Reviews

Family Ties: The Second Season

Family Ties was like the little show that could. Without much comedic star power, it succeeded against the odds.


Family Ties: The Second Season

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter Birney, Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers
Network: NBC
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
Amazon

Family Ties revolved around the precocious Alex Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox. This second season finds Fox's character somewhere between a cute high school kid and an obnoxious college student. He had not quite evolved into a stubborn Reagan-ite, completely full of himself and the Republican Party, but he was well on his way.

The rub is that Alex’s parents are ex-hippies, with a father who works for an Ohio PBS television station. But despite its obvious cultural conflicts, the show was oftentimes just a little too cute for its own good. Even so, this second season set nevertheless showcases a few truly exemplary episodes.

The first program that catches your attention is titled “Speed Trap”. In it, Alex gets caught up in taking uppers to stay alert while studying for school. And what makes this story compelling, is that it reveals a vulnerable side to Alex. He’s usually so confident. But even he can be a victim to drugs’ sway – if under the right circumstances. Another challenging situation is explored with “Birthday Boy”, where Alex decides to go out drinking with friends to celebrate his 18th birthday. This leads to a showdown between Alex and his mother, Elyse, played by Meredith Baxter Birney.

Alex’s older-than-his-years image sometimes gets him into big trouble. For instance, he is a DJ at the school radio station where he plays big band music. This DJ role attracts one lonely female listener to his radio voice. But when the lady turns out to be a 40-year-old French divorcee with a young daughter, Alex finds himself in a brief relationship he’s just not mature enough to handle.

Of course, there are other characters besides Alex on the show. For example, “Not an Affair to Remember” looks in on a near affair between his father, Steven, played by Michael Gross, and a female coworker. As “Speed Trap” and “Not an Affair to Remember” reveal, this program was never afraid to take on tough issues. For instance, alcoholism is dramatized via “Say Uncle”. On this one, Tom Hanks guests as a fun-loving uncle, with a dangerous drinking problem.

One of Alex’s arch nemeses is his sister, Mallory (Justine Bateman). Mallory is not bright like Alex, nor is she particularly principled. Instead, she is enthralled with fashion; so the mother-daughter modeling competition at the center of “This Year’s Model” seems to be the perfect parental/ offspring bonding experience. But when Mallory learns that the modeling agency is more enamored with her mother than her, it nearly breaks the young teen’s heart.

We don’t see much of Alex’s politically conservative side during season two, but an episode called “A Keaton Christmas Carol” forces him to face his increasingly stingy nature. Although it’s not nearly as dramatic as A Christmas Carol, this lighthearted takeoff on Charles Dickens’ classic is nevertheless compelling in its own small, TV-land way.

The fourth CD in this package includes three bonus features. One is called “The Making of Family Ties”, and is a behind the scenes piece. The second is titled “Michael J. Fox: The Best Gig in the World”, and finds Fox speaking fondly about his past experiences with the show. The last special section deals solely with Michael Gross’s decision to grow a beard for the Steven character. This is obviously just silly fun, but you’d be surprised how much difference a little facial hair makes in a character. Lastly, there’s a special public service announcement from Fox concerning Parkinson’s disease, an ailment he also suffers from.

Watching Family Ties again all these years later is a little strange. If you’re like me, your first impression may be a negative one. After all, we have a whole slew of reality shows now, which make this ‘80s program look almost as outdated as a ‘50s Disney film. The actors in this show were just so likeable, however, that you might grow to love them all over again.

This was not the funniest show on television; then again, it was also not a group of comedians trying to make a sitcom, either. Most significantly, when these actors aimed for sincere, non-sitcom-y emotional moments, they hit the mark every time. And this, my friends, is the tie that kept this family show together.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image