Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Problem With: "Family Matters"

I have a soft spot in my heart for Family Matters, which aired from 1989-1998. It had all of the hallmarks of a memorable '90s teen sitcom: characters with at least one catchphrase that entered the pop culture lexicon; a nerd with an unrequited crush; the occasional episode that tackled a serious topic....

....And a theme song whose lyrics fans can recite to this very day. Last year, an American Idol contestant had the audacity to perform the Family Matters theme, "As Days Go By," for his audition. And he passed. I argue that this is the best reality TV audition we will ever see, unless someone musters up the courage to reenact the open to Blossom.

Family Matters also holds a small place in television history as the linchpin of ABC's Friday-night comedy lineup in the '90s, which was promoted as TGIF. Yes, it was the home to other classic sitcoms such as Full House, Boy Meets World, Perfect Strangers, and Step by Step, but, as best as I can tell, Family Matters remained in that programming block for the longest period of time. (Family Matters aired on CBS its final season.)

Back to the Family Matters theme for a moment. Did you know the show's original theme was Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"? Watch and listen to the first minute and a half of the video below.

What an odd choice. In any event, the theme was changed to "As Days Go By" after five episodes.

Skip ahead to the 6:20 mark of the clip. That's essentially the Family Matters intro we all love and remember. The opening lines of the song bring back a flood of memories: "It's a rare condition, this day and age, reading the good news on the newspaper page."

Coincidentally or not, those lyrics are followed by a shot of Mother Winslow holding an issue of Rolling Stone with U2 on the cover. The cover promotes Rolling Stone's "1987 Readers And Critics Poll," and refers to U2 as "The Band That Beat The Boss."

It's a rare condition, this day and age, reading the good news on the newspaper page. U2 beats The Boss. Lots of bad news out there. U2 beats The Boss.

The underlying message is, the theme's songwriters hated U2, considered Bruce Springsteen losing to U2 in an unscientific Rolling Stone poll to be bad news "on the newspaper page," and decided to take a jab at the group, years after the issue was released. I've never held a grudge for that long against U2.

This is not the problem I have with Family Matters, by the way. And I will not pick apart some of the absurd story lines on the show, especially toward the end of its run. Namely, the complicated love triangle between Steve Urkel, his more suave alter ego Stefan Urquelle, and Laura Winslow.

If you had the patience to watch the entire video above, you may already know where I'm headed with this. Beginning with the fifth season, the actress who played Judy is conspiciously absent from the show's intro. That's because her character was eliminated. Judy was kicked out of the Winslow home, without warning.

This was not entirely unusual for a TGIF comedy; Step by Step, for example, also phased out one of its youngest stars, the one who filled the role of Brendan. Here's the difference between the two shows:  Brendan's father was a construction worker who was prone to mental lapses. Judy's father, Carl, was a cop. A cop! A well-respected cop, at that. And he never once noticed that his youngest child, all of a sudden, was missing from the kitchen table at dinnertime? And he didn't realize her absence whenever her birthday would roll around? And he never asked for an update on Judy from his wife? "Hey honey, I haven't seen our precious daughter Judy in a few years. Whatever happened to her?" That question never crossed his mind?

As the seasons went by, I waited for the episode when Carl Winslow would launch an official investigation into where Judy went. It never came. I was very disappointed. Carl let me down, and he let his family down.

Family matters? Not all family.

In case you missed it:

The Problem With: "Back To The Future"
The Problem With: "The Wonder Years"