Paramount // 1987 // 661 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 20th, 2013
A liberal dose of family.
Six years have flown by and the Keatons are still going strong under one roof! Liberal ex-flower children Steven Keaton (Michael Gross, Tremors) and his wife Elyse (Meredith Baxter-Birney, All The President's Men) are trying to raise their kids right, even when their values don't always line up, especially when it comes to uber-Republican Alex (Michael J. Fox, Back to the Future), shopaholic Mallory (Justine Bateman, Satisfaction), strong-willed Jennifer (Tina Yothers, Shoot the Moon), and young Andrew (Brian Bonsall, Blank Check). As the 1980s creep to a close the Keaton clan must contend with all new challenges, including Steven and Elyse's decision on how to celebrate their 20th anniversary, a new romance for Alex after his tumultuous breakup with his long term girlfriend, and Mallory's continuing romance with thickheaded Nick (Scott Valentine, My Demon Lover). It's twenty seven episodes of love, laughter, and the ties that bind!
Television sure has changed in the last twenty five years, hasn't it? Blame it on shifting tastes, entertainment evolution, or just good old fashioned burn out of specific styles, but in the past two decades or so, television got itself a whole lot grittier, raunchier, and meaner. I'm not saying that's always a bad thing; one of the things TV programming is often doing right now is telling quality stories that engross and make us think. Yet when it comes to sitcoms, it seems like there's a softness missing. Characters on today's shows are often snarky, mean spirited, or wholly unlikable. What happened to family values? Family morals? Family Ties?
That's where the Keaton family comes in. Family Ties is a show that tried to find love and gentleness in being a family, all the while avoiding (most of the time) the sugary veneer that can sometimes bog down sitcoms, especially from the decade of decadence. The show was the brainchild of Gary David Goldberg, who also created the short lived Brooklyn Bridge and Michael J. Fox's second sitcom stint, the '90s staple Spin City. The theme running throughout Family Ties -- a couple of ex-hippie parents raising three kids in the suburbs, one of which is a staunch conservative -- is something a lot of families can relate to. Not the political aspects, necessarily, but the idea that even a close knit family like the Keatons are going to encounter difficulties no matter how much they love each other.
I hadn't seen an episode of Family Ties in a long, long time. It speaks to the quality of the show that even though it had been many years (perhaps decades), it was still fresh in my mind and quite like revisiting an old friend where the conversation picks up right where it left off. Each character is so well written that their personalities are still etched in my mind. Of course, Michael J. Fox eventually became the center of the show, and as always he displays impeccable timing even after six years in Alex P. Keaton's skin. To Fox's credit, the talented actor could have easily gone on to something bigger and better (by the sixth season of the show he'd already had the hit Back to the Future under his belt), but the actor was loyal to Goldberg and stayed on until the show's finale in 1989. Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter Birney are exceptional as the loving and sometimes exasperated Keaton parents; both actors display a dry wit that grounds the show while their chaotic kids swirl around them. The rest of the Keaton kids -- including Justine Bateman's ditzy Mallory, Tina Yothers teenage Jennifer, and Brian Bonsall's young Alex-in-training Andrew -- are all good in their roles, if sometimes second banana to Fox, Gross, and Birney. For extra added fun there are many familiar faces that got their start guest starring on Family Ties -- comedian Robert Klein, Jay Thomas (Cheers), Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld), and Campbell Scott (Big Night) all pop up in amusing cameo roles.
Family Ties: The Complete Sixth Season finds humor in every day situations, and often ends with a moral that never feels overly preachy. In one episode Mallory becomes a "Dear Abby" column writer (for a free coupon clipping magazine, no less) and makes the disastrous mistake of offering up her home address in print, culminating with Mallory dishing out advice that doesn't pan out...in person. Another episode features Alex signing up for a female psychology student's research study (future Friends star Courtney Cox) whom he falls head over heels for (after bumping heads first, natch). Most of the episodes are of the fluffy variety, and whatever seriousness can be mined is usually handled lightly, like when Mallory writers a book report on a banned book which escalates to the high courts. Although none of the episodes offer up hard-hitting social commentary, I liked that the show still feels substantial. Although a few dire topics creep into the mix (including suicide), no one walks away from the show with a frown on their face.
Each episode is presented in its original standard def full frame aspect ratio and, while not perfect, they certainly look good for their age. Defects and imperfections are kept to a minimum while the colors (oh, those '80s fashions!) are evenly saturated with the dark black levels. Each audio track is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo in English. Since Family Ties was produced in the 1980s, these tracks lack any real excitement or fidelity; they're most front heavy without much dynamic range. Dialogue, music, and sound effects are all easily distinguishable and well heard. Also included on this disc are English subtitles. There are no bonus features.
Though I can't really recall what happened during Seasons 1-5, Family Ties: The Complete Sixth Season was very easy to jump into. Slightly dated by today's standards (the make-up department must have gone through gallons of hairspray), the show features smart and funny performances, stories that make you feel good without pandering, and a theme song that'll be stuck in your head weeks.
A must-own for those collecting vintage '80s TV, and an easy recommendation for anyone who likes to laugh.
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 661 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated