Family Ties is likely remembered most as the series that launched the career of Michael J. Fox. There’s no question that he owes a great debt to Alex Keaton. It’s almost a bit awkward now to watch him as this young, extremely conservative teenager after Fox has spent so much of his life as a liberal poster boy in the last couple of elections. Politics aside, it’s hard not to credit his performances in Family Ties and the Back To The Future films for launching him into a well deserved lucrative career. The Michael J. Fox issue, however, might hide some of the other assets the show had going for it in its time. For one of the first times parents were portrayed as humanly flawed, and families were not the perfectly functional institutions most of these shows described. Up until Family Ties, these households were either perfect little examples of American ideal or they were so dysfunctional that they could hardly be considered families at all. This show obviously went for a bit of realism.
In this second year it had already become obvious to everyone involved that the character of Alex was driving the show. You’ll find the stories begin to bring him out as the central character in a trend that would last the show’s entire run. Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter did a remarkable job of portraying the parents in this family, and for the most part it was all believable. Their characters were products of the 60’s and were reluctant to completely shed that persona as they entered parenthood. By year two the show runners were already playing down the characters’ hippie roots, and references all but disappeared in time.This believability factor only made the jokes funnier and the serious issues hit that much harder. Family Ties didn’t shy away from big family issues. Not An Affair To Remember dealt with the issue of infidelity in an episode that was more about the adults’ dynamic than the jokes. Birthday Boy did the difficult work of giving us some of the funniest and then some of the most heartwarming moments the show had to offer. When Alex turns 18 and wants to go to
So Family Ties was a pretty good show and was often funny. NBC was a struggling network when it took on the show, and before long the series had become the number one comedy, helping to launch NBC’s famous Thursday Night Power Lineup that would include The Cosby Show and eventually hit dramas like Hill Street Blues. There’s nothing spectacular about the series, but it was unique and eventually personality driven. Certainly worth a look again in 2007.
Michael J. Fox: The Greatest Gig In The World: Fox understands how important this role was to his career and is quite grateful in this look at the character. There are plenty of Alex clips here and sound bites from Fox both past and present.
The Year Of The Beard: This is a frivolous look at why Gross began wearing a beard in the second year and what everybody thought about it.
Michael J. Fox Public Service Announcement: Fox makes an appeal for donations to fund Parkinson’s disease research.