Judge Patrick Naugle is finally retiring his Urkel impersonation. Thank God for small favors.
"Did I do that?"—Steve Urkel
Meet the Winslows! Hard working Chicago cop Carl Winslow (Reginald Veljohnson, Die Hard) lives a comfy middle class life with his wife, Harriette (JoMarie Payton), Carl's cantankerous mother (Roetta LeNoire), and their three children: teen Eddie (Darius McCrary), all-American Laura (Kellie Shanygne), and little Judy (Jaimee Foxworth). Also around are Harriette's sister, Rachel (Telma Hopkins), Rachel's little boy, Ritchie (Bryton McClure), and the neighborhood's resident disaster-in-waiting, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White). The Winslow clan discover all sorts of life lessons each week, including facing down a terrifying street gang, Carl showing up to work in a dress, and the Winslows dealing with two solid weeks of the most terrifying thing ever imagined: URKEL!
Anyone who grew up on TGI Friday programming will know exactly what to expect out of a show like Family Matters: ridiculous (even 'ri-donk-ulous,' I dare say) storylines, acting that stretches the boundaries of human realism, and an opening theme song that makes you want to hit yourself in the head with a hammer. If you grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, these shows were on such heavy rotation it seemed like the only programming available was late breaking news and the Olsen twins. Family Matters ran from 1989 to 1997, making it one of the longest African American comedies (eclipsed only by the far superior The Jeffersons). Let that sink in for a moment.
Family Matters is a show that is remembered so fondly because it's just so unbelievably bad. It's the definition of treacle: cloying, sugary, light as a cloud on a sunny day. Family Matters was born out of another sitcom, the '80s fish-out-of-water comedy Perfect Strangers. Harriette Winslow was an elevator operator in the same building as Balki and Cousin Larry, and she proved popular enough to get her own spin-off show. The Winslows—or more specifically, Steve Urkel—often showed up on other TGI Friday shows, including Boy Meets World, Step by Step, and Full House. It's an example of a show that became a part of a larger universe, and that universe was inhabited by Patrick Duffy and John Stamos.
Family Matters is also an example of a show that got hijacked by a supporting character meant to be a one-off who stuck around for the entire run of the series. Steve Urkel, the quintessential nerd, showed up and just never went away. So popular was the character that there were dolls, lunchboxes, and other paraphernalia made out of his likeness. It's a bit confounding why this particular character became so popular; it's not as if the geek with the pocket protector and glasses was a novel or unique idea. My best guess is that the rest of the show around him was so humdrum that having a character with that kind of obnoxious energy gave the show something like a shot of adrenaline. So omnipresent was Steve Urkel that the rest of the cast seemed to take a backseat—possibly even trunk space—to his antics. Reginald VelJohnson spends most of the show acting flustered (his eyes bug out every seven minutes) while JoMarie Payton has all the warmth of sandpaper lit up with kerosene. The rest of the cast just sort of wanders in search of a character; the Winslow kids learn various lessons, Telma Hopkins laments being single, and "Mother" Winslow jumps in with a random wisecrack.
Most of the episodes in Family Matters: The Complete Third Season sport stories that are almost beside the point; there's no attempt at creating linear plot threads that run through each season, unless you count "characters age in the correct order" as character development. On par with many sitcoms, each episode of Family Matters stands alone; things happen, but they're all rather self contained and wrap up at the end of the episode. Urkel plays cards with Carl's boss! Rachel's restaurant gets trashed and Carl saves the day! Steve makes a robot version of himself (hello, Urkelbot)! The characters and stories have all the depths of a puddle, but so what? If you're coming to Family Matters for riveting television, you've come to the wrong place.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame, each of these 25 episode transfers look good but not great. Although these are certainly better looking than many other shows of the era, Family Matters certainly doesn't pop off the screen. Colors are strong and black levels solid. The soundtracks are available in Dolby 2.0 Mono in English. The good news is that the dialogue, music, and effects are all clearly heard. The bad news is that's about all the good news you're going to get about these audio mixes. Also included on this set are English subtitles. There are no features.
It's hard to actively hate a show like Family Matters. Although it's trite and rather superfluous, it also coasts on the charm of the era. Only the 1990s could offer up a character like Steve Urkel. If the show was produced today, Steve would be a gritty loner who turns into a vampire and sleeps with Mrs. Winslow. Now there's a remake I'd tune in for.
Family Matters: The Complete Third Season is for hardcore Urkelites
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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