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 addition to Alex there was Dad Steven (Gross) and Mom Elyse (Birney). They were former hippies who now had the responsibilities of adulthood and family. Sister Mallory (Bateman) was portrayed as a girl with more fashion sense than common sense. She was always worried about how she looked and not so much about school. Sister Jennifer (Yothers) was underused most of the time. She was a balance between the other siblings and often got left behind in the stories. Skippy (Price) was a neighbor kid with a crush on Mallory.
Family Ties changed a lot in its fourth year. Both Alex and Mallory paired up with relatively steady dates for the year. Mallory’s guy is Nick, played by a young Scott Valentine. He’s a kind of biker dude with not the brightest of minds to work with. With Alex he falls for a direct opposite. Ellen is played by Tracy Pollan. The two would hit it off so well that the actors themselves ended up getting married. It does tend to add some authenticity to the relationship. Baby Andrew is home from the hospital and becomes a part of the Keaton household. The fourth season also premiered with an hour and a half television film. The film brings the Keatons to
Each episode of Family Ties is presented in its original full frame broadcast format. As sitcoms go, this one looks pretty good. The image is dated, as the colors are oh so 80’s in texture. There’s not a lot of vividness here, but these colors do stand on their own. Black levels are pretty much average, but consider this was throwaway stuff on video in the 1980’s. About the best you can hope for here is no serious degradation, and that’s what you get.
The Dolby Digital Mono track serves merely as an adequate delivery system for dialog. You can hear everything with no audible distortion. Dynamics don’t really enter into the equation here. It likely sounds better than it did 25 years ago on your living room television.
Promos: These are very short “Next Time On Family Ties” bits.
Gag Reel: Mess-ups and laughs on the set.
The television film was the “jump the shark” moment for Family Ties. Certainly the show did settle into its normally character-driven episodes, but the season was irrevocably tainted by the ratings stunt. I liked the addition of the steady dates if for no other reasons it added some fresh faces to the mix. It actually reduced the number of “date driven” episodes, and so provided some variety in the scripts. Remember that this is comfort food television: “bold but not brash”.