Paramount // 1984 // 572 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 20th, 2008
I've bet we've been together for a million years.
This season of the Keatons' adventures brings big changes to the family dynamic, most notably with the addition of -- are you read for this?!? -- a baby.
Yes, the big news this go-round is the bouncing Keaton baby. It's a story arc that carries the show through the entire season, with the pregnancy running until a two-parter two-thirds of the way through the season and the newborn fallout taking us home for the final batch.
Along the way Elyse (Meredith Baxter Birney) confronts a budding gambling problem, Steven (Michael Gross, Tremors) is faced with a programming crisis at his public broadcasting station, Mallory (Justine Bateman) copes with the death of her favorite aunt, Jennifer (Tina Yothers) feels threatened by the new baby and Alex (Michael J. Fox, Back to the Future), counsels a suicidal man on a phone help line, falls in love with the housekeeper, attends college for the first time and deals with his first F, ostracizes his best friend when he gets engaged, almost ruins a lucrative tutoring business over a girl and, ironically, travels back in time to 1776.
Twenty-four episodes on four discs.
Loved this show back in the day, so revisiting was something I was looking forward to. The short of it: Family Ties, as a traditional family sitcom, is top-shelf. You know, if you're craving that kind of thing, that is.
The show is well-written and sports that mix of comedy and drama, with the dramatic elements usually popping up at the commercial break and the finale. It's the typical game-plan of these kinds of sitcoms, thankfully minus the corny, introspective music. On both counts -- comic and serious -- Family Ties succeeds and is in fact as good as I remember it. Again, this isn't edgy, laugh-a-minute stuff, but among shows of similar ilk, it stands reasonably tall.
The driving force behind the success of Family Ties was Michael J. Fox, who shamelessly steals every single scene he's in. In fact, he's so good in his role of the Reagan-conservative, capitalistic, wise-ass older son, he makes everyone else look mediocre. You can gauge a character's importance to a series by imagining what the show would be like without him or her and minus Fox, this series likely would have tanked early on.
It's obviously no accident the majority of the episodes are Alex-focused. The other characters mainly play second fiddle, often overshadowed by Fox's performance, though Michael Gross manages to hold his own. My favorite episodes involve plots about these two characters, mainly together. The two play off each other extraordinarily well -- the original gag was that Elyse and Steven were hippie parents surprised by their conservative son -- but the mutual affection supplements the playful juxtaposition well.
Meredith Baxter Birney is top-billed, but, frankly, her character is the least interesting. Tina Yothers basically throws out the occasional one-liner, usually at Alex's expense and Justine Bateman benefits from the always-dependable "dumb" stereotype. Then there's Geena Davis, who shows up for a two-episode arc but promptly departs, probably because she's so abnormally tall and Fox is so abnormally short that the two of them together became a Saved by the Bell punch line.
The set is no-frills. Episodes are transferred in their natural full-frame aspect ratio and mono audio. Each disc features the broadcast show promos and the last disc has a gag reel and a public service announcement from Michael J. Fox.
Family Ties is a solid old-school sitcom that's well-written and both funny and moving. The genre itself might be a relic of TV-times past, but a show like this -- and a season like this -- is evidence of why it was so popular.
Not guilty. Sha-na-na-na!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 572 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Gag Reel
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 1