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The Torkelsons aired from September 1991 until July 1993 on NBC.

A sensitive teenager was mortified by her family in this bittersweet
comedy about a working class family on the ropes.Dorothy Jane (Olivia
Burnette) just wanted to be thought of as normal, like any 14 year
old, but how could she be: her father Randall (Gregg Henry) had walked
out on the family, they were perilously short of money, and might even
lose their big old rambling house in Pyramid Corners, Oklahoma. Yet
her perky optimistic mom, Millicent ( Connie Ray) saw sunshine
everywhere, even as men came to repossess the appliances. Her brothers
and sisters -athetic Steven (Aaron Michael Metchik), spunky Ruth Ann
(Anna Slotky); studious Chuckie Lee (Lee Norris), the bug collector,
always recognizable with his thick-rimmed glasses;, and huggable
little Mary Sue ((Rachel Duncan)-acted as if nothing was wrong.
Helping out, at least a little was Mr. Hodges (William Schallert), a
kindly older man who had rented a room in their basement. Dorothy
Jane was exceptionally articulate for her age, and she also served
running commentary throughout the show by having talks with the "Man
in the Moon" by her bedroom window;

After a single unsuccessful season The Torkelsons left the schedule , only to return in February 1993 with a new name, Almost Home. Millicent had moved to Seattle to become a nanny working for single dad Brian Morgan (Perry King), who ran a successful catalogue business. She now had three kids (Steven and Ruth Ann evidently got left by the roadside) who mixed like oil and water with Brian's obnoxious offspring, Molly and Gregory ( Brittany Murphy, Jason Marsden).

Where did the producers get a name like Torkelsons? Nearly 30 years
before, a real Steven Floyd Torkelson had shared his bug collection
and a first kiss with a girl named Lynn Montgomery, who grew up to
create this series. The name stayed with her and was immortalized on
NBC's fall 1991 schedule. Moral: be careful to whom you show your bug
collection, you just might wind up in a sitcom.

An Article from Entertainment Weekly

The Torkelsons
Ken Tucker
December 20, 1991 at 05:00 AM EST

Consider the lowly Torkelsons, a TV family that deserves more respect than it has received so far. Since its debut in the fall, The Torkelsons has told the tale of 35-year-old Millicent Torkelson (Connie Ray) and her life as the single mother of five noisy children living in the tiny town of Pyramid Corners, Okla.

The Torkelsons is not your standard squabbling-family-in-a-big-suburban-house sitcom. For one thing, the Torkelsons don’t squabble or wisecrack as compulsively as other TV families do. Instead, they actually converse — they discuss things; they argue. Then, too, their big suburban house is more accurately a big, drafty, dilapidated monstrosity, and the recession has hit this struggling family pretty hard. The series’ pilot, for example, climaxed with an attempt by the local department store to repossess the family’s washing machine. Instead of being played for laughs, this scene conveyed the sense of shame involved in not having enough money to maintain your payments on the household appliances — with not having as much money as all the other sitcom families do.

All of this makes The Torkelsons a bit more melancholy than most situation comedies — the family’s situation is always dicey. To make ends meet, Millicent runs a freelance upholstery business out of her house; she has also recently taken in a boarder, Wesley Hodges, who rents out the family’s basement and always shows up for meals with the family dressed in a necktie and cardigan sweater. Hodges is played by William Schallert, eternally beloved by baby boomers as the smart, gentle dad on The Patty Duke Show; here, with their Midwestern manners and twangs, the Torkelsons always address him as ”Boarder Hodges.”

The Torkelsons is structured around the musings of the family’s oldest daughter, Dorothy Jane, played by Olivia Burnette. With her round face and large, dark eyes, Burnette looks like a teenage version of Linda Ronstadt, and most episodes of The Torkelsons begin with Dorothy Jane sitting in the window of her bedroom, looking up at the night sky and talking aloud to ”the man in the moon.” In these brief scenes, she confides her hopes, secrets, fears, and joys — it’s a brazenly sentimental device to draw us into the show.

Most of the time, Dorothy Jane waxes deliriously lyrical as the moon wanes, speaking of ”poetry and moonlight and the power of love,” but the scriptwriters aren’t above making her awfully literal-minded as well. In a recent episode, Dorothy Jane explained to the man in the moon — and, therefore, to us — that when she talks to him, she’s ”really talking to God.” The Torkelsons‘ creator, Lynn Montgomery, has worked subtle, novel variations on the standard sitcom form, but Montgomery and the show’s director, Arlene Sanford, keep poking us in the ribs with obviousness, as if to say, ”Get it? Get it?” Back off — we get it already. The Torkelsons asks us to identify most closely with Dorothy Jane — to share her disappointment, for example, when the boy she has a crush on doesn’t invite her to the school dance. But Burnette’s youthful poise and actorly knowingness work against her; Dorothy Jane comes off a little cold, a bit off-puttingly dour. And Dorothy Jane’s siblings are a disappointingly stereotypical lot: Steven Floyd (Aaron Metchik), a smart-mouthed 12-year-old hood; Ruth Ann (Anna Slotky), a blandly cheerful 10-year-old; Chuckie Lee (Lee Norris), a prepubescent nerd who chases girls with the absurd ardor of Groucho Marx; and Mary Sue (Rachel Duncan), a standard-issue pretty little tyke. All of the perfectly competent young actors portraying these cutesily double-named children deserve better.

No, the character who really makes The Torkelsons worth watching is the children’s mother. Connie Ray’s Millicent is a terrific but atypical TV mom: She talks to her children as equals, leveling with them instead of razzing them with jokes or sarcasm. With her exploding red hair and scrunched-together features, Ray radiates energetic determination tempered by emotional exhaustion. She really communicates the strain of lower-middle-class single parenthood without making Millicent seem self-pitying or martyred.

But The Torkelsons dramatizes a mother-daughter relationship you may have observed in real life and read about in novels but have never seen on television. Millicent identifies so strongly with her oldest daughter that she thinks of Dorothy Jane as some complicated combination of friend and alter ego. Resigned to a life of genteel poverty, Millicent has invested all her aspirations in dreamy Dorothy Jane, and the young girl rankles under the weight of her mother’s expectations.

It’s difficult to champion The Torkelsons because it’s such an uneven and sometimes embarrassingly sappy show. Or maybe that’s precisely the reason one should champion it. At a time when most sitcoms strive for a bloodless hit formula that can be endlessly repeated into syndication, The Torkelsons seems to be going on its own nerve, allowing the series to wander wherever the extravagant emotions of Millicent and Dorothy Jane want to take it. B

An Article from The LA Times


Who says TV can't raise a phoenix from the ashes of a dead show?

NBC is trying to do just that Saturday night with a reincarnation of "The Torkelsons" as "Almost Home."

Unlike the critically acclaimed "Brooklyn Bridge" on CBS and NBC's "I'll Fly Away," there was no write-in campaign to bring back "The Torkelsons," which bowed in the '91-92 season to mixed reviews. NBC had moved it from Saturdays to Sundays against "60 Minutes," with numerous preemptions, and it sunk in the ratings. Its return can be credited to a full-court press from Disney, NBC executive vice president of series programming Perry Simon and producer-creator Michael Jacobs.

"The Torkelsons" focused on matriarch Millicent Torkelson's struggle to raise her five kids in Pyramid Corners, Okla. Now, when we meet the Torkelsons in the "Almost Home" pilot, they've moved to urban Seattle. Millicent, played by Connie Ray, has somehow lost two kids along the way, but she's got a new co-star in Perry King, who plays businessman Brian Morgan, who contributes two spoiled city kids to the mix. Ergo, conflict between urban and country folks, which producers hope will attract a more mainstream audience.

Even as they are working on "Almost Home," the producers still seem dumbfounded by the fate of the original "Torkelsons."

"For reasons that would mystify any observer," says Dean Valentine, executive vice president of network television for Walt Disney Studios, "NBC felt (there) was too big of a drop-off" after "The Torkelsons' " "Golden Girls" lead-in and replaced it with the even shorter-lived "Walter and Emily."

"This was even though the show was holding its own!" Valentine said. "NBC didn't give it the time it needed to really develop an audience and got too nervous too quickly. So even if they liked it creatively, they moved it to Sunday, which is an awful time slot."

Ted Frank, vice president of comedy and drama programming for NBC, says the network gave "The Torkelsons" a reasonable chance to develop an audience and contends that the network is keeping shows on "much longer than they have in the last 10 years."

"Sunday was the death zone at the time and we couldn't do anything about it," producer Jacobs says. They (NBC) ended up with an even lesser share for their struggles."

But with Simon leading the way, NBC agreed to bring back a reworked, renamed "Torkelsons."

"The network would have canceled it if we didn't change it," Jacobs says. "You do everything you can do to save a show you believe in."

"If you had a basket of apples and there was one beautiful apple no one ate, it's pretty hard to convince them it's still good," Ray says in support of the show's changes. "No one wants to risk biting it again. You need another apple or even a pomegranate."

The conflict between "the city mice and country mice," as Ray explains it, has Millicent and Morgan clashing on child-rearing and their teen daughters clashing on everything.

And no one seems too concerned about the unexplained disappearance of Millicent's two middle children.

"They went into a black hole," says Disney's Valentine. "The show was doing an eight share and no one saw it anyway, so whether the kids are there or not, it's not really relevant to new viewers."

"As far as the new show goes, they never existed," Jacobs says.

In fact, the network plans to promote "Almost Home" as if it were a brand-new show.

"That way, those viewers who know and liked ("The Torkelsons") will pick up on that and those who didn't know the show won't feel left out," Frank says.

"The Torkelsons" attempted more subtle humor than the "Almost Home" pilot, but Ray and Jacobs believe that once the new format is established, the show can concentrate on how Millicent and her brood can maintain their values in the city, evoking the sweetness of the original series.

"The Torkelsons" was most popular with young people and women, who seemed to like the chemistry between Ray and her on-screen daughter, Olivia Burnette. Ray believes that the addition of King and the more urban setting will draw more men to the show.

"The value of the writing and the characters is as it was within 'The Torkelsons'," Jacobs insists. "The lessons learned are still important; we've not diminished the story, and we've included more of a broad base for an audience to watch."

What the producers and cast hope for is that this time around the network will give them a chance to build that base.

"I hope that the network realizes that what a quality half-hour they have . . . and don't jockey the show about," Jacobs adds."If NBC has ponied up and keeps us on the air and keeps supporting us, we have a shot."

"Almost Home" airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on NBC.

To watch clips of The Torkelsons go to

For more on the Torkelsons go to

For Tim's TV Showcase go to

For more on the Torkelsons and Almost Home go to

For some Torkelsons-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to

To watch the opening credits go to and
Date: Sat April 24, 2010 � Filesize: 58.1kb, 102.6kbDimensions: 808 x 1024 �
Keywords: The Torkelsons Cast (Links Updated 8/4/18)


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