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.
The third year of Family Ties brought great changes. For most of the season we are dealing with the impending birth of fourth Keaton child Andrew. I have to admit that I found the pregnancy stories a bit tiresome, as all of the typical pregnant woman clichés got brought out of the closet, from food cravings to mood swings. Of far more interest in this season was Alex going to college. With his new found freedom and intellectual stimulation, Michael J. Fox was able to really open up with Alex this year. In the second episode, Big Man On Campus, Alex must deal with something he’s never faced before: failure, and at the hands of an idol no less. In Hotline Fever, Alex begins his volunteer work at the crisis hotline which would serve as the setting for both hilarious and very serious performances from Fox when he must help a suicidal caller. One of the best episodes of Family Ties ever is Philadelphia Story, where Alex falls asleep working on his Thomas Jefferson paper and meets the likes of John Adams and James Cromwell as John Hancock. Finally the season winds down with the birth of Andrew in the final handful of episodes while the season ends with the death of Steven’s father in Remembrances Of Things Past parts I & II. Tina Yothers has more to do from this point forward as she enters adolescence. Mallory is working now, finally putting that shopping knowledge to work to actually make money instead of spend it. All in all it was another pretty solid year of laughs, mostly when Alex is the center of attention. The Andrew story might have been drawn out far too much, but there’s plenty of genuine laughs to readily compensate.
Gag Reel: After a surprisingly loaded second season release, this short gag reel is all you get for year 3.
I have to admit that Family Ties was mostly about Michael J. Fox and Alex Keaton for me. The Andrew birth really made me realize how impatient I had become with most of the other characters and story lines. In future years Andrew would actually provide some great moments with Alex in his rather accelerated growth. Family Ties is still growing in its third year, still attempting to find its place. The nice part about all of this is that you could start right here if you wanted. The season doesn’t require too much setup. While I think you’ll enjoy starting from the beginning, you don’t necessarily have to in order to enjoy the release. Whether you start here or back at the beginning, laughs await you. Answer the phone. “Destiny is calling.”