News Alert: Antenna TV is at it again. This channel is playing all my favorite shows! Not only did I recently have the pleasure of reconnecting with my favorite TV show from my toddler days (enter “Three’s Comedy” from 1977), but I have renewed my love affair with “Family Ties” from 1982. Words cannot truly express how happy this Ohio buckeye family has made me. But I’m of course going to try!
For those not in the know, “Family Ties” was one of the last great “traditional family” sitcoms to grace the TV screen, premiering in 1982 and finishing in 1989. It ran in the same circles as the hugely popular “Growing Pains” and “The Cosby Show.” A story about a 1960s peace-loving, flower-power couple Elyse and Steven Keaton (played beautifully by actress Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross respectively), and their four rambunctious children (two boys and two girls), “Family Ties” is a true treasure of the heart.
Not only does this show have a strong social-conscience that aimed to reflect and delve deep into the social issues of its time, as many ‘70s and ‘80s family sitcoms admirably did, but when watching these episodes again here in 2023, I was taken aback by the unabashed forceful heart of this show. Yes, “Family Ties” is a big, beating, forceful red heart. How wonderful and stupendous.
This show is pulse-pounding in the family sense. It’s a life-affirming mechanism where the souls of its characters are bonded and secure, and yet that connection is not without huge earthquakes and upsets. There is unquestionably utter tragedy and turbulent confusion in “Family Ties.”
Cue teenager Mallory (actress Justine Bateman) in the Aunt Trudy death episode. Heartbreaking! Or pre-teen Jennifer (actress Tina Yothers) trying to adjust to having a new baby brother Andrew (actor Brian Bonsall). Or, what about high school over-achiever and aspiring Wall Street millionaire Alex P. Keaton (actor Michael J. Fox) getting hooked on amphetamines to enhance his studying capabilities? Whoa.
“Family Ties” didn’t shy away from tough topics. Instead, it confronted them head on, and without mawkishness or saccharine sweetness (or at least very little compared to other family sitcoms of the day). Of course there was PG humor and sweetness. Those qualities were baked into all ‘80s family sitcoms. But I always appreciated the “real” quality of “Family Ties.” It had the ability to penetrate beyond the laughs to say something important about the family unit. And that "something" might not have always been positive, but it was always compassionate. How refreshingly daring.
Overall, "Family Ties" was a collection of great actors, writers, and producers working together to deliver love, kindness, insight, and understanding. All that in a 30-minute episode? To quote 13-year-old Jennifer trying on her “cool speak” with her “cool friends,” the answer is like “Yeah, totally.” Um ok!
What’s more, Jack Tripper from “Three’s Company” might’ve been my first TV love, when I was all of four years old. But Alex P. Keaton from “Family Ties” was definitely my pre-teen love. Who can forget the episode when he and Ellen kiss for the first time, and to that amazing ballad “At This Moment?” The excitement, tension, and romance is top-notch. (Sidebar, his on-screen girlfriend Ellen was played by his future real-life wife Tracy Pollan. They met on the set of “Family Ties.” Awesome! I once stood next to them at a movie theater in Manhattan back in about 1998. Double awesome!)
Or who can forget Alex battling with a kangaroo in the Keaton living room, after he decides to turn the family house into a hotel when the Keaton parents are away? Hilarious. Then in one show he decides to impress Ellen by performing an interpretive ballet number. Who knew the stock market crash of 1929 was so hideously bad? For sure this ballet number was worse. Yikes. How precious.
So, thank you, dear “Family Ties,” for your big, beating, forceful red heart. Newer sitcoms like “Modern Family” are beloved in their own way, and I appreciate society and art moving forward. But I will always hold a special affection for "Family Ties." 2023 has been a good year for me to remember this. Here's to mom Elyse, sitting on the couch, playing the guitar, and singing nostalgic folk songs by Joni Mitchell. Namaste.