The Second Season
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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
For all intents and purposes, this set might as well be titled “Family Ties: The 20-Odd Episodes That Made Michael J. Fox a Star.” Although the show hadn’t yet broken into the top 20 when it started its second season in 1983, this marks the spot where American televisions started tuning in to the adventures of the Keaton clan on a more regular basis – and not coincidentally, it also marks the spot where “Family Ties” began its shift away from a true ensemble cast and toward a starring vehicle for Fox.
The show, in other words, started to find its legs during the second season. If we were talking about your average long-running ‘80s sitcom – say, “Growing Pains” or “ALF” – that might not mean much; ‘80s sitcom humor, by and large, has aged less than gracefully. “Family Ties” was never immune from the genre’s plagues – there are plenty of broad gags here, a fair amount of mugging, and yes, a smattering of the dreaded Very Special Episodes – but on the whole, it has held up admirably, and the second season is one of its strongest.
Those who remember the show’s original run will find a number of classic episodes here: you’ve got Tom Hanks popping up as alcoholic Uncle Ned; Judith Light making an appearance as the sexually aggressive boss who pursues Keaton family patriarch Steven (played by Michael Gross); you’ve got the “Alex gets hooked on diet pills” episode; and you’ve got the one where Skippy (Marc Price) finds out he was adopted. Even if you’re the type of person who thinks the sitcoms of the ‘80s were insufferably lame and/or vastly inferior to modern comedies, you’re liable to find yourself laughing out loud here. Gifted cast, sharp writing, deft interplay -- what’s not to like? There isn’t an original thing about it, but that was never the point.
Unlike the Season One set, Season Two comes equipped with a handful of cool extras, including a “Making of ‘Family Ties’” documentary, a look at Michael J. Fox’s rise to stardom, and a brief behind-the-scenes examination of Gross’ decision to show up for the second season with his now-iconic beard. (Yes, Virginia – in the show’s first season, Steven Keaton was clean-shaven. And during the first season of “Sesame Street,” Oscar the Grouch was orange. Strange, but true.) Series creator Gary David Goldberg shows up for the obligatory interviews, as do most of the cast, with the exceptions of Justine Bateman and Meredith Baxter-Birney. Kids of the ‘80s will also be pleased to discover the episodes’ network promos, complete with cheesy “On the next episode of ‘Family Ties’…” narration.
The set’s suggested retail tag of $42.99 will probably scare off anyone who isn’t already a diehard fan of the show, but that’s CBS DVD’s problem, not yours. Just look around for a deal, wait until the price goes down, or add it to your Netflix queue. If you have fond memories of the series, you’ll find them pleasantly reaffirmed here, and if you’re a member of the generation raised on “Fear Factor” and “According to Jim,” you might even find it something of a revelation.