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Sunday, August 11, 2013

'Family Ties' S7: Fitting Tribute to Gary David Goldberg

The most memorable moment while watching seventh season episodes of the "must-see" Michael J (which does not stand for anything) Fox '80s sitcom "Family Ties" for this review of the August 13, 2013 DVD release of that series' final season came during the season premiere's closing credits. This episode about a family camping trip gone awry prompted a few smiles, but the closing credits created a touch of sadness.

Seeing the name of series creator Gary David Goldberg flash on the screen evoked thoughts of Goldberg passing away earlier this year. Anyone who brings us a great show that is still entertaining and only mildly dated more than 20 years later deserves to have his memory honored.

The concept of "Ties" is that radical children of the '60s Steven and Elyse Keaton are raising conformist children of the '80s in a Columbus, Ohio suburban.

Fox steals the show as oldest Son Alex, who is a compassionate Reagan Republican. Middle daughter Mallory is textbook Valley Girl teen whose fashion sense far outweighs her common sense. Mallory protrayor Justine Bateman does an awesome job expressing great joy at any mention of the mall and extraordinary distress when faced with a weekend without access to a telephone.

Youngest daughter Jennifer starts as a tomboy and morphs into a socially conscious teen/Valley Girl hybrid. Late-in-life baby Andy is the Cousin Oliver of the group.

Additionally,  future friend and cougar Courtney Cox seems much more comfortable in her role as Alex's steady girl than she does during "Ties" sixth season.

As the first part of Unreal TV's "very special" two-part review of the DVD release of Family Ties' sixth season states, much of the series' appeal relates to the civility of the Keaton family's political discussions and their respect for the right of each family member to be himself or herself.

A "very special" two-part seventh season episode titled "All in the Neighborhood" validates the prior review's comparison of "Ties" to "All in the Family." The storyline has the family of a black co-worker at Steven's PBS station moving to the house across the street from the Keatons.

The hostile response of the Keatons' well-educated middle-class neighbors shocks that family. This animosity is based on the reduced property values associated with integrating the neighborhood. The reactions range from neighbors planning to sell their homes before the values fall lower, to sending hate mail and making harassing telephone calls, to vandalism.

Good humor from the "Neighborhood" episode includes Steven's comically inept job guarding the neighbor's house and a running joke regarding the misspelled message "whits only" spray painted on a living room wall.

It is difficult to imagine an episode about a black family moving into the Long Island neighborhood of the Seavers in the equally amusing '80s sitcom "Growing Pains," which Unreal TV has also recently reviewed.

Another "very special" three-part episode about Steven having a heart attack uses the technique of an effective clever narrative device that "Ties" utilizes occasionally in its later seasons. Rather than resort to flashbacks from prior episodes or have fantasy sequences that include a specter-like Steven, these offerings include newly filmed segments from the Steven and Elyse story.

The first flashback has very cute and wide-eyed 20-something Steven  and Elyse, played by very cute and wide-eyed 20-something actors, sharing a very special moment; we then see their early married life, followed by significant moments from their marriage. One in which a four-year-old Mallory taunts a six-year-old Alex about Watergate is particularly amusing.

That episode also has some of the funniest moments from the series. Andy asking if his dad had a massive coronary when Elyse tries to explain heart attacks on a first-grade level is laugh-out-loud funny. A great running gag in this one relates to Alex dragging Andy into Alex's paranoia regarding a lack of a pulse.

The heart attack episode quasi-validates the theory in the aforementioned review of the sixth-season that "Ties" also channels "The Brady Bunch." An episode in which fast-food employee Jennifer must fire her comically inept friend/co-worker evokes thoughts of the "Brady" episode in which ice cream shop employee Marcia must contend with brother Peter's deplorable work ethic and sister Jan's excessive zeal.

The last "regular" episode before the "very special" series finale is also very representative of "Ties" quality. The nice spin on the sitcom cliched plot regarding Mallory's new-wave dim-witted artist boyfriend temporarily moving into the Keaton home is that Steven's and Nick's predictable reconciliation comes about through a means other than a late-night heart-to-heart in the Keaton kitchen.

An amusing subplot in this episode has Elyse trying to complete the family's income tax return without the help of financial whiz Alex. 

The series finale also stays true to the spirit of "Ties" by achieving the perfect blend of  (mostly) mild sentiment and gentle edge that makes the series so great. Amusingly, this reviewer watched the late-night heart-to-heart peace summit between Alex and Elyse only after commenting on the lack of that cliche regarding Steven and Nick.

This episode additionally gives both Fox and Alex a great send-off by revolving around Alex's last days at home before leaving to start the Wall Street job for which he literally worked most of his life. It is very nice as well that "Ties" avoids the sitcom cliche of having this event coincide with major changes in the lives of the other characters.

Great moments include Andy's incredibly cute school play that ends up being relevant to Alex leaving, and Steven pressing an envelope of cash into Alex's hands only to have Alex remark about the remaining balance on the amount that Steven owes his son.

Wishing to end on this nice note, this review will now invite anyone with questions or comments regarding "Ties" to send an email.