Anyone who grew up in the '80's will clearly remember "Family Ties", Gary David Goldberg ("Spin City")'s family comedy/drama that focused on the Keaton family - parents Elyse and Steven (Meredith Baxer and Michael Gross), older sister Mallory (Justine Bateman), younger sister Jennifer (Tina Yothers) and - of course - conservative son Alex (Michael J. Fox).
The series largely focused around the differences between Alex's conservative views and his parents, who grew up as left-wing activists. Despite the differences between the parents and the children, Steven and Elyse still respected their children's views and tried to raise them as best as they knew how. From the first episode, the Keatons were always portrayed as a loving, supportive (keep in mind, the Bundys would arrive 5 years later) family (yet, were portrayed as such without the series seeming too sentimental or manipulative) and we believed them thanks to stellar writing and excellent performances.
The second season of the series still continues to do a fine job giving each character their moment in the spotlight. One of the funniest episodes for Elyse and Steven is "The Harder They Fall", where the formerly peace-loving parents have to come to terms with the fact that they both have knocked out Alex's severely obnoxious teacher. Gross and Baxter are priceless as they debate how badly they feel about going against their ways, yet also can't get over how evil the guy is.
Of course, Fox's popular character gets his share of the episodes, with highlights including: "Birthday Boy" (Alex heads to a bar in West Virginia against the wishes of his mother, who travels a hundred miles in order to drag him back) and "Speed Trap" (a dramatic episode where Alex uses pills to help keep him awake to study, and becomes addicted.) Bateman's best episode has Mallory ruining Alex's chances at Princeton in "Go Tigers" when she tags along to surprise her boyfriend, who is with someone else. A young Tom Hanks also returns in a guest role in "Say Uncle".
Note: as noted on the back of the box, some episodes have been edited (syndicated versions?) and music has been changed.
23. 2- 1 28 Sep 83 Tender is the Knight
24. 2- 2 12 Oct 83 The Homecoming
25. 2- 3 19 Oct 83 The Harder They Fall
26. 2- 4 26 Oct 83 This Year's Model
27. 2- 5 2 Nov 83 Not An Affair to Remember
28. 2- 6 9 Nov 83 Speed Trap
29. 2- 7 16 Nov 83 Sweet Lorraine
30. 2- 8 30 Nov 83 Batter Up
31. 2- 9 14 Dec 83 A Keaton Christmas Carol
32. 2-10 21 Dec 83 To Snatch a Keith
33. 2-11 5 Jan 84 Birthday Boy
34. 2-12 12 Jan 84 Go Tigers
35. 2-13 19 Jan 84 "M" is for the Many Things
36. 2-14 26 Jan 84 Say Uncle
37. 2-15 2 Feb 84 Ladies' Man
38. 2-16 9 Feb 84 Ready or Not
39. 2-17 16 Feb 84 Double Date
40. 2-18 23 Feb 84 Lady Sings the Blues
41. 2-19 8 Mar 84 Baby Boy Doe
42. 2-20 15 Mar 84 The Graduate
43. 2-21 3 May 84 Diary of a Young Girl
44. 2-22 10 May 84 Working At It
45. 2-23 20 Sep 84 The Gambler
VIDEO: "Family Ties" is presented by Paramount Home Entertainment in 1.33:1 full-frame. These episodes aired nearly 25 years ago and the episodes do look about that old. These are clearly taken from video masters, and the the picture quality is just satisfactory (considering the age of the series.) While there are times when the show just manages to look moderately crisp, other scenes can appear soft and fuzzy. On a positive note, at least the elements used really do not display any noticable wear and tear, and colors look natural and accurate.
SOUND: The show's mono soundtrack fares a bit better than the video quality, as dialogue and music sounded a bit fuller and clearer than one would expect, given the age of the episodes.
EXTRAS: "The Best Gig in the World" is an 8-minute new interview with Michael J. Fox, where he discusses how much fun he had playing the character, as well as the growing popularity of the character and how Fox suddenly found himself very, very popular (which increased after "Back to the Future" hit). We also hear from Gross and creator Goldberg. The featurette is a tad thin (it's padded out with clips), but it's good to hear from Fox about the series.
Better is a "making of" documentary that runs about 20 minutes and includes interviews with Gross, Goldberg, Yothers, Fox and others. The documentary has the group offering their thoughts about the development, casting, early days of the series, the show's growing popularity (audiences camped out), working with Hanks and more. There are also a few little bloopers and behind-the-scenes clips included in this documentary, as well, which is a nice bonus.
Finally, we get a short featurette, "The Year of the Beard", which details the thought process behind having Gross keep a beard he grew for a play for the second season of "Family Ties". We also get a PSA from Michael J. Fox regarding Parkinsons disease.
Final Thoughts: Deeply funny, deeply sweet and occasionally moving, "Family Ties" benefitted from stellar writing and an ensemble cast that not only had wonderful chemistry with one another, but created memorable, engaging characters that people really responded to. The look of the series is rather dated at this point, but the humor and heart is certainly still there. Recommended.