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.
With a title like Family Ties
, the Keaton clan was bound to add to their number. After Meredith Baxter Birney became pregnant during the third season, Elyse follows suit, and little Andy evens out the household's gender balance (he makes his debut in two-part episode "Birth of a Keaton"). While Elyse and Steven (Michael Gross) prepare for the new arrival, 19-year-old Alex (Michael J. Fox) starts college, 17-year-old Mallory (Justine Bateman) gets a job, and 11-year-old Jennifer (Tina Yothers) discovers boys. To Alex's surprise, college proves more difficult than expected. In "Little Man on Campus," he learns it isn't just about memorizing facts and figures, but about thinking for yourself (thirtysomething
's Timothy Busfield begins a recurring run as suspender-sporting classmate Doug). Fox also shines in "Hotline Fever," in which the usually over-confident freshman admits to fears of failure, and "Best Man," in which he puts aside personal misgivings to support a friend (The 4400
's Billy Campbell and The O.C.
's Tate Donovan play his poker buddies). Year three also provides Bateman with opportunities to reveal her range, as in "Auntie Up," in which Mallory mourns a beloved relative, and "Cold Storage," in which she and Skippy (Marc Price) get locked in the basement.
The show's knack for welcoming Oscar contenders continues with The Accidental Tourist's Geena Davis as an incompetent nanny ("Help Wanted," "Karen II, Alex 0"), Mr. Saturday Night's David Paymer as an obnoxious father-to-be ("Oh, Donna," "Cold Storage"), and Babe's James Cromwell as John Hancock in Alex's re-imagining of the signing of the Declaration of Independence ("Philadelphia Story"). This more introspective season, which concludes with Steven reminiscing about his late father (two-parter "Remembrances of Things Past"), comes complete with episode promos and a gag reel. --Kathleen C. Fennessy