Directed by Will Mackenzie et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 573 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 42.99
Release Date: February 12, 2008
Review Date: February 10, 2008
Like many long-running series that weren’t instant hits when they first premiered, it took Family Ties three years to break into the Nielsen top ten. (Being placed by NBC behind the instant smash hit The Cosby Show didn’t hurt it either.) The end of its third season found the show ranked as the fifth most popular series on the air. It’s a good natured, reasonably funny family comedy, not as witty or bawdy as Cheers or Night Court nor as droll or hilarious as The Cosby Show, other shows that vied with it for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy for 1984-85 (The Cosby Show was the winner). On its own, it has a rather standard sitcom format, but it’s blessed with a breakout star who gives the show its zip even more than twenty years since these episodes first aired.
Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney star as Steve and Elyse Keaton, former hippies who have become a middle class suburban couple with careers of their own: he manages a local PBS affiliate and she’s an architect. Their three children, though, couldn’t be more different. There’s Mallory (Justine Bateman) who’s intellectually sluggish with more important things on her mind like boys and clothes, Jennifer (Tina Yothers) who’s the youngest but not so young that she wants everyone stomping all over her, and as the oldest son Alex, Michael J. Fox as his parents’ worst nightmare: a conservative Republican whose lust for wealth and authority would make him more rightly sired by Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.
In episode after episode, Fox takes the plot and runs with it. He hilariously turns the house into a hotel when his parents are away for a weekend, his system for winning at blackjack gets his mother hooked on gambling when the family travels to Atlantic City, he and a friend begin a tutoring business to make extra money only to find themselves falling for one of their students. And when he’s not trying to make scads of cash, he’s busy taking over in other areas: he falls for a single mother when he assists her during a Lamaze class (his mother becomes pregnant early in the season, and she decides she wants to take natural childbirth classes), he falls for the inept housekeeper who comes to assist the family when Elyse becomes incapacitated, he volunteers for a crisis hotline and must help talk a potential suicide through his darkest moments. Fox so dominated the episodes that he received his first Emmy nomination for his performances during this season.
Truth to tell, few of the other cast members get many entire episodes to shine. In fact, Justine Bateman, who gets the clichéd airhead lines to perform which she does in a rather deadpan manner, doesn’t come into her own until an episode later in the season when her beloved aunt dies. Her meltdown at the funeral is the first real evidence of the dramatic stores she hadn’t been allowed to tap until that episode. The actress would go on to earn her own Emmy nominations in later seasons. Tina Yothers also gets a showcase episode once the baby is born when the usual sibling jealousy of the then-youngest gets the best of her. Meredith Baxter-Birney is absent for almost half of the season’s episodes, and even the two part birthing story arc doesn’t milk the comedy for all it’s worth. But Michael Gross certainly makes the most of his two part season ending showcase as he ponders and regrets his past relationships with his brother and late father.
Not big on big name guest stars, part of the fun of watching a show this old is seeing familiar faces to us now making small guest role appearances. Among those I spotted are future award winners Timothy Busfield and Geena Davis as well as Billy Campbell and Tate Donovan as poker buddies of Alex’s. Future Oscar and Emmy nominee James Cromwell also guests as John Hancock in one episode.
Here’s the list of episodes for season three:
1 - The Gambler
2 - Here We Go Again
3 - Little Man on Campus
4 - Love Thy Neighbor
5 - Keaton ‘n Son
6 - Fabric Smarts
7 - Hot Line Fever
8 - 4 Rms Ocn Vu
9 - Best Man
10 - Lost Weekend
11 - Don’t Kiss Me, I’m Only the Messenger
12 - Help Wanted
13 - Karen II, Alex 0
14 - Oh Donna
15 - Auntie Up (the best episode of the season, both hilarious and very moving)
16 - Philadelphia Story
17 - Birth of a Keaton (Part 1)
18 - Birth of a Keaton (Part 2)
19 - Cry Baby
20 - Don’t Know Much About History
21 - Bringing Up Baby
22 - Cold Storage
23 - Remembrance of Things Past (Part 1)
24 - Remembrance of Things Past (Part 2)
The show was videotaped before a live audience in the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the day. No anamorphic enhancement of the transfer means there is plenty of aliasing and some other compression artifacts. The image is reasonably sharp and the color usually stable. Each episode has been divided into 4 chapters without the network promos or 5 chapters with them.
The standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is sonically flat, but the dialog is clear, and there are no age related artifacts with the recording.
Each episode contains the network promo for that episode. The promos last about a minute each. The viewer has the choice to see the episode with or without the promos.
There is a 7 ¼-minute gag reel that contains the usual flubs and memory lapses with lines. Nice to have just to see the actors dissolve out of character once a mistake occurs.
There is a 30 second public service announcement by Michael J. Fox concerning Parkinson’s disease, an affliction from which he suffers. Obviously of recent vintage, it’s an effective spot.
Family Ties brings back lots of memories of Thursday nights gone by. Though it was never a favorite show of mine, I’m sure fans will be delighted with the package offered here.