Family Ties: The Seventh and Final Season

Family Ties: The Seventh and Final Season
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When Family Ties was originally conceived as a sitcom about the gradual death of hippie ideals amidst the rampant capitalism of '80s America, it was intended as a showcase for the talents of Meredith Baxter-Birney, who had found success as the divorced daughter in Family. Shortly after the Keaton family — Steven (Michael Gross), Elyse (Baxter-Birney), Alex (Michael J. Fox), Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) — made their idiosyncratic television debut, it became clear that Baxter-Birney, the architect of the family (both in a matriarchal and professional capacity), wasn't the one drawing viewers. Michael J. Fox (a young Canadian actor), playing her oldest son, Alex, a hardcore Republican with a love of Ronald Reagan, ultimately became the centerpiece and an indirect teen idol, ushering in a much younger viewership than originally projected. Though Steven and (to a lesser degree) Elyse's endless hippie-dippy pursuits and speechifying generated much of the contrarian, "situational" conflict, forcing their capitalist son and oldest bimbette daughter into situations that would exacerbate their aggressive '80s superficiality, the storylines gravitated more towards the kids and their experiences with teen issues. Despite creating some behind the scenes tension, this template, wherein the parents would play clueless outsiders to the progressiveness of their kids forging forward in a political climate full of whimsical opportunity, came to define a sitcom that worked best when embracing its tendency towards abstract humour and unpredictable non-sequiturs. Throughout the seventh season, the strongest moments come when Mallory and Alex insult each other — Mallory critiquing how square Alex is, with him countering by mocking her limited intelligence — or when Steven decides to give his kids life lessons via incomprehensible idioms. By this point, the show had mostly run its course, playing off more obnoxious narrative conceits like the addition of youngest son Andy (Brian Bonsall) — an Alex clone — leaving character resolutions and affirmations of familial bonding to propel the season to its two-part series finale. Mallory, after getting a crash course in professional backstabbing, finds she has a propensity for fashion, while Alex finally lands the Wall Street job he's been dreaming of since (presumably) birth. That the children are growing up and moving on leaves Steven and Elyse reflecting on the nature of their parental abilities, either pushing away or forcing connection with their oldest two kids. During these heavier moments, when Elyse responds passive-aggressively to Alex's cavalier attitude towards leaving his childhood home, or when Steven has a mid-season heart attack, Family Ties flounders in its '80s limitations, propping up issues with nauseating preciousness. However, during the incidental throwaway episodes and the occasional secondary storyline, the trademark abstract humour and biting sense of social observation step in to remind us of why this sitcom managed to last as long as it did. No special features are included with the four-disc set, which is normal for this sort of "not in demand" release. (Paramount)