The premise of Family Ties is relatively simple. A pair of activists from the 60s with decidedly liberal views find themselves raising a family in the 80s with kids who are very 1980s-minded.
Yet from this simple premise was born a great television show, one that dealt with many very serious issues, but one that found comedy in all sorts of situations. Watching this much-anticipated first season release, one will find themselves laughing at the situations that the characters find themselves in, even 25 years later.
Steven and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter Birney) were anti-war demonstrators in the 60s, but in the 1980s things are a little different. The couple is raising three children, 17-year-old Alex (Michael J. Fox in his career-defining role), 15-year-old Mallory (Justine Bateman) and 10-year-old Jennifer (Tina Yothers). As parents they want to be sure they are raising the kids right, but they are also hoping to avoid the traps that they believe their parents fell into when raising them.
The relationship between the parents and kids, as well as the relationship between the kids, is the hallmark of this show and none of those relationships are as entertaining as the one between Alex and his parents. Alex is a hard-core Republican conservative, worshiping at the altar of Nixon and Reagan, all the while keeping track of investments and any way he can make money. His views are obviously completely opposite of his parents and this leads to a number of hilarious encounters. Fox really brought a lot to this role and when he was cast, he was basically an unknown. This part put his career on the fast track, leading to his eventual role as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy. I remember watching this show as a kid and really enjoying the character, but watching it now with a better understanding of the political views and such, it is even funnier.
Mallory is the typical teenage girl, completely infatuated with boys, but not so much with school. While her brother shines in the academic world, she struggles in his shadow, instead electing to focus on fashion and such. But she is also a good friend and a good sister, as she helps one of her friends through a teenage pregnancy in one of her stronger storylines of the first season. She also deals with the flirtations of an old family friend. Thankfully, though the subjects were serious, the show was always able to find comedy in serious matters.
Jennifer is the perfect example of a tomboy, into sports and hanging out with boys, which gets her in trouble with some of her classmates, as they are at the age where boys and girls begin to separate. As the youngest member of the Keaton clan, Jennifer often feels overlooked, but she is always quick to put in a good punch line and play the role of precocious kid when it is needed. Often times she even comes out looking more mature than her older siblings.
In this first season, Tom Hanks makes a guest appearance as Elyse's brother, who is on the run from the authorities after stealing a large amount of money from his company. It was interesting to see Hanks at such a young age, as many in my generation know him mainly for his most recent movies.
The only disappointing thing about this set was the lack of extras, but that was expected. I am hopeful for more seasons of this fantastic show to be released, though it would be nice if they were able to put together a few extras along the way.
All in all, though, this show transferred well to DVD. It was obvious that the show was shot in the early 80s, but there were no visual side effects and everything appeared pretty clear. This is a great family comedy, one that can be enjoyed by all ages, but will surely be enjoyed by someone who grew up in the 1980s and knows the time period.