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. Newest kid Andrew was starting to grow up now, and Alex often tried to take him under his wing, hoping for a miniature version of himself. The kid would now be played by Brian Bonsall, who would later play Worf’s son on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Skippy (Price) was a neighbor kid with a crush on Mallory.
In Be True To Your Pre-School, Alex objects to what he considers anti-capitalism lessons at Andrew’s pre-school. We see Alex beginning to try to mold Andrew by this point, trying to counter the more liberal beliefs of his parents. In My Back Pages, Steven must come to grips with the realization that he’s changed from his radical liberal days, when one of his old comrades shows up. Has he sold out to the establishment, or just become responsible? Alex gets his dream job working at a bank in Beauty And The Bank, but will he fall for his attractive boss? The two part episode Mrs. Wong has Mallory and Nick planning to elope. Alex helps Nick study for his GED so that he can teach art in High School Confidential. Will Mallory get jealous of her boyfriend and her brother? The show takes a serious turn when Alex has to deal with the grief suffered when his friend is killed in an auto accident. It’s a two parter called A, My Name Is Alex. The season ends with a Jennifer coming of age episode, marking her 13th birthday and desire to be cool. It’s the season ending two-parter, It’s My Party.
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.
Gag Reel: Mess-ups and laughs on the set.
The show got some new life with a now mobile Andrew. Honestly, the baby stories were wearing as thin as the pregnancy year before that. Now Andrew was old enough to interact with his older brother. It gave Fox a fresh new interaction that brought his character alive like never before. If you could sum up this season with anything at all, it was coming of age. Each of the kids has epiphany moments this season that redefine their relationships and their emotional maturity. Mallory with thinking about marriage, Alex with his friend’s death and new job, and even Jennifer gets to reexamine her life as the season ends. Unfortunately ratings were already down by now, and the show only had a couple more seasons to go, just when it was getting good again. Now’s your chance to pick up where you might have left off during the show’s broadcast run. If you were one of those that abandoned the show before year 5, “personally, I think you blew it”.