entire episode of one of her programs. Street Legal was big in my house at the time, my mom was a big fan. This was either because we only got three channels and she didn't know anything better existed, or because at the time it was actually quality programming. When I now catch an episode of my favourite TV program from that time, MacGyver, I am struck with how foolish I must have been to think that was good. It was horrible TV, much like the other shows I remember - Seeing Things, Muder She Wrote, Melrose Place and 90210.

However, Street Legal DID leave a lasting impression, if only because for several years thereafter, Cynthia Dale (or, Olivia Novak, I suppose) and women like her were the main objects of my youthful desire. I was twenty-six before I finally figured out how to score one of those women, (it turns out the best way is just showing up) but boy did I practice in the meantime. What I mean by all this is that I had seen maybe one episode, ever, of Family Ties. So when Paramount offered to send me Season Three to review, in time for it's February 12th release, I thought perhaps it was time to catch up on this forgotten classic, one that I missed the first time around. I have managed to catch re-runs of such gems as Three's Company and The Cosby Show and Happy Days on TV, so I know what I'm missing there, but Family Ties seems to be largely ignored in the world of televised re-runs from the 80s sit-com vault.

In watching the show, I could understand that Michael J. Fox was destined for something greater. He was a fine actor on TV, and went on to become a major film star, in vehicles such as Teen Wolf, and Teen Wolf II. I'm not sure he ever did anything else. Oh, right. Some trilogy or other. Also in the 80s. But, like the rest of the cast, and the show itself, Fox was destined to be stuck in the 80s. Unable to escape the quagmire that dragged down so many of his contemporaries...Tina Yothers, Kirk Cameron, Alan Thicke, Suzanne Somers et al. OK. I'm being told that Family Ties IS in the re-run world, along with Laverne and Shirley and other quality programming. My mother-in-law, who is sitting behind me, is apparently a big proponent of the 80s. I have seen Michael Gross on an episode of Law and Order, and apparently he has some kind of recurring role on ER, and starred in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, a fine cinematic experience if there ever was one. Meredith Baxter has vanished off the face of the earth. Tina Yothers is in a band of some kind. And Justine Bateman, who I think may have had the most potential of anyone on that series, was most recently in a movie where she played a corpse with a carrot up her butt.

In season 3, there were some notable guest stars, most notably Geena Davis, who appeared in an episode as a hot but useless nanny. This was part of the season 3 story arc, where Meredith Baxter is pregnant and eventually has a child. Geena Davis, since then, has done fairly well for herself. Marc Price, who played "Skippy", looks to be gone forever, much like Jaleel White, who played the exact same character as Steven Erkel on Family Matters. Which, come to think of it, was basically Family Ties with African-American characters. Come to think of it again, every sit-com from that era was a version of Family Ties. The biggest difference between Family Ties and Roseanne was that the parents were fatter. The biggest difference between Family Ties and Growing Pains was...ummm...Kirk Cameron? And the only difference between Family Ties and today's sit-coms is that the fathers are now always stupid. So...I am not terribly glad that I just watched twenty-four episodes of this show. But, Paramount sent me the DVD, so I better at the very least mention it. Too bad they don't carry MacGyver.

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