Classic 1980's Toys
In 1982, middle America became the setting for a culture clash between 1960's
idealism and 1980's conservatism. And it was all in the family. Family Ties, a show that President Reagan called
one of his favorites, aired
for seven seasons on NBC. It depicted the changing values in American culture
through a 'typical' household in Columbus, Ohio.
Jennifer was a typical kid in the midst of all the craziness. She began as somewhat
of a tomboy, but eventually she and her family had to face her impending teenager-ness.
Jennifer dealt with the pressures of popularity and first dates, changing friendships
and bigger responsibilities. And all under the watchful eye of (and constant
interference by) her family, particularly Alex and Mallory.
Fifteen-year-old Mallory was another story. While Alex excelled in academics,
school held little interest for Mallory. What she thrived on was fashion and
boys. In fact, her fashion-sense frequently outweighed even her common sense.
Her time was spent on shopping, dating, bickering with Alex, and ignoring
the goofy boy next door, Skippy, who had a crush on her.
In season 4, Mallory brought home a new boyfriend. Nick Moore was an unkempt,
slow-witted artist, greeting everyone with a short Fonzie-like "Ayyyy."
oldest, Alex, played by the show's breakout star Michael J. Fox, was a seventeen-year-old
conservative who dressed in a suit and tie and kept a framed picture of William
F. Buckley, Jr., in his room. His main interest from an early age was money,
and he didn't take this interest lightly. A school paper Alex wrote in the first
grade prompted the following note from his teacher: "Alex knows more about economics
than most people in America. I'm assuming this paper deserves an A. I don't
fully understand it." Alex was an academic overachiever, but he finally got
a chance to grow emotionally through his two serious romantic relationships.
The first was in Alex's freshman year at Leland College (season 4) with Ellen
Reed, played by Tracy Pollan. Ellen and Alex disliked each other at first sight,
but soon fell passionately in love. (Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan began dating
in real life after meeting on the show, and eventually got married.) The
next was in Season 6, with psychology student Lauren Miller, played by Courtney
the youngest, was born at the end of season 3. He could be thought of as a last-chance
kid, a cute child brought into a show to help sagging ratings after all of the
existing kids have out-grown their cuteness, except that he appeared too early
in the show's run. Andy's arrival was really more an opportunity to show how
a well-established family unit deals with a big shift in their lives. By season
6, Andy (Brian Bonsall) was already four-years-old, and had taken on the role
of sidekick to big brother Alex. Andy idolized Alex, and Alex in turn taught
Andy all about his favorite past-time-money.
One of the most famous episodes in this vein, the one-hour "My Name is Alex"
in season 5, centered around a car accident that had killed Alex's close friend
Greg. Alex, having refused to accompany his friend on the fatal trip because
he was too busy, is overcome by guilt. His family convinces him to see a psychiatrist,
which prompts a theater-style performance on a nearly bare stage in which Alex
works through his anger and grief in a series of flashbacks to periods of his
the show's final season, the Keatons faced some of their biggest challenges.
They dealt with racism when a black family moved into their neighborhood and
a family crisis when Steven had a heart attack and had to undergo bypass surgery.
But the biggest challenge came in the final episode. Alex, who had never strayed
far from home (even while attending college), accepted a job at a Wall Street
brokerage firm. This meant the inevitable dissolution of the family unit. It
was clear to the Keatons, and to the audience, that things could never be the
same again. Alex moved away, and Family Ties came to an end on May 14, 1989.
and Steven Keaton, one-time flower children, were now parents and professionals
trying to hold on to their liberal beliefs. Elyse, played by Meredith Baxter-Birney
before she dropped Birney from her name and became queen of made-for-television
woman-in-peril movies, was an architect. Steven, played by Michael Gross, managed
the public TV station WKS-TV Channel 3. Although at times they got caught up
in their careers and worked too long and hard like any parents, they also did
things like participate in an anti-nuke rally on Thanksgiving Day that landed
them in jail. But despite their personal struggles with changing values, what
tended to test them most was their children.
It took some time for the Keatons to see what Mallory liked about Nick, including
his sensitivity and talent as a sculptor. In season 5, after barely graduating
high school, Mallory entered Grant Junior College to study fashion design. She
and Nick continued as a couple, moving together into adulthood.
a comedy at its heart, Family Ties tackled many serious issues. There were episodes
that dealt with topics like divorce, suicide, teen pregnancy, and illness, all
with a mix of gravity and humor.