Warner Bros. // 1985 // 527 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 20th, 2006
Show me that smile again.
Before Kirk Cameron's religious awakening. Before Leonardo DiCaprio. Before the rapidly-aging Chrissy. Before all of that, there was Jason, Maggie, Mike, Carol, and Ben. And Boner.
The gimmick of Growing Pains is this: Jason Seaver (Alan Thicke) is a successful psychiatrist who returns to run his practice out of the living room, while his wife, Maggie (Joanna Kerns) goes back to work as a reporter. At home, Jason must deal with the assorted problems facing his kids: 15 year-old Mike (Kirk Cameron), Mike's younger sister Carol (Tracey Gold), and nine year-old Ben (Jeremy Miller). Mike is the cool, troublesome smart-ass, Carol the mature braniac, and Ben the precocious little kid.
The 22 episodes of the first season have the Seaver family confronting all types of problems, from Mike's jail time and his dirt bike accident, to Carol's hopeless crush, to Ben's financial swindling of the neighbors. Meanwhile, Jason and Maggie consider having another child, deal with a clueless PTA couple that besmirched their reputations, and continue to reconcile their new roles. Oh, and Jason beats the #$%& out of that guy from The Wonder Years.
* "Carol's Article"
* "Mike's Madonna Story"
* "Weekend Fantasy"
* "Slice of Life"
* "Carol's Crush"
* "Dirt Bike"
* "Standardized Test"
* "A Christmas Story"
* "The Love Song of M. Aaron Seaver"
* "First Blood"
* "Slice of Life II"
* "The Seavers vs. the Cleavers"
* "Charity Begins at Home"
* "The Anniversary That Never Was"
* "Be a Man"
* "The Career Decision"
* "Extra Lap"
Ah yes, the Seavers. For years they were one of the power players in the crowded family-friendly sitcoms of mid-to-late '80s prime time. Thanks to Growing Pains we got yet another teen heartthrob, some awkward exposure to eating disorders, Lenoardo DiCaprio, and Just the Ten Of Us. I'll leave you to decide how that net benefit turned out.
But all chiding aside, Growing Pains was one of the must-watch shows for me growing up. And, believe it or not, that enjoyment has been largely preserved with this first season release. Though it is the series' maiden voyage, I was surprised at how well the actors absorbed the characters from the get-go. Watching the Seaver family engage in their various family challenges this go-round didn't seem much different from that would come in subsequent seasons. Alan Thicke's great timing, Kirk Cameron's exuberance, Tracey Gold's huffiness -- all of these actors hit the ground running, the sum total being a very fun, and surprisingly deft, initial season of family comedy.
What I'm saying is this: if you loved this show back in the day, then you will most likely enjoy its first season just as much. It shouldn't be a disappointment for Growing Pains fans.
Is this cutting-edge situational comedy? No way. Primarily, Growing Pains is a harmless, family-oriented, Disney-sterile serial, where each episode has some kind of life lesson in store for the characters. Whether it's Mike learning about cheating/disobedience/lying/sexual peer pressure/losing a family member/poor grades, or Carol dealing with her first crush/her jealousy of Mike's apparent coolness/her parents embarrassing her at the school dance, or Ben understanding that fighting is not the answer/blackmail isn't a good idea even if Mike is the target/telling neighbors you're collecting for the needy then pocketing the receipts is a felony, you can bank on the fact that the credits won't roll unless someone's learned something.
And despite the incessant moralizing, I never found this aspect of the show annoying -- heck, I though it was kind of endearing! Part of the credit goes to the noticeable lack of "moral music," like the cheeseball riffs that would kick in when Danny Tanner would sit down and lecture anyone who would listen in Full House. But mainly it was about the characters. The showrunners did such a superb job of finding the right actors for their characters, they managed to take what could have been a ho-hum, forgettable sitcom project and make it a compulsively watchable stretch of half-hours, that would span seven seasons (before eventually succumbing to profound narrative fatigue).
The show retains its original full frame aspect ratio and look fine doing it. The detailing is strong and colors are vivid, eschewing much of the "fuzzy" look of this era of sitcom. Only three extras of note accompany the set: unaired footage from the original pilot, featuring Elizabeth Ward as Carol before Tracey Gold assumed the part, a brief gag reel, and a half-hour retrospective with the cast. Both of these are interesting. The pilot footage is especially off-putting because a) it's hard to imagine a Carol other than Tracey Gold and b) Ward kind of looked like a dude. The reunion is the best bonus, as it brings together the five Seavers, puts them around a campfire and lets them spin tales of nostalgia. I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't get a slight chill when all five broke into the theme at the end. And that Joanna Kerns, even at the age of 50 or whatever, still looks MILF-a-riffic.
This season does have its share of stinkers. My least favorites: "A Christmas Story," where the family helps a suicidal mental patient rediscover his humanity (blecch) while Ben gets a puppy for a gift that promptly vanishes in future episodes, and "Extra Lap," an overwrought, near laugh-free episode where Mike copes with the passing of his Uncle.
As long as the accused has each other, they'll have the world spinnin' right in their hands. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 527 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Original Pilot with Unaired Scenes
* "Seaver Family Reunion: S'mores and More"
* Gag Reel