Thanks to 20-something Millennials looking back on their misspent youth, the ‘90s have never been more popular. Baby Boomers had Leave it to Beaver, Gen X’ers had The Brady Bunch, and for Millennials, it may be Family Matters. Rather than reliving the series through daily syndication as previous generations did however, they get to binge on full seasons at a time. To that end, Warner Home Video have just released Family Matters: The Complete Fourth Season in a three-DVD set.
Family Matters was part of the ABC Network’s highly successful Friday night TGIF block of programming. My kids loved TGIF, and we tuned in every week. It was kind of a grin and bear it situation for my wife and I, but in watching the series again, I actually find it quite charming. By the time of the fourth season, Family Matters had basically become the Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) show, and they put him in all sorts of unusual situations.
A few of these crazy scenarios included Urkel appearing on American Gladiators, doing a striptease at a male strip club, and camping out on the roof of the Winslow’s house. For those who are unfamiliar with the show, the Winslow’s are the “family” of Family Matters. Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) is the father, Harriette (JoMarie Payton) is the mother, Estelle “Mother” Winslow (Rosetta LeNoire) is Carl’s mother, and the two daughters are Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth). The program was ostensibly about the Winslows, but their next door neighbor Urkel stole the show early on.
The main reason Urkel hangs around the Winslow’s house so much is because he is trying to woo the pretty Laura. But in season four, something funny happens. Urkel gets a girlfriend.
Her name is Myra Monkhouse (Michelle Thomas), and she absolutely adores him. The two were set up by Laura’s boyfriend Ted (Patrick J. Dancy), in order to get Urkel to leave her alone. It is basically a blind date between Urkel and Myra, who are invited to go to a concert with Ted and Laura. Myra falls head over heals for Urkel, which is kind of fun to see, but he does not immediately reciprocate, as his heart still belongs to Laura.
One of the funny things you notice in watching a show that originally aired 20 years ago are the cultural references. For example, the concert that the two couples are attending is by Dave Koz. The idea that these African-American teenagers were excited about seeing Dave Koz is harder to believe than most of Urkel’s antics. The very next episode also features a musician, Tracie Spencer. The gang are trying to get tickets to Spencer’s concert. If the name Tracie Spencer is unfamiliar, join the club. From what I can tell, the Family Matters people are about the only ones who have ever heard of the artist.
With Family Matters being a very popular sitcom, things never get too serious, but there are moments when the writers step out of the box. The Christmas episode “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Urkel” might be the best of the season. First off, the ever-annoying Urkel shows up with his “Turbo Flocker” which is a fire extinguisher strapped to his back, which will flock the Winslow’s tree. Naturally, everything inside the house gets flocked, especially Carl.
While out Christmas shopping, Urkel accidentally breaks a nice ornament that Laura had bought for her mother. At her wits end with him, Laura wishes that he could see what it is like to be her. So in the best It’s A Wonderful Life tradition, her guardian angel Tyrone (T.K. Parker) grants her wish. There is a bit of a twist though, as Steve Urkel becomes Steve Winslow. Not only that, but she has to become Laura Urkel, to see what it is like to be hurt and put down all the time the way Urkel is. This is a very cute, and heartwarming episode.
Although Myra has clearly shown that she is wild about Urkel, he continues to put her off. In the final episode of the season “Buds ‘n’ Buns,” he finally decides to nudge their relationship along. When this happens, Laura realizes that she misses all his attention. Things come to a head when Urkel and Myra visit the Winslows as a couple. “Buds ’n’ Buns” is also a contender for best of the season, because it is priceless to watch these two young and very attractive young women vie for the affections of the ultimate nerd.
It is unlikely that Family Matters will ever rival I Love Lucy or Seinfeld as television’s greatest situation comedy, but so be it. It is a lot of fun, and the show was really in its prime by this time. Check out the 24 episodes that comprise Family Matters: The Complete Fourth Season to see for yourself.