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Friday, March 29, 2013

'Family Ties' S6: 'All in the Family' Meets 'The Brady Bunch'

In the spirit of both this site's new focus on 'unreal TV' and the numerous "very special" hour-long and two-part episodes in the sixth season of the Michael J. Fox '80s sitcom "Family Ties," this review of the rapidly approaching DVD release of that season is a "very special" two-parter.

Part one of this review will focus on "Tie's" themes, and part two will be a more traditional look at the quality of the sixth season episodes. The spoiler alert is that this was a good season that included Courtney Cox connecting with her first of three wryly amusing long-term sitcom beaus and new wave dude Nick contributing a "wacky neighbor" vibe.

Before discussing how "Ties" presented an amusing well-reasoned battle of political ideologies, Fox deserves a few words of praise for reminding us that Canadians generally rock.

The later seasons of "Ties" came in the wake of Fox's success in film comedies such as "Back to the Future" and "Teen Wolf." I remember an interview from that era in which Fox stated that he was not letting his film stardom go to his head on the "Ties" set.

One particular remark was that Fox would have considered it obnoxious if he strutted around the "Ties" set blasting the theme from "Back to the Future" on a boom box. (This is this week's term for you millenials to Google.)

I do not recall if Fox's contract for "Ties" came up for renewal during his period of film stardom but do not believe that that success prompted excessive salary demands, complaints about being being tied (no pun intended) into his television contract, or any other egotistical behavior.

Additionally, I do not believe that Fox has ever been involved in any scandal, and IMDB reports that he is still married to his former "Ties" co-star Tracy Pollan.

All of the above puts Fox high on my list of celebrities with whom I would sacrifice any part of my anatomy to share a beverage of that person's choice. My soul is up for grabs if I get to live in the Victorian house in which the Keaton family of "Ties" resided.

Fox's integrity and overall kind nature ties into the themes that warrant giving "Ties" two posts. The series' underlying premise is that 60s-era student radicals Steven and Elyse Keaton are raising three, and later four, kids in the Reagan era. Fox's Alex P. Keaton is a stereotypical Reagan Republican who spent his toddler years outraged at the country's treatment of Richard Nixon.

In contrast to the darker and more current affairs manner in which '70s sitcom "All in the Family" depicted contrasting political views, "Ties" presented those conflicts more in the context of "The Brady Bunch" and other traditional family sitcoms.

It was much more likely that Alex would be coincidentally grounded on the night of a Young Republicans dinner than that he and his parents would violently argue about whether the probable effect on property values justified whether a minority family should have been allowed to move into the Keatons' suburban Ohio neighborhood or whether Alex's high school should distribute condoms in this era in which AIDS began spreading.

The very funny premiere episode of the fifth season episode illustrated "Tie's" kinder and gentler approach to political differences. College-age Alex literally took baby brother Andy, who was the Cousin Oliver of the series, out of the liberal preschool that Steven and Elyse had selected. Alex's reaction to the preschool's emphasis on sharing and non-competitiveness was hilarious.

On a side note, this episode had hilarious bits in which Andy discussed selling turtles and stated that "Alex is king." Fox's fans will agree with that sentiment.

The bottom line is that the Keatons loved and supported each other despite their differences; they also heatedly discussed those differences and playfully teased the opposing side without the alarmingly intensity that characterizes a great deal of modern political discourse.

The far-right seems to consider anyone who supports food stamps and Obamacare, or even just listens to NPR, a socialist; the far-left's policy of "peace, love, and understanding" does not extend to folks who oppose abortion and believe in the right to own guns.

Stating that this great divide is akin to the hostility between the street gangs the Crips and the Bloods is not as ridiculous as it seems. My personal experience is that merely wearing blue or red, which are the colors of the aforementioned gangs, expresses a political allegiance that can prompt intense reactions from complete (but hardly perfect) strangers.

For the record, I began wearing red polo shirts decades before the controversy regarding the 2000 presidential election transformed that choice into a political statement. I like the color, and it looks good with jeans.

The bottom line is that "Family Ties" is a nice reminder of an era in which political differences did not preclude reasonable discourse or unduly jeopordize personal relationships. I cannot imagine Elyse sending Alex to bed without his supper because he wore a red shirt or Alex running away because his parents held a Mondale rally in their home.

Anyone who would like to share comments or ask questions regarding "Ties" is welcome to email me. I also invite correspondence from folks who would like to subject me to slander, libel, or words that I never heard in the Bible.