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DVD Review: Family Ties – The Third Season

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Though Family Ties debuted in September of 1982, it wasn't until the series' third season that the show really took off. Aided by its position behind The Cosby Show on Thursday nights, Family Ties reached #5 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1984-85 season.

Family Ties centers around the Keaton family. Steven (Michael Gross) and his wife Elyse (Meredith Baxter Birney) are liberal, flower children of the sixties. The couple has three children: Alex P.(Michael J. Fox) is the conservative, Reagan-worshiping, money-loving son who uses his middle initial whenever possible, Mallory (Justine Bateman) is a girl whose prime interests are fashion and boys, and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) is the tomboyish baby of the family. The Keatons are a fairly typical suburban family of the 1980s. Steven manages a local PBS affiliate and Elyse is an architect.

By season three it was increasingly clear that Michael J. Fox was Family Ties' breakout star. Fox's sense of comic timing is impeccable and even though viewers might be inclined to dislike Alex's attitudes, Fox keeps him undeniably funny. Alex turns mundane situations into real comedic gems. In "4 Rms Ocn Vu," while their parents are away, Alex decides to turn the Keaton house into a motel to pay for damages to the family car, courtesy of Mallory. This episode is just hilarious. When Steven arrives at the house, he shares the interesting things he saw on the way home: the billboard advertising their motel, the valet parking in the driveway, the 'No Vacancy' sign on the front lawn and the kangaroo in the living room! In "The Gambler" Elyse catches gambling fever on a business trip to Atlantic City, when Alex's "foolproof" method for winning at blackjack turns her into a winner.

Michael J. Fox garnered his first Emmy nomination for the third season of Family Ties partly because he also showed some dramatic versatility along with his comic abilities. In "Hot Line Fever" to earn college credit, Alex volunteers at a crisis hotline. He is quickly confronted with a caller contemplating suicide. For the first time in his life, Alex realizes there is more to life than money and power.

At times all the focus on Michael J. Fox gives the other actors little time to shine. For most of the season, Justine Bateman comes in and out of scenes to deliver the kind of lines the audience has come to expect from Mallory Keaton. Bateman finally gets her chance to stand out late in the season in "Auntie Up." When Mallory's favorite Aunt visits they form a special bond. When Aunt Trudie dies, Mallory is devastated that nobody else seems bothered. Bateman's complete meltdown at the funeral is the first real inkling of Justine's overall talent that would continue to flourish in future seasons.

In the beginning of Family Ties' third season, Elyse Keaton found out she was pregnant (Meredith Baxter Birney's real life pregnancy was written into the show). Often adding another child to an established program can be a death knell but for Family Ties, Elyse's pregnancy and Andrew's birth gave the series a whole new set of issues to explore. Tina Yothers takes center stage in "Cry Baby" when Jennifer is forced to deal with her jealousy over all of the attention Andrew is receiving. The season ends with a two-part episode, "Remembrance of Things Past" where Steven must return to his hometown after his father's death to help his mom. While there, he realizes he has some unresolved issues with his dad.

Family Ties was a well-written family of the 1980s that is still very funny today. Fans of the show will want to add this third season set to their DVD collections.

The DVD is presented in the full screen format. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The dialogue is clear with no noticeable crackling. Each episode contains the network promo for that episode. The viewer has the choice to see the episode with or without the promos. There is a seven-minute gag reel. There is a 30-second public service announcement by Michael J. Fox concerning Parkinson's disease, an affliction from which he suffers.

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