Although I was never a “fan” of the show, I did catch Growing Pains every now and then during my tenure in elementary school (via one of the three stations we received at our isolated country house courtesy of our leaning, state-of-the-art aluminum VHF antenna) and I vividly recall seeing several episodes to this day. You can imagine my surprise when I booted up Growing Pains: The Complete Second Season and saw all of the episodes I so clearly remember viewing when they were first broadcast.
Heck, one might even say I was a bit delighted to see those particular installments once again. You can also imagine my surprise (and total lack of delight) when it dawned on me that it had been twenty-five years since the sophomore season of first starting hitting the airwaves of ABC in 1986. Unfathomable? Sure, it is. And, since the concept of the nuclear family may not be as prevalent now as it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, seeing the mostly-functional and full household unit in action here might seem rather odd for some of today’s audiences.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the series, it was a sitcom about the Seaver family in a strange suburban New York wherein no California accents existed. The matriarch of this household, Maggie (Joanna Kerns), worked as a reporter. The father, psychiatrist Jason (TV’s Alan Thicke), saw his patients from his office at home; also serving as “Mr. Mom” to the kids: high-school students Mike (Kirk Cameron) and Carol (Tracey Gold), along with grade-schooler Ben (Jeremy Miller). A fourth child (played by twin actresses) was later introduced in the series — part of a ratings-grabbing motive generally referred to as “jumping the shark” — but fortunately, we’re spared from such an “Mary-Kate & Ashley Effect” with this earlier season.
But the whole “nuclear family” thing is not the only thing that has dated the show. The premiere episode of Growing Pains: The Complete Second Season — “Jason And The Cruisers” (a play on the name of the cult classic film, Eddie And The Cruisers, which was only three years old at that point) — begins with Maggie having just transferred her old 8mm home movies to VHS so that the whole family can sit down in front of their antiquated single-speaker television set and watch them on their top-loading VCR (hey, at least it weren’t Beta). The boys even play Nintendo in one episode (that’s the old 8-bit Nintendo I’m talking about, kids).
Now add some killer fashion sense, lots of big hair, a noticeable lack of mobile phones, and some archaic jabs at then-current celebrities and politicians…et voila: welcome to the ‘80s, kids!
Personally, Growing Pains: The Complete Second Season was a blast for me. Not just because of how the show has dated, but because of how much of the show is still applicable by many of today’s standards. Some of the jokes aimed at certain foreign countries (it was the time of Reagan and the Cold War, you know) seem more than slightly insensitive now; as do a lot of TV’s Alan Thicke’s more “chauvinistic” comments towards the lady-sex. Sexist and xenophobic interpretations aside, though, Growing Pains still has the ability to deliver what it originally set out to do: entertain and educate its viewers.
Normally, I usually prefer to torment my own offspring with movies like the Golan/Globus atrocity The Apple (1980) and Wheeler Dixon’s schlockumentary UFO: Top Secret when they come over to visit. But, with the opportunity to show them just how silly their father dressed when he was their age presented itself, I seized it — and Growing Pains promptly seized them with its humor and heart. The show’s messages to family members young and old are still relevant (e.g. don’t be a jerk; you get what you give; etc.), and the writing still manages to prompt more than a couple of laughs — even to those of you who adamantly claim to “hate” the show.