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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

'Family Ties' Seasson 6: Fox Loves Cox (Watch It)



Last week, I discussed the sociological aspects of the sixth season of the Michael J. Fox '80s sitcom "Family Ties," which is being released on DVD on April 9, 2013. The primary messages were that "Alex (P. Keaton) is king" and that the series depicted a kinder gentler time in which conservatives and liberals respected each other and were not literally or figuratively at war.

Today's conclusion of this "very special" two-part review is a more traditional look at the sixth season episodes. To further recap, "Ties" is a witty and overall well-acted family sitcom that tells the tales of former '60s student radicals Steven and Elyse Keaton raising their three older and later-in-life "Cousin Oliver" toddler in a Columbus, Ohio suburb.

Great aspects of the latter seasons include introducing Midwestern valley girl Mallory's new wave/struggling artist boyfriend Nick. The dreamy Scott Valentine played this highly accessorized and highly caring/sensitive dim-bulb very well.

These was also the era in which the show mined wonderful humor from Mallory attending the comically unchallenging Grant College. The most recent of my decades-long Grant College references was a few months ago when the law school that my significant other attended dropped in the rankings of those schools.

The sixth season premiere introduced new series regular Courtney Cox, who was best known for her roles in the NBC show "Misfits of Science" and the Bruce Springsteen "Dancing in the Dark" video. Cox played psychology student Lauren Miller, who met and fell in love with Fox's Alex in the first of the season's many "very special" hour-long episodes.

The contrast between Cox's outwardly warm and caring nature and Alex's Reagan Republican persona was highly amusing. It was also nice to see a disinterested Alex agreeably sit through psychology lectures and Cox patiently listen to Alex's advocacy of traditional values and conservative fiscal policies.

Additionally, Cox had a great smile and rocked her big hair, suspenders, and t-shirt look. She also had some very funny lines but delivered a rather lifeless performance. Given her good future work on "Friends" and "Cougar Town," it is probable either that Cox was nervous or that Fox dating his fifth-season on-screen love interest and future real-life wife Tracy Pollan was a factor.

Cox did come to life more when performing with toddler Brian Bonsall, whose Andy Keaon was a modified mini-me to Fox's Alex. One of the season's cutest scenes involved Andy giving Lauren a tour of his room.

Lauren giving Andy a six-pack of assorted sodas in response to an earlier scene in which he communicated his anger at her by constantly changing his request for a type of soda was one of many laugh-out-loud moments of the scene. A surprisingly not sappy moment a few seconds later in which Andy and Lauren bonded over a mutual love of teddy bears was one of the sixth season's cutest exchanges.

A second "very special" hour-long episode revolved around high school freshman Jennifer Keaton writing a book report on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" despite knowing that her school district banned that book added a new slant to this somewhat common sitcom plot.

In addition to addressing the arguably absurd concern regarding the word "nigger" and the related theme of slavery in "Huckleberry Finn," the Keatons noted that there would not have been any controversy if they lived in a school district that had a boundary a few blocks from their home. Mallory provided that episode's laugh-out-loud moment by observing that living a few blocks away also would have brought the family closer to the mall.

A lighter episode that also touched on a still relevant social issue was one of the great ones that paired up Alex and Nick. This one had Alex simultaneously exploiting Nick and helping him market his art.

Seeing the contrast between the completely business orientation of Alex, who advocated changing the color and size of Nick's art to make it more profitable, and the artistic nature of Nick was just plain good comedy. The manner in which Nick got Alex to understand his perspective was particularly amusing.

"The Anniversary Waltz," which involved rancor regarding the party for Steven and Elyse's 20th wedding anniversary, was another notable episode. That offering was produced for "Ties'" second season but did not air then for a reason that I am going crazy trying to recall. (The web was no help regarding this.)

Discovering "lost" TV episodes is always fun, and seeing the older-style opening credits and the pre-Andy era  in "Waltz" was a nostalgic treat.

On a more general note, "Ties" simply achieved a nice balance between more traditional one-earner nuclear family sitcoms and the darker '90s sitcoms, such as "Roseanne" and "Married With Children," that presented a depressingly cynical view of parents' ability to manage their homes and offspring.

I for one would much rather live with the Keatons than the Bradys or the Bundys. The sentiment from "Ties'" admittedly sappy theme song that "there ain't no nothing we can't love each other through" is a nice one that fits in well with this column's theme of "unreal TV."

Anyone who would like to share thoughts or ask questions about "Ties" is encouraged to email me.