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DVD Review: Family Ties – The Fifth Season

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In the '80s Family Ties was a highly entertaining look at suburban family life. One of the best aspects of the show was the depiction of the former hippie parents Steven and Elyse Keaton. The show primarily dealt with the parents trying to maintain a balance between their former '60s "peace and love" ideals and the modern realities of raising of family and paying bills.

Another amusing aspect to the show was the parents' relationship with their ultra-conservative son Alex (Michael J Fox). Alex's conservatism was the perfect antithesis to his parents' hippie ideals. At its best Family Ties dealt with the parents' and Alex's differences with respect as well as humor. For the most part the show dealt realistically with the dilemmas of each character rather than slipping into the corniness of most sitcoms of that time.

In the earlier seasons of Family Ties the parents were the central point of the show. After the huge success of Back To The Future, starring Michael J. Fox, the focus shifted more to Alex. This is very apparent in season five which has Alex taking equal part to the parents in familial issues such as little brother Andy's (Brian Bonsall) pre-school, and Mallory's (Justine Bateman) up in the air nuptials to boyfriend Nick (Scott Valentine). While this aspect of the show is unrealistic, Family Ties still maintains the same charm it always had.

What really makes this DVD set worth the purchase is the two-part episode "'A, My Name is Alex," which is about Alex dealing with the death of a close friend. Most of the episode takes place in a counseling session with Alex. It is shot with a black background, with Alex interacting with family and friends during different periods of this life. Even today the episode is quite inventive and emotional in dealing with such a serious subject. Another highlight is "My Back Pages." The episode features an old college friend of Steven's, who unlike the Keatons, has not left his '60s reactionary days behind. The friend wants to start up the old underground newspaper he and Steven used to write. It is in this episode that Steven and Elyse examine their current ideals, and reflect on what their beliefs mean to them and their current place in society.

Along with dealing with heavier issues like mortality and ethics, Family Ties packed in a lot of lighter but relatable topics. In another episode, teenager Jennifer (Tina Yothers) grapples with her identity. In "D Is For Date" Jennifer plays dumb in an effort to impress the high school star baseball player (Wil Wheaton). And in the two-part "It's My Party" Jennifer abandons her true self completely in order to fit in with the "cool crowd." Mallory also deals with her share of problems including trying to figure out when is the right time to get married and her life as a college student.

It should be noted that season five of Family Ties features one peculiarity. The show jumps back and forth between times. For most of the season the youngest Keaton, Andy, is a four-year-old pre-schooler, Jennifer is in high school, Alex works at a bank, and Mallory is in college. However some of the episodes jump back to Mallory being still in high school, and Andy being an infant. This can partially be attributed to the fact that in an effort to make Andy a real character on the show, he was quickly aged from infant to four-year-old from season four to season five. However the out of order episodes seem to be about two years old. However, the incongruity does not detract from the overall entertainment value of the show. Season five is a must for any Family Ties fan.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.