Most helpful critical review
Good Family Sitcom, Yet Politics Fading Away
on March 8, 2014
I believe that as of the second season, Family Ties was a GOOD family sitcom, but not a great one. In the second season, the story ideas are good, but the writing quality is uneven. The cast is good, with the standout being Michael J. Fox as Alex. I found the second season of Family Ties to be just mildly funny. For one thing, I often saw a gag coming before it happened and that drained much of the humor away. The picture and sound quality are fine, although I should note that I watched these on a standard definition TV.
There are several second season episodes that I enjoyed a lot. I thought that "A Keaton Christmas Carol" was a good and funny adaptation of the Dickens story. "Lady Sings the Blues was also one of my favorites. "The Graduate" gave us a look at Alex's ego problem, and a realistic ending where he had learned how to suppress that. Episodes like these show how good Family Ties can be, but there aren't enough great episodes in the second season to make it a great series.
I was disappointed that politics was fading away by the second season. I had heard that the show focused on political and social issues as "All in the Family" did. The first season had a fair amount about politics and political issues, like the episode where Steven's father came to visit, and the political differences between them led to a big conflict. However, in the second season politics is just occasionally mentioned, and only 2 episodes focus on it. "Ladies Man" deals with the Equal Rights Amendment, but even there the story is really more about how Alex treats a girl who is an ERA supporter. And "Lady Sings the Blues" focuses on Elyse singing folk songs like "Blowing in the Wind" with their social and political implications. For some reason, by the second season the producers decided to have Family Ties deal mostly with family issues. The opening credits of Family Ties reflect this change in emphasis, since the opening credits in the first season include several scenes of the parents' counterculture past, but by the second season such scenes are gone. Focusing on family issues is fine too, but I had hoped for a more political show.
The second season DVD set has several nice extras. Especially good is the featurette on "The Making of Family Ties" that includes comments by producers and cast. There are also interesting segments on "Michael J. Fox: The Best Gig in the World" and "The Year of the Beard" (about Michael Gross's decision to grow a beard for the second season).
I'm only reviewing the second season here, but I'll add that the writing quality improved markedly by the third season.