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Old 03-06-2009, 04:36 PM   #1
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Cool “Family Ties” Season 5 Proves Alex is king

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Perhaps the most striking element of the 30-episode fifth season of the 1980s sitcom Family Ties,” which is being released on DVD on Tuesday is that it might be one of the few family sitcoms that improved as the child actors aged. Fans will recall that this show is about two liberal “children of the sixties” raising children of their own in the more conservative Reagan era of the 1980s.

The second thing that I noticed was that the heartfelt moments that sitcoms generally handle very badly are so well-written and acted on “Ties” that many of them seemed like scenes from plays that were being performed on a live stage.

This element was a large part of an exceptional two-part episode in which the normally stable character Alex P. Keaton, played perfectly by Michael J. Fox, had a great deal of trouble dealing with the sudden death of a college classmate that Alex felt that he might have been able to avoid if he had not acted selfishly regarding the classmate’s request for help.

Much of this episode consisted on monologues by Fox on a stage that was mostly dark in the style of the Thornton Wilder play “Our Town.” This successful experiment that was unique for a sitcom is an example of how the show won an Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series and Fox won one for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Comedy Series for this season.

On a less dramatic note, the show also wisely avoided having too much of an 80s style. The Keaton house was decorated in a classic slightly Victorian style and most of the characters wore traditional clothes that are appropriate for most eras; additionally, topical references were relatively rare.

This season is notable as well for successfully integrating a new young child into a show with older children. Five year-old Brian Bonsall became a great part of the show when made his first appearance as little brother Andrew in the season premiere that revolved around the conservative Alex opposing Andrew’s attendance of a pre-school that promoted sharing and support for minor accomplishments, such as waving goodbye.

Bonsall had a surprising number of lines in this episode, and several others, and did a far better job than many adult stars of other hit shows. I also fondly remember the line “Alex is king” that he delivered enthusiastically that some news stories about the show quoted.

Watching the DVD set was nice as well because I have not thought about the show much in the last several years and really enjoyed rediscovering it. Seeing Fox in his prime and remembering that he remained loyal to the show after starring in the classic comedy film “Back to the Future” and other hits is one reason that I wrote in a recent review of the first season of Fox’s other sitcom “Spin City” that I would love to join him for a pancake breakfast. On a side note, the second season of “Spin City is being released on DVD on April 28.

I would love to hear memories that other folks have about “Ties”; please add them as additions to this entry or as e-mail to tvdvdguy@gmail.com. Sha la la la.
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Old 03-06-2009, 04:49 PM   #2
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Thanks for posting that, Charles! I am really looking forward to watching Season 5.
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Old 03-06-2009, 08:51 PM   #3
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Thanks for posting the article. I'm counting the days until I get my copy.
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Old 03-06-2009, 10:26 PM   #4
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(chanting) FOUR MORE DAYS...FOUR MORE DAYS...
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Old 03-06-2009, 10:33 PM   #5
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I wasn't sure I was going to keep going with this series but in light of Charles' glowing review and the fact the 2-part episode of Alex dealing with his friends death is on this set and I may have to buy it after all.
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Old 03-06-2009, 11:38 PM   #6
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Also, there's at least one more episode with Ellen that should be on the Season 5 dvd set, because it wasn't on the Season 4 dvd set. Ellen is in the episode It's My Party. The episode where Jennifer turns 13. So I'm sure, fans of Ellen will want to buy Season 5 simply for that reason, lol. Season 5 is a good season.
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Old 03-07-2009, 12:23 AM   #7
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That's right - the rest of the Ellen episodes are in Season 5.
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Old 03-07-2009, 12:29 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvo301
I wasn't sure I was going to keep going with this series but in light of Charles' glowing review and the fact the 2-part episode of Alex dealing with his friends death is on this set and I may have to buy it after all.
I can't take credit for the review because I've never seen the show or at least not an entire episode. All I did was post it because I knew it would interest a few members here.
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Old 03-07-2009, 02:38 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoneboy
I can't take credit for the review because I've never seen the show or at least not an entire episode. All I did was post it because I knew it would interest a few members here.
You have never seen the show or an entire episode? Wow.
Just curious why not? It's ok that you haven't seen it. It just always surprises me when I hear someone say they have never seen the show. Those who haven't seen it, imo, have missed out on such a great show, Again, just my opinion.
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Old 03-10-2009, 02:29 AM   #10
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Well whomever wrote it perfectly sums up why Family ties was a great show!

He is right that the show was not full of 80s references. There is a tendency to think that because of the "ex-Hippy parents raising modern kids" thing. But generation gaps have existed since then too. This show's just happened to be a 60s vs 80s gap. But the characters and stories were relatable to anyone who is a parent or had parents.

I have always seen Family Ties as feeling like a stage comedy/drama. Having that same style of intimacy and energy. Not just in "My Name is Alex' either. Though that was the clearest example.

Notice how we never saw the outside of the Keaton's house. Which was rare of sitcoms then and now. Usually a you see a phony establishing shot of a real house. Before you see the interior built in a studio. With completely different lightening. Family Ties never bothered with that type of usual sitcom stuff. It stood on the weight of the characters.

Similar to a play the show had a very focused cast. Almost exclusively on the Keaton family itself. Which considering the name of the show was perfect.

The show did not focus much on the kids classmates or teachers. Only when they would meet the rest of the family. Which meant that most faces would come and go never to be seen by the audience again. This is consistent with real life. My brother and sister had many friends and teachers while we grew up. But only the very best friends and the boyfriends/girlfriends did I really ever get to know. The Ellens, and the Nicks, and the Skippys.
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Old 03-10-2009, 05:03 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvo301
I wasn't sure I was going to keep going with this series but in light of Charles' glowing review and the fact the 2-part episode of Alex dealing with his friends death is on this set and I may have to buy it after all.

I highly recommend this season. You'll love the 2-parter. It really was well done and did remind me of "Our Town".

Alex and Andrew are adorable together. You can see a bond between them that had to be off-camera as well as on. Anything Ellen appeared in was great and I cry everytime she leaves (even though I know they ended up very happily together in real life)!

It really was a great show.
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Old 03-14-2009, 09:27 PM   #12
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I liked Andrew.

There is a tendacy to lump his addition together with other shows that had new kids in their later seasons. Where those shows were radically changed to shift to a new cute kid. While the other older kids are sidelined.

But that NEVER happened with Family Ties. Most of the Andrew episodes were really about Alex. His attempts to (lovingly! LOL!) turn Andrew into a clone of himself! Which was totally in character for Alex.

With Alex and Mallory in college they would have likely spend less and less time at the house even while living there. Having a younger brother kept the family closer in those years than they would likely have been otherwise.
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Old 03-14-2009, 09:30 PM   #13
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^ Plus, younger siblings sometimes idolize and try to emulate the older siblings, so the Alex/Andrew relationship makes perfect sense.
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Old 03-16-2009, 12:13 PM   #14
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I'm glad that Paramount has continued to progress with the DVD releases of this show - hopefully now that the first five are out they'll still see fit to release seasons six and seven. Taxi has been stalled at Season Three for over three years now.

Anyway, I'm still making my way through the third season so I won't be ordering the fifth just yet, but I plan to ask for it for my birthday in August.
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Old 03-18-2009, 05:30 PM   #15
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I ordered season 5 from Amazon.ca the other day. It should arrive sometime next week. Can't wait!
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