Similar to The Jeffersons and All in the Family from a couple of years ago (and also Good Times which I somehow completely missed), we’re getting another live performance of a couple of classics: The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes. I tried to originally write one post on both of these episodes, but I had too much to say (surprise, surprise) so I’ll be writing a separate post for Diff’rent Strokes.
On a personal note, The Facts of Life was my FAVORITE show as an eleven year old because I went to school with a lot of mean girls and it was depressing as shit. When the girls on The Facts of Life were mean, it was played for laughs, and they always learned a lesson so I knew they weren’t actually shitty humans. And I actually think my love of that show was the verrrry tiny seed that grew into this blog because every episode of that show was a very special episode.
Our hosts for tonight’s episodes are Jimmy Kimmel and the great Norman Lear (who by the way looks amazing at 99). What’s interesting about both of these episodes is that the characters are all played by adults who probably grew up watching these shows when they originally aired — a fact that I find very charming.
Now let’s get into the episode. Lisa Whelchel sings The Facts of Life theme song (an Alan Thicke classic) in an Eastland uniform and is joined on set by Kim Fields and Mindy Cohn (who looks super cute with gray hair). I don’t know where Nancy McKeon is, but I guess she’s continuing to skip all the reunions. The originally cast briefly waves to the audience and then we start the show.
Kathryn Hahn is playing Jo in this episode and it’s WONDERFUL casting. I love Kathryn Hahn in just about anything but boy is this casting a gift that I did not expect. She’s definitely doing a caricature though while the others seem to at least be trying to play it straight. Jennifer Anniston as Blair is also kind of magical, but she seems a little too smart to be Blair. I’ll also add that Ann Dowd is playing Mrs. Garrett in both of these episodes and she completely nails Charlotte Rea’s Mrs. Garrett voice. Gabrielle Union and Allison Tolman do such a good job as Tootie and Natalie, respectively, that I wasn’t distracted by the fact that I was watching Gabrielle Union and Allison Tolman. I just kinda accepted them as the characters, which I’m surprised I was able to do because they’re obviously not the right age for these parts lol.
In this episode, the girls are preparing boxed picnic meals that the boys from their sister (brother?) school will vote on as a fundraiser. It’s supposed to be anonymous, but Blair told her crush (played by Will Arnett) what was in her box so that they could have a picnic together. Natalie, however, was less direct and simply packed her box with her crush’s favorites. She’s also gushed about him in Blair’s Slam Book (think Burn Book for all you millennials out there who didn’t watch 80’s reruns in excess). Unfortunately, Blair tells Natalie’s crush (played by Jason Bateman) about Natalie’s notes and her boxed meal, so he rejects her before the bidding even starts. He does it in a very nice way (he has a steady girlfriend) but Natalie takes is super hard.
Everything goes according to plan for Blair, until Natalie seeks her revenge by urging Carl (a nerdy young man played by Jon Stewart) to outbid Blair’s crush. She does this by calling Carl and pretending to be Blair. Ick.
Jennifer Anniston’s Blair seems way meaner than I ever remember Lisa Whelchel’s version being. This is most apparent when Blair confronts Natalie in the kitchen for her revenge prank. It feels like I’m watching Alex from The Morning Show yell at Natalie and I’m uncomfortable. And honestly, I’m shocked to say this because Natalie feels way crueler in this episode than Blair, but Allison Tolman just seems way less intimidating than Jennifer Anniston.
Then ALL the girls get a talking to and Mrs. Garrett says they’re all lacking in compassion — which definitely seems unfair because Tootie and Jo didn’t even do anything. Having figured out what was really going on through a discussion with the other boys, Carl enters the kitchen and returns Blair’s dinner box to her.
Jo then volunteers to take the box and eat dinner with Carl (cause she didn’t want to have dinner with anyone and bid on her own box — like honestly as a grownup Jo is by far my favorite character). But a very guilty Natalie, tries to take the box from Jo. And then Jo is like um no why would he want to eat with someone who was mean to him?? And then Blair finally decides to do the right thing and takes the box back, so that she can have dinner with a very nice person. Turns out they have a lovely dinner when they both realize they love modern art!
Honestly, this was an insane premise. Mrs. Garrett, this is kind of on you for thinking high school kids wouldn’t get up to some serious shenanigans with picnic box bidding. That said, Natalie had the cruelest intentions of all. Dark stuff, man. Dark stuff. This is definitely NOT my favorite episode, but I thought the cast did a nice job with it and I am glad they picked an episode from earlier in the show’s run.
Anyway, we’re then treated to a lovely post show with Kim, Lisa, and Mindy! They all commended Ann Dowd’s performance! I agree with them!