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Charles returns from a jaunty two-week hiking vacation only to discover the Pembrokes leaving immediately for Seattle and an entirely new family, the Powells, currently subletting their home. Frantically urged by Buddy to get an off-campus apartment, he must decide this personal quandary about whether or not to continue staying on and helping around the house with the kids.
THE LOAN ARRANGER
Charles finds himself compelled by government budget cuts to apply for a necessary student loan from an irascible bank officer ( Ben Stein ) who mercilessly rejects his scholarship qualifications. However, a valiant and kind benefactor unexpectedly provides him with timely economic deliverance from academic jeopardy.
Charles keenly implements the original rules of bartering written in his term paper by convincing Sarah to type her brother’s homework assignment, Jamie to lend her younger sister a video camera, Walter to loan his eldest granddaughter a navy jacket, and Adam to wash the family car. But this situation descends into farce thanks to Buddy’s questionable procurement of concert tickets in exchange for babysitting the university mascot.
A DATE FROM HECK
Charles plans an idyllic home-cooked dinner with a beautiful foreign exchange student, asking Buddy to take the Powells out for a musical concert, but he is ultimately surprised to learn that the voluptuous nymph will also be joined by her grim father ( Kenneth Mars ) and other queerly bizarre kinfolks on their romantic date.
MOMMA MIA !
Charles is visited by his ebullient mother Lillian ( Ellen Travolta ) who regales the Powell brood with jovial narrations about the quirky misadventures of her own cute little ”doodlebug”. But when a party invitation turns up, he agrees to let her take care of Jamie, Sarah and Adam who knowingly trick his mom into going out with them and seeing a violent horror flick that they’ve been strictly forbidden to watch.
Charles suffers from mental exhaustion and takes the weekend off upon Ellen’s compassionate insistence while Buddy prepares to accompany him on a relaxing beach junket. But when Jamie, Sarah and Adam desperately seek his help because an outsider absconded with their grandfather’s war medallions during a frenetic yard sale, he must lead them in negotiating for the quick recovery of Walter’s valuable military keepsakes.
U . F . OH , NO !
Charles tries to quell the fears of Jamie, Sarah and Adam who believe a ghostly alien is lurking in the darkness and haunting them at night but then he and Walter are also virtually jolted by their own kaleidoscopic paranormal encounters after which he inevitably comes across the real source of these unearthly manifestations.
THE CASE OF THE MOCK TURTLE MYSTERY
Charles defends Adam in a mock trial judged by Walter because the youngster is accused of unintentionally killing Sarah’s favorite pet turtle when he negligently left open their backyard gate through which the small reptile could have quietly escaped and mysteriously vanished without a trace.
A JOB FROM HECK
Charles suggest to Ellen that Jamie be allowed to look for a part-time job so the young girl can keep up and maintain her expensive fashion tastes but she ironically volunteers to get paid as a newbie waitress at Sid’s Pizza Parlor, his quintessential dating hangout which is later revealed to have also undergone a startling change in business ownership.
Charles and Buddy scheme to help promote the grand opening of Lillian’s newly financed restaurant venture when they disastrously lose an important check for a key sum of money, quixotically oblivious to the unwavering efforts of Jamie and Sarah trying their best to assist them by introducing three highly talented friends who are members of a jazzy neophyte singing group.
TWICE UPON A TIME , Part 1 and Part 2
Charles is jealously bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the unanticipated reappearance of his first love, the captivating Gwendolyn Pierce ( Jennifer Runyon ), who naively accepts his impulsive marriage proposal but thereafter vaguely hesitates and ostensibly delays the formal announcement of their engagement, which kindles his quiescent suspicion that she may not be genuinely ready to commit.
Charles faces erotic temptation in the devilish guise of Ellen’s visiting married cousin ( Kay Lenz ), a lusty older seductress who naughtily sets her kinky sights on his virile young body, unabashedly offers him an indecent proposal, and just simply won’t accept his qualm-filled rejections.
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Charles graciously invites the Powells to spend the Christmas holidays together with him, Lillian and Buddy at a remote mountain log cabin out in the deep woods but his effervescent vision of a jolly kindred noel is frostily quashed by an unexpected snow storm, a predatory bear and an absent can opener.
Charles wins a national scholastic prize and becomes the interview subject of a known female journalist ( Barbara Rhoades ) whose vigorous questions about his special role inside the Powell household triggers the family’s genuine concerns that his duties might be interfering with his ability to enjoy a more normal university student’s life.
Charles and Buddy secretly go undercover to investigate a local modeling school where Jamie has enrolled in optimistically following her neophyte dreams of celebrity stardom because they keenly suspect that the vivaciously reassuring proprietress ( Nita Talbot ) is a quick-witted con artist.
THE EXTREMELY ODD COUPLE
Charles tries to settle peacefully an ongoing feud between his mother Lillian and his employer Walter by giving both of them concert tickets for a jazzy night of swing music but later finds himself uncomfortably right smack in the middle of another knotty quarrel involving a vehicular collision at the Powell driveway that he personally witnessed.
Charles agrees to serve as a temporary fill-in writer on a love advice column where he reads a letter from a young girl having boy problems who sounds suspiciously like Sarah. But when his mature and intelligent counsel to her gets unknowingly substituted in print for a more juicy and vulgar recommendation, he and Buddy try to quietly keep the current day’s newspaper out of everyone’s hands.
SARAH STEPS OUT
Charles persuades Ellen to grant the children more autonomy and independence but this lenient policy eventually culminates in Adam feeling quite jittery after he views a horror movie, Jamie streaking rainbow colors into her blonde hair, and Sarah going out on her first non-chaperoned date with an unscrupulous and knavish young trickster ( Scott Grimes ).
Charles is very much surprised to discover that his assigned essay inadvertently got mixed up with Sarah’s class poem, resulting in academic kudos for him but a negative lower grade for her, which obligates him to fix this botched quagmire and clarify matters honestly with the girl’s understanding teacher and his own jaded college professor ( Jack Riley ).
Charles joins Buddy in pledging a campus fraternity where both endure a series of kooky hazing initiation tests after which he must choose whether or not to victoriously become an accepted member within their organization despite the fact that said group’s leadership will also be rejecting his quirky best friend.
Charles suffers a mysterious illness when the Powells receive bad news that Ellen lost her job and their house will be sold. Going into a deep slumber, he unconsciously experiences a quixotic reverie inhabited by absurd characters who offer him the vital key to finally solving the clan’s troublesome predicament.
Charles asks Buddy for help in meticulously scheduling his necessary presence at three overlapping events: Jamie’s birthday gala which he must chaperon, Sarah’s class where he is a featured speaker and a romantic date with a lovely coed. But their quicksilver plans get jumbled and fall apart thanks to various unforeseen delays and setbacks exacerbated further by an inquisitive youngster ( Mark Paul Gosselaar ).
WHERE THE AUCTION IS
Charles naively volunteers to sell himself at a charity slave auction hosted by Lillian as part of a sorority fundraising jubilee where a gorgeous lady onlooker purchases him but afterwards reveals herself to be a delegated buying agent of the Powell kids Jamie, Sarah and Adam who eagerly take quick advantage of his mock inferior underling status.
THE BLACKBOARD BUNGLE
Charles attempts to qualify as a junior teacher’s aide for one of Jamie’s senior instructors, a grizzled veteran educator ( Jerry Van Dyke ) who lives on the hope that sweet retirement comes before ultimate madness and doesn’t know why any smart newcomer would pursue this frustrating occupation.
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NO NUKES IS GOOD NUKES
Charles wants to make a good impression during the surprise homecoming visit of the children’s father Naval Commander Robert Powell who is also Ellen’s husband and Walter’s son. But his loyal efforts at keeping their joyful family reunion quietly unencumbered are greatly put to the test when Sarah is arrested for protesting nuclear weapons on her dad’s military aircraft carrier.
ROOM AT THE BOTTOM
Charles moves from the guest room to the basement in the Powell household as a direct consequence of Walter’s new home remodeling plans to include extra office space for Ellen and a larger recreational area for the kids.
Charles is assigned to tutor a couple of neanderthal football jocks on American history and successfully prepares them for their exam questions, thanks in large part to Walter and Lillian who knowledgeably reminisce about their own generation’s vibrant era while she begins planning to operate and manage a unique 1950′s style retro diner.
A STING OF PEARLS
Charles is entrusted by Walter with the important responsibility of safely hiding a lovely pearl necklace that will be a special gift for Ellen’s upcoming birthday during a troublesome visit by the children’s alluring former babysitter who may be secretly plotting to discredit him and take back her old job.
Charles becomes the unwilling love object of a persistent female camp staff member’s ardent infatuation even though he already has a steady girlfriend ( Erika Eleniak ). His naughty juvenile delinquent little cousin Anthony ( Justin Whalin ) knavishly resurrects the prickly ghost of Chachi Arcola from ”Happy Days” by quipping ”Wah, wah, wah!” in one memorable scene, thus allowing Scott a vintage opportunity to poke fun at himself.
WALTER GETS A DODO
Charles randomly plays amorous matchmaker when he introduces navy man Walter to the outgoing and fun-loving sister ( Marcia Wallace ) of his queerly eccentric and vainglorious college professor ( David Agrew eerily doing a keen and uncanny impersonation of the late great humorist Jack Benny ).
STILL AT LARGE
Charles and Buddy accidentally learn that Jamie’s favorite teacher ( Sally Struthers ) is a notorious wanted fugitive hunted down by the F.B.I. They go undercover in drag disguise at a women’s group meeting to collect key evidence and to verify the real truth behind her questionable outlaw past.
CHARLES SPLITS , Part 1 and Part 2
Charles suffers a jolting head injury which drastically alters his virtuous personality and unwittingly transforms him into Chaz, an egocentric mercurial lowlife knave whom Buddy, Lillian and the Powell family conspire to get rid of by bringing Charles back to his normal sensibilities.
CURING THE COMMON CULT
Charles and Buddy must act quickly to save Jamie and other brainwashed teenagers who have joined a pseudo-religious group where they’ve virtually fallen under the dangerous influence of a nefarious con artist masquerading as a knowing and enlightened spiritual leader ( Charles Nelson Reilly ).
THE ORGANIZATION MAN
Charles uses a digital pocket organizer to help schedule his loaded quota of intricately jumbled activities such as taking care of Lillian’s diner while she’s away visiting relatives in Brooklyn, making a birdhouse with Adam for his wood shop class, guiding Jamie in cooking a meal for her school assignment, and keeping a watchful eye on Sarah when she dates a nice young boy ( Jerry O’Connell ).
Charles is visited by his mother’s sister ( Ellen Travolta in a dual role ), a kooky cosmopolitan socialite who jauntily breezes into the neighborhood and encourages Jamie to pursue her idealistic quest of becoming an actress, even offering herself up as a temporary guardian as well as a place to stay in her luxurious urban residence when the young girl finally moves to New York City after she graduates from high school.
IT’S A BLUNDERFUL LIFE
Charles feels tremendous guilt after he prevents Walter from buying a jackpot winning lottery ticket in a sincere effort to discourage gambling as a vice among the children. A quixotically surreal nightmare reveals to him what the future existence of the Powell family might be like if he wasn’t around. Donny Most, who played Ralph on ”Happy Days”, makes a delightfully unexpected guest appearance in this 100th episode of the show.
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THERE’S A GIRL IN MY FICUS
Charles gets involved with a beautiful vixen ( Tiffani-Amber Thiessen ) who sabotages his close friendship to Buddy so that she can spend more personal time with him all by herself.
Charles has to keep watch over a cute and adorable little girl whom Adam is assigned to babysit under Buddy’s misguided supervision.
PAPER COVERS ROCK
Charles tries to meet and date a popular female rock star ( Samantha Fox ) which unwittingly puts his ethics scholarship in jeopardy and inevitably exposes his private life to sensational tabloid press coverage.
Charles reunites with three visiting gang mates from high school, collectively known as The Hang Men, but Lillian disapproves of their negative influence upon her son.
Charles must act quickly to save Buddy who is researching for a college paper at a mental hospital where he’s been erroneously misidentified as a patient thanks to an old nemesis.
BUDDY FLIPS A DISC
Charles helps an extremely nervous Buddy to get ready for a special disc jockeying stint that he luckily won in a promotional contest at the diner while Lillian tangles with a venal and crooked health inspector.
ALL THAT CHAZ
Charles is under a lot of stress and pressure reviewing for exams when he accidentally knocks his head again and turns back into his devilish alter ego Chaz once more just in time for another zany visit from gregarious Aunt Vanessa and other quirky characters.
DEAD PUCK SOCIETY
Charles presides as a substitute teacher over Sarah’s class where she is being manipulated into doing all of the school assignments by a handsome young boy ( Paul Walker ) who also possesses an embarrassing secret.
LA CAGE AUX FOOLS
Charles is convinced by Sarah into staging a symbolic protest against scientific animal experimentation where he and Buddy are jailed together inside a giant cage but this publicity stunt ultimately backfires and leaves them dangerously vulnerable to the nefarious machinations of a revenge-obsessed foe.
Charles judiciously teaches a history class attended by Walter who notices various glaring factual mistakes in the official college-sponsored textbook being used that are inconsistent with his personal knowledge and experiences as a young sailor during World War II.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Charles strikes up a romantic acquaintance with a self-reliant blind woman in a stalled elevator during a power outage but later grapples with his own qualms and misgivings about whether or not to continue dating her.
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Charles-In-Charge Fan Sites :
charles.coolcherrycream.com ( Yesterday Cafe )
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The 10 Best Contemporary Sitcom Families Of The Eighties : ( funnyordie.com )
- My Two Dads
- Different Strokes
- Just The Ten Of Us
- Who’s The Boss ?
- Small Wonder
- CHARLES IN CHARGE Like ”Who’s The Boss?”, this show follows the exploits of a cool guy just trying to get by as a live-in babysitter. Thanks to the magic of first-run syndication, ”Charles In Charge” is actually two shows in one. The first season focused on college kid Charles taking care of the Pembroke family while seasons two through five swap in the Powell family. The one thing that remained constant was Charles solving everyone’s problems through his ingenuity and good looks. Oh, SCOTT BAIO, why did you ever stop being in charge?
- Kate & Allie
- Full House
The 10 Most Memorable TV Dads : ( http://buzzsugar.com )
- Cliff Huxtable ( Bill Cosby ) in ”The Cosby Show”
- Danny Tanner ( Bob Saget ), Joey Gladstone ( David Coulier ) and Jesse Katsopolis ( Jesse Stamos ) in ”Full House”
- Homer Simpson in ”The Simpsons”
- Jack Bauer ( Kiefer Sutherland ) in ”24″
- CHARLES ( SCOTT BAIO ) in ”CHARLES IN CHARGE” O.K., so SCOTT BAIO’S CHARLES wasn’t technically a dad. But as the live-in babysitter for not just one but two different families, he helped all the Pembroke and Powell kids through their awkward years - while also nabbing a perfect girlfriend, reigning in eccentric best friend Buddy, and rocking many a pair of suspenders. What child of the 1980s didn’t secretly want CHARLES IN CHARGE of our days and our nights?
- Steven Keaton ( Michael Gross ) in ”Family Ties”
- Henry Warnimont ( George Gaynes ) in ”Punky Brewster”
- Jason Seaver ( Alan Thicke ) in ”Growing Pains”
- Joey Harris ( Greg Evigan ) and Michael Taylor ( Paul Reiser ) in ”My Two Dads”
- Philip Drummond ( Conrad Bain ) in ”Different Strokes”
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by Tom Johnson
With the recent rash of TV show reunion movies, I have come to the conclusion that one classic from the 80s is being tragically overlooked: CHARLES IN CHARGE. What more could be said with CHARLES IN CHARGE, you say? Well, think about it - when we last left Charles, he was a college student working his way toward his degree by being the permanent babysitter of a family of three teens. Never mind that they were far too old for babysitters. Charles was more than a babysitter, more than a guide. He was a friend. Each week, he dispensed his immeasurable wisdom, he quipped mightily, he bantered with the inimitable Buddy ( arguably one of the finest character studies in television, portrayed by the incomparable Willie Aames ) and, in the end, he always saved the day.
In the years since the show, I like you probably have often wondered just what had happened to Charles and his witty cohorts. To answer this question, we obviously need a reunion. I propose a TV movie - CHARLES : STILL IN CHARGE. Just think of it. Charles has graduated and moved on. But his work as . . . I don’t know, the lackey of some sort at a big company - has turned out to be unfulfilling. Charles reminisces about the good old days. And in a montage of favorite scenes from the show, we see Charles, Buddy, the Pembrokes, the Powells, Gwendolyn Pierce and others cavorting in slow motion. Charles realizes that what he wants to do is take care of people. He wants to be In Charge once again.
Charles quits his job and begins his hunt. There should now be a series of scenes of wacky job possibilities that obviously do not suit our Charles. When all appears lost, Charles comes upon an apartment building that the landlord is vacating. Perhaps it’s the building Charles grew up in and he is disheartened to hear that it will be torn down. Charles then takes it upon himself to save the building, as he always comes to the rescue of a good cause. Of course, it will be a big struggle because it turns out that his former employer is behind the initiative to tear it down. Charles frets and worries but ultimately discovers that the building is historical because . . . I don’t know, Rudy Giuliani was born there or something, and saves it from destruction. As a gift for his hard work, the landlord turns the building over to Charles. He is at first frustrated and exasperated as he could never imagine being a landlord, but suddenly the light bulb goes on in his head. Charles knows he was meant to take on this task!
S C O T T B A I O
Another montage of wacky scenes is in order, to show Charles attempting to get the building in order. Alas in vain, he is only one man. He puts an ad for help in the paper. And who shows up for the job but Buddy! We all know Buddy already has the job but forces Charles to go through with a zany job interview so we know that Buddy is back. They go about renovating the building and at some point, Charles hits his head and out pops his alter ego Chaz! Chaz, of course, grows a goatee, raises hell and puts the whole renovation at risk simply because of his bad behavior - say there’s a big TV interview set up that day and Chaz just royally screws the whole thing up. You know - he insults the elderly, makes fun of the mentally challenged, makes lewd comments to the comely female reporter, etc. Back to feeling himself, Charles must repair the damage he’s done. I don’t know how. That can be worked out later!
The important part is that Charles is back and they can open the newly, and fittingly, christened Chaz Heights to prospective tenants. Of course, this is the perfect opportunity for both of the families Charles worked for ( oddly enough, in the same house ) to return under his protective supervision - all by chance, of course. A big moment of tension arises when one of the members of the clan asks him about Gwendolyn Pierce. We learn that they were about to be married after college but had a misunderstanding and Gwendolyn left him. Charles explains the problem and how he’s never felt right without her. Just when he is about to relate that it’s hopeless and they’ll never see each other again, Gwendolyn slips through the doorway. “Can you forgive me, Charles?” she asks. A big grin grows on Charles‘s face and he replies, “Of course.” Everyone cheers and laughs. And we know everything is going to be safe in Charles‘s hands. It’s just so big and beautiful and dramatic! Tears will be streaming down the faces of the Charles faithful.
I want CHARLES IN CHARGE of me! Don’t you? Who doesn’t? There is no show more deserving of the full blown reunion treatment than this seminal TV institution. Not only can it pave the way for an exciting set of DVD releases of the original. It can be the beginning of a new CHARLES IN CHARGE. With TV gone to the reality dogs, what would revive interest in sitcoms more than bringing back the glory of a past classic?
( Cleveland TV @ http://www.cleveland.com : June 9, 2004 )
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( Why The Honestly Virtuous CHARLES-IN-CHARGE Played By SCOTT BAIO Has Become A More Genuinely Beloved And Fondly Remembered 1980s Family Sitcom Hero Than MICHAEL J. FOX’s Deceptive And Fake Liberal Stereotype Of A Conservative Youth Alex P. Keaton From FAMILY TIES )
As creator Gary David Goldberg describes, FAMILY TIES riffed on the angst of the 1960s generation at the Reagan Revolution. It also reinforced the nascent yuppie upset so evident in shows like “Cheers” and later, “thirtysomething”, questioning how the rebels of the 1960s could preserve their radical values while becoming bourgeois parents and business owners benefiting from the capitalist system.
But FAMILY TIES wasn’t designated to be an evenhanded riff on Reagan era politics or even 1960s Liberal angst. It was designed to target Conservatives. ALEX P. KEATON ( Michael J. Fox ) was the stand-in for Conservatives. He was brilliant and witty and serious-minded. And totally amoral, Gordon Gecko at age seventeen. The whole point of the show was that ALEX WAS ALWAYS WRONG. Only the panache of Michael J. Fox made ALEX palatable.
“The interesting thing with ALEX, and to the same extent with Archie Bunker ( from ‘All In The Family’ ), and if you go back to Norman Lear and ask him, he’d say he did not think he was creating a sympathetic character,” said Goldberg. “But all the sympathy went to Archie. It was crazy. With ALEX, I did not think I was creating a sympathetic character. Those were not traits that I aspired to and didn’t want my kids to aspire to, actually. But at the end of FAMILY TIES, when we went off the air, The New York Times had done a piece and they said, ‘Greed with the Face of an Angel’. And I think that’s true. Michael J. Fox could make things work. The audience would simply not access the darker side of what he’s actually saying.“
A few examples. After being told in season 3 by his younger, innocent sister that there’s more to life than just getting rich and that “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world“, ALEX replies, “Jennifer, people who have money don’t need people.” Another season 3 episode has ALEX telling his pregnant mother that she shouldn’t fly. “Alex, you know, if you had it your way, Mom would be locked in her room for nine months wearing a veil,” sister Mallory snipes. “Oh come on, that’s not true” says Alex. “I see no need for a veil.” ALEX is constantly putting his foot in his mouth this way, ironically poking fun at and caricaturing conservative positions - and he gets a laugh because he’s so charming.
In fact, ALEX became so much of a hero that even Liberals didn’t understand when he lost battles. “Steven Spielberg was a a huge fan,” Goldberg recalled, “Used to come to all the tapings and was a close friend and he’d come on Friday nights. One night, we did a show where ALEX lies to this girl and completely disses the Equal Rights Amendment and everything it stands for and pretends to be a feminist. At the end, she tells him off. So after, Steven comes over and I said, “How did you like the show?” He said, “Well, it’s all right.” And I said, “What’s wrong?” And he said, “ALEX didn’t get the girl.“ And I said, “Yeah, but he lied and cheated.” And he said, “But it’s ALEX, you want him to win at the end.“
But ALEX RARELY WON, because Goldberg and the writers’ room didn’t want him to win. In fact, Goldberg said, “We actually had this structure that we inherited from Jim Brooks and Allan Burns, which was six scenes and a tag. And then THE LAST SCENE BECAME ALEX APOLOGIZES IN EVERY SHOW. We just left it up there. ALEX APOLOGIZES. Some version of it.
For example, in the season 1 episode “The Fifth Wheel”, ALEX is supposed to babysit younger sister Jennifer. As always, his desire for cash gets the better of him. He decides to take Jennifer with him to a poker game, justifying his actions with an appeal to pseudo-conservative masculinity. “In this industrial society of ours, there aren’t a lot of battles for a man to fight. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to go one-on-one with another man. There aren’t a lot of tests of one’s courage and stamina. Do you know what I mean?” he says.
Naturally, things get out of hand - Jennifer walks out of the game and get lost. Later, she shows up at home after taking the bus. ALEX gets into trouble, then promises his parents that he’ll take better care of Jennifer from now on: “Yeah, we’ll keep her happy, we’ll make sure she gets out every now and then, we’ll feed her and keep her clean.” Finally, HE APOLOGIZES, baming his own self-centeredness and his lack of sensitivity. This is a more subtle episode than some of the earlier ones, but it is just as effective: money is the root of all evil and ALEX is the greedy Reaganite who loses the child.
This show format, repeated over and over again – ALEX HAS A CONSERVATIVE / GREEDY IDEA, ALEX SCREWS SOMETHING UP, ALEX APOLOGIZES – exposes just what Goldberg and the 1960s era creators thought of the Reagan generation. The show always ends with ALEX needing to be reaccepted into the family, after attempting to individuate, to be himself. THE LIBERAL ASSUMPTION IS THAT ALEX’S POLITICAL CHOICES ARE MERELY TEENAGE REBELLION AND THAT REUNIFICATION WILL INEVITABLY OCCUR ONCE ALEX COMES TO HIS SENSES. For that reunification to occur, however, ALEX must subordinate his principles - which aren’t true principles but greed manifest in a false facade of principles - to his need for communion with his family.
Goldberg makes that clear in the pilot episode. In that episode, ALEX wants to go out with a hot, blonde, rich cheerleader-type named Kimberly. She takes him to a “restricted” country club - it bans blacks, Hispanics, Jews and anyone who didn’t “come over on the Mayflower”, as Elyse puts it. Steven stands up against ALEX but ALEX goes anyway. Later, Steven shows up at the country club, humiliating ALEX. ALEX reams Steven when he gets home. “I was wrong to go over there like that,” says Steven, “but I hope you understand why I felt so strongly about your being at a restricted club.” “I do, Dad,” replies ALEX, “but I’m seventeen years old. When I see Kimberly Blanton in a strapless evening gown, I don’t look past her for the Bill of Rights.”
“I was seventeen myself once,” answers Steven. ”But I had principles. I had beliefs.” The pattern is set: ALEX, despite all his talk of principle, is unprincipled. His parents Steven and Elyse are the principled heroes of the piece. ALEX’S REBELLION IS SIMPLE FREUDIAN PSYCHODRAMA. ( By contrast, Meathead’s rebellion in “All In The Family” is principled opposition to Conservative bigotry. ) What Goldberg did not expect, of course, is that by allowing ALEX to mock liberal values, he was unwittingly undermining them.
Goldberg made no bones about the fact that he INFUSED POLITICS INTO THE SHOW - but he learned early on that he couldn’t simply do it in Norman Lear’s obvious fashion. “That’s a tension ( between messaging and entertainment ) we welcomed. What you can’t do is ‘a very special episode of ‘ where you do the show and there’s no jokes. The shows we did earlier in the season were the ones we buried, because I was completely wrong about what I thought the show was going to be: nuclear war, gun control, climate change, death. And so you had to put it in a different package. It had to come out in a different way.”
And FAMILY TIES did do it in a different way. There were episodes about nuclear war - one in particular in which ALEX learns to get along with a Russian kid at a chess tournament - and episodes about sex and episodes about The Evils Of Capitalism. But they were covered over in a brilliant display of hilarity. It’s no wonder that Ronald Reagan said that FAMILY TIES was his favorite show.
Like ”Cheers”, FAMILY TIES was a slow starter out of the gate but the network stuck with it. And like ”Cheers”, it eventually became a massive hit when it was placed behind ”The Cosby Show” in 1984, running for seven seasons.
Gary David Goldberg’s other big show came years later when he brought back Michael J. Fox for SPIN CITY. Goldberg wrote the show with partner Bill Lawrence ( who would go on to create ”Scrubs” ). That show cast Fox as the deputy mayor of New York, and was even more political than FAMILY TIES. Fox was still playing Alex Keaton, but this time Keaton was grown up and a Democrat. He was just as Machiavellian, just as manipulative, but this time, he was good-heartedly trying to ram through The Liberal Agenda.
I asked Goldberg why there didn’t seem to be any real debate about politics on television anymore - why everyone simply assumed that the far-left position was correct, and that the only real question was whether that position was practical. At least in ”All In The Family”, I said, the Conservative position was articulated, however badly, and then knocked down. Modern television doesn’t even bother articulating the Conservative position.
“If I was writing now, I wouldn’t be having those debates either,” Goldberg said. “Because I think it’s great we’ve moved beyond that.” That’s certainly arguable - we’re still debating Gay Marriage, the morality of which SPIN CITY took for granted. But if we’ve begun to move beyond such debates, it’s due in large part to the success of writers like Gary David Goldberg, who have made The Leftist Position so palatable to a broad swath of Americans simply by presenting likable characters who promote Liberal Politics as tautologies.
( “Family Ties, 1982 - 1989 : Reagan’s Children Of The Corn” pp. 124 - 129, “PRIMETIME PROPAGANDA - The True Hollywood Story Of How The Left Took Over Your TV” by Ben Shapiro, Broadside Books : 2011 )
ALEX P. KEATON - Finally Exposed!!!
The Winner : SCOTT BAIO as CHARLES-IN-CHARGE!