Paramount Home Video presents
Family Ties: The Complete First Season (1982)
Michael: Think maybe he was switched at birth and the Rockerfellers have our kid?
Elyse: That could be. I wasn't gonna tell you, but this morning I found a copy of the Wall Street Journal under his bed.- Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter-Birney
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter-Birney
Other Stars: Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers
Director: Debbie Allen, Peter Baldwin
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 08h:48m:00s
Release Date: 2007-02-20
DVD ReviewThanks to this release of Family Ties, you can now have yourself a little retro-TV adventure and recreate the entire mid-1980s, "NBC Must-see Thursday" sitcom line-up of Cosby, Family Ties, and Cheers. (Go ahead and leave off Night Court if you like. No biggie). I don't actually recommend committing that much time to wallowing in '80s nostalgia, mind you, but it's a fun fact of having some of these shows at home that it would even be possible. That legendary line-up kept NBC on top through most of that decade, and Family Ties was, for a time, a vital link in the chain (even if it wasn't quite as critically or commercially appreciated as the shows that sandwiched it). The first question I ask myself when revisiting older shows is also the most obvious. Does it hold up? In the case of Family Ties, a show very much tied to its time, the answer comes back a bit mixed.
Remarkably, all of the leads click early on (though Meredith Baxter-Birney doesn't always get to do much in this first season), but Michael J. Fox stands out immediately. I'm not sure if it was intentional from the beginning or a fact of the evolution of a popular character, but he pretty quickly becomes the show's focus. The effect of that is to render almost moot the concept upon which the show was sold: liberal, aging hippies raising a generation that had grown far more conservative than their parents. That was a very real phenomenon in 1982, for probably the first time in modern history (I'm not sure anyone can say decisively whether or not the pendulum has yet swung the other way). Fox is so winning so quickly, though, that even through all of the jokes about The Wall Street Journal and William F. Buckley posters, he's still comes off as cooler than his parents. In the very first episode, Michael Gross seems a bit of a jerk for trying to keep Alex from going to a party at a restricted country club (meanwhile, "no child of mine" was my strong reaction). Intentionally or not, the character probably did more to paint '80s-style capitalism in a friendly light than Ronnie himself. I wanted to be like Alex P. Keaton back in the day, even though I had no idea what he was going on about. I don't mean to make too much of this: nobody was trying to push an agenda with the show, but Alex and Family Ties came around at a perfect moment, which I think explains both its popularity and the relative absence of reruns from the dial over the last decade or so. It was a little too perfect for its conservative era. Come to think of it, this may not be such a bad time to re-release the show.
Again, I certainly don't want to belabor talk of the show's politics. It's first and foremost a family sitcom, but judged on those terms these early episodes come up a bit short. Things do pick up as the season goes along, and I suspect that future seasons will do better, but the laughs here are rather sparse. The charm and chemistry of the cast is instantly evident, but the jokes are usually obvious and a little flat. The tone is also a bit jarring: episodes in this first season deal with racism, alcoholism, and losing one's virginity among other topics, but these subjects are handled perfunctorily and generally dismissed with tried-and-true dad /son, mother/daughter chats. It's as if the producer's couldn't quite figure out how to bridge the edginess of the best '70s-era sitcoms with the growing popularity of the 100% family-safe shows that would soon become a staple.
The cast clicks instantly and Fox is worth watching from the first moment he shows up on screen (another actor destined for greatness, Tom Hanks, appears in the two-parter, The Fugitive). This first season builds slowly, but lays the groundwork for what would become one of the most popular sitcoms in a decade when TV comedies were very popular indeed.
As a side note, the packaging warns that music has been replaced in spots for this release. I could only guess what and where the original music would have been, but consider yourselves warned nonetheless.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: There's nothing particularly wrong with the video transfer, but it doesn't appear that there was any effort to clean up the material. A bit of softness throughout is the main issue, with what I'd guess is some mild age deterioration. Watchable, but not great.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is a Dolby Digital mono track that is quite clear and does a fine job of recreating the original viewing experience. Original music has been substituted in places.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: Nothing.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsIf you loved Family Ties in 1984, I suspect that you'll love revisiting Alex P. Keaton and the gang. Be warned, though, you're getting the barest of bare-bones releases, with no extras and little or no clean-up on the episodes. Is there anything here to appeal to new fans? Eh, probably not, but I'm quite certain that future seasons manage to increase the laughs and tighten up on the writing.
Ross Johnson 2007-03-23