The Facts of Life: The Complete Fourth Season

The Facts of Life: The Complete Fourth Season
To contextualize, the fourth season of The Facts of Life was before George Clooney, but after Molly Ringwald, and frequently featured Blair's "differently abled" comedienne cousin Geri. Jo (Nancy McKeon) ― the Bronx-born, car-obsessed tomboy with a penchant for cutting sarcasm and insults ― and Blair (Lisa Whelchel) ― the Manhattan-born, vain rich girl ― spend much of season four applying to colleges, since this is their last year at Eastland. Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) takes the role of school dietician a little too far, investing herself in every area of the girls' lives, while Tootie (Kim Fields) suffers hearing loss and Natalie (Mindy Cohn) snags her first boyfriend. Every episode is essentially a preachy morality play that tackles an "issue," with Natalie making up a source for a school newspaper article on abortion, Blair unknowingly acting as an illegal tax shelter for her father and Jo taking an interest in nunnery. And, resultantly, you can time the build up, conflict and pat speech to resolve the issue in each episode. Since it's a show about teenage girls at a boarding school, the inevitability of addressing taboo topics reveals much of the political climate in 1982, with many nods to traditional female roles versus feminism and the ethical handling of academia and finances. Now, understanding that a cultural theme would need to be somewhat ubiquitous for The Facts of Life to tackle it, I have to question what exactly was going on in the early '80s that led to Asaad Kelada (yes, the director that Kirk mistook for Akira Kurosawa on Gilmore Girls) and gang making an episode about the molestation of the mentally handicapped, or "retards," as they are referred to within. In episode five ("Different Drummer"), Blair develops a crush on a mentally handicapped boy, which is played as comedy when she doesn't seem to notice (he looks at her blankly and says, "Your hair is pretty," which flatters and excites her). Within the episode, Jo refers to Blair as The Miracle Worker, Tootie dramatically acknowledges concern for Blair, having read Of Mice and Men and fearing that the "retard" might accidentally kill her, and Mrs. Garrett gives a teary speech, including the nugget, "you know, Blair, no matter what you do, he'll always be retarded." I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried and, quite frankly, this episode makes purchasing the entire box set worthwhile. But if that isn't enough to encourage the revisiting of this pop culture reference-laden '80s classic included as a bonus feature is the full television movie, The Facts of Life Goes to Paris. This atrociously crafted gem is where Mrs. Garrett gets her Julia Child on and the girls escape an evil headmistress to see the Paris sights, which are essentially stock photography with awkward voiceovers. (Shout! Factory)