Family Ties

Family Ties

In a reverse of the traditional family dynamic, liberal, hippie parents Elyse and Steven gave birth to right-wing Republican Alex P. Keaton. Played by Michael J. Fox in the role that would launch his career, Alex Keaton wore a suit and tie every day, slept under a portrait of William F. Buckley, Jr. and was a die-hard fan of Reaganomics. He regularly tested his parents patience on Family Ties, one of the 80s most enduring and endearing sitcoms.

Set in Columbus Ohio, Family Ties followed the daily lives of the Keaton family which, along with Alex and his parents, also included the dim-witted but lovable older sister, Mallory, and younger tomboy sibling, Jennifer. Together they navigated though the political and social issues of the era, often yelling and fighting along the way, but never losing touch with the importance of the family unit. They faced issues that resonated with their television viewing audience, many of whom were dealing with the same conflicts in their own living rooms.

Although the show was undeniably a sitcom, Family Ties didn’t shy away from serious issues such as addiction (Alex becomes addicted to pep pills), divorce, school bullying and death (Alex loses his best friend in a car accident). Still, there was plenty of comic relief to lighten the mood, especially regarding the relationship between Alex and Mallory who were truly on opposite ends of the spectrum. He had aspirations of political prominence and her biggest ambition was to design clothing. Little sister Jennifer tried to steer clear of their battles and enjoy as normal a childhood as one could hope for within the Keaton household.

Jennifer would lose her status as the youngest Keaton in the third season, when Elyse gave birth to a son named Andrew. He would remain a baby for the following season, then grow into a precocious three-year-old for season five. As he grew, Alex began grooming him towards a life as a young Republican, even teaching him to read the Wall St. Journal, much to the horror of Steven and Elyse.

Along with Andrew, the other Keaton siblings were also growing up and starting to spread their wings. Alex left for Leland College in 1985, meeting the smart and beautiful Ellen (played by Tracy Pollan, who would eventually become Fox’s real-life wife.) After a relationship that lasted a season, they parted during an emotional scene in a train station. Alex’s next girlfriend was a psychology student played by newcomer Courtney Cox, who called Alex out on his arrogance, but loved him nonetheless. Meanwhile, sister Mallory met her own love interest, an artist named Nick Moore, who matched her in mediocre intelligence and was particularly fond of saying “ay.” The pair eventually eloped, causing her parents much concern. Still, Nick was probably a better catch than nerdy neighbor Skippy who professed his love for Mallory at every opportunity.

Family Ties was originally supposed to focus primarily on the parents but Michael J. Fox altered those plans by becoming the most popular character on the show. After seven seasons and three Emmy Awards for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, he would progress to a film career that included the iconic role of Marty McFly in the 1985 box-office blockbuster, Back to the Future.

During its run, Family Ties proved itself a ratings powerhouse for NBC, sandwiching itself between two other enormously popular sitcoms, The Cosby Show and Cheers, all of which became part of the network’s Thursday night “Must See TV” lineup. Three decades later, it still remains one of the most beloved sitcoms of the 80s decade.

If you grew up watching Family Ties on Thursday nights, maybe even harbored your own aspirations of being just like Alex P. Keaton, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories of this iconic sitcom in our comments section below.

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