Though it emerged during the Reagan era, Family Ties
remains as relevant as ever. Most children find their parents a little embarrassing, but what sets this sitcom apart is that former hippies Steven (Michael Gross) and Elyse (Meredith Baxter-Birney) Keaton have three children, Alex (three-time Emmy winner Michael J. Fox), Mallory (Justine Bateman), and Jennifer (Tina Yothers), yet they haven't lost their youthful idealism. The ambitious Alex and materialistic Mallory, however, don't share it. Poster children for the go-go 1980s, they'd rather rake in the cash than change the world. As Alex quips in the pilot, "The '60s are over, Dad." If the writing were more cynical, it's unlikely the ABC show would've become a seven-season hit. It works because the Keatons obviously love each other--foibles and all.
In their first year, the family faces a variety of challenges. Steven finds out his father has a fatal illness ("I Never Killed for My Father"), 15-year-old Mallory deals with unwelcome male attention ("Give Your Uncle a Kiss"), and 17-year-old Alex learns a lesson about responsibility when he loses nine-year-old Jennifer while babysitting ("The Fifth Wheel"). Guest stars include Bewitched's Dick Sargent as Elyse's father, Charlie ("No Nukes Is Good Nukes"), and a lanky Tom Hanks as her brother, Ned (two-part episode "The Fugitive"). Though Fox (Back to the Future, Spin City) was the breakout star of Family Ties, he was part of a strong ensemble. Some storylines are also surprisingly hard-hitting, particularly the script dealing with sexual harassment. On the downside, there are no extras and, like many Paramount boxed sets, most of the original music has been changed or eliminated. The theme song "Without Us," for instance, is sung by session players on several episodes rather than by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Beyond Family Ties Stills from Family Ties: Season 1 (click for larger image)
Steve and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney), once 1960s radicals, now find themselves in Reagan-Era American trying to raise a traditional suburban family. Son Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) is an ambitious Young Republican and his sister Mallory (Justine Bateman) is a shallow victim of the corporate culture, obsessed with music, clothes and boys. Their only normal kid is young Jennifer (Tina Yothers), a bit of a tomboy.