Paramount // 1988 // 640 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 13th, 2013
What would we do, baby, without us?
There are few television shows as quintessentially '80s as the mega hit Family Ties. The half hour sitcom focused on the Elyse (Meredith Baxter Birney, All The President's Men) and Steven Keaton (Michael Gross, Tremors), former hippies who are now suburban parents raising four precocious kids: their youngest son Andy (Brian Bonsall, Blank Check), teenage Jennifer (Tina Yothers, Shoot the Moon), air-headed Mallory (Justine Bateman, Satisfaction), and Republican-in-training Alex (Michael J. Fox, Back to the Future). The Keaton clan dealt with all kinds of wacky misadventures, like getting lost while on a camping trip, Alex's potential move to New York City, or unscrupulous fashion designers stealing Mallory's ideas. The ties that bind are truly the Family Ties.
As a kid I had a group of shows that I absolutely adored. Night Court. Diff'rent Strokes. The Charmings (yes, really). Add to that list Family Ties, mostly because even to this day, I'm still a huge Michael J. Fox fan. In fact, I think most television historians (do they get paid?) would tell you that the success of Family Ties rose and fell on the shoulders of Fox's Alex P. Keaton. Family Ties was Fox's major breakthrough as an actor and, even while his star rose with such films as Teen Wolf and Back to the Future, the loyal Fox stayed with the show until the series wrapped its final episode in 1989. While Fox would go on to movie stardom and star in a second long running sitcom (Spin City), Family Ties is one of the projects the actor is most remembered for, and for good reason: it's just a really entertaining slice of television.
The humor permeating Family Ties: The Seventh and Final Season is warm and cozy, sort of like a warm blanket on a cold night. Younger viewers will be shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- to learn that there was a time when a sitcom's goal wasn't to push the envelope or offend, but make audiences genuinely laugh. While Family Ties retains its own unique charms, the show wasn't revelatory; it was plainly about one family learning to grow together through the ups and downs of life, and that's it. No other gimmicks, no other marketing ploys.
Much of the humor was derived from the differences between the parents and child. Elyse and Steven often had their hands full with Alex's conservative stance (as opposed to their liberal views) and Mallory's materialism and general stupidity. I like that the show never tried to stand firm in one corner, but instead attempted to see both sides of an issue (when it was presented). Mostly Family Ties is just funny; the writing, headed by creator David Gary Goldberg (who also created the short lived Brooklyn Bridge), is smart without being smarmy and biting without being mean. It's a perfect blend (for the time) of innocence and sharply drawn wit.
Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter Birney are gentle but amusing as the family patriarchs; Gross is especially fun to watch, often offering up some fun 'slow burns' to his kid's comebacks and antics. While Bonsall and Yothers are just adequate in their roles -- so disposable are their characters that sometimes the writers don't even know what to do with them -- it's Bateman and Fox who hit the most comedic home runs. Much has been written about Fox's hijacking of the show (it's clear as the seasons wore on that Fox's Alex because the main focus due to his popularity), but equally as endearing is Bateman's Mallory. It takes a special acting talent to act that dense, and Bateman is genuinely amusing as the middle sister with My Demon Lover's Scott Valentine giving her a run for her money as her thick-headed boyfriend, Nick ("Hey Yo Mallory!"). One of the factors that made Family Ties so good was the actors who inhabited the roles of each Keaton family member, which made for a memorable cast of characters.
Family Ties concludes with a final one hour episode that sends the series off in style. While those final moments are a bit emotionally heavy handed in their execution (especially by Birney, who gives Alex a lashing for his excitement at leaving his family for New York), it's nice to see Family Ties go out on a gentle, loving note.
Each of the 24 episodes of Family Ties: The Seventh and Final Season are presented in 1.33:1 full frame (the show's original aspect ratio). The transfers on each of these episodes looks very good, certainly as good as they looked when they first aired almost 25 years ago. Color saturation and black levels all look great for the show's age. The soundtracks are each presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo. Not surprisingly, these are very front heavy mixes that don't sport much in the way of surround sounds or directional effects. Also included on this set are English subtitles. There are no bonus features.
Family Ties is most certainly a product of its time; the fashions, the pop culture references, the cheesy theme song. Yet the core of the series -- family above all and love as a bond that can't be broken -- is a good lesson that is presented without too much syrupy sentiment. Family Ties is still beloved by many...and rightly so.
A fitting end to the series and a delight to have on DVD.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 640 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated