Family Ties: Speed Trap

I know you’re all very familiar with Jesse Spano’s caffeine pill problems, but did you know that Alex P. Keaton once took diet pills so he could study more? (Honestly, it sounds like your mileage may vary. Comedian Elna Baker describes taking phentermine and spending several intense hours making a really shitty birthday card in her book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance: A Memoir. So in my very special opinion, you’re not gonna get quality results on your mind or body with speed.)

In this episode, Alex wants to stay up all night working on school work. He enlists his sister Mallory’s help in getting diet pills (a.k.a. speed) from a friend of hers. Mallory obtains the pills from her reluctant friend with the promise that Alex will take her out on a date — even though he’s super not into her and fat shames her to Mallory when she tells him the details of the transaction. Oh my gosh the 80’s, there is soooo much that is wrong with this situation. And you can betchya only the pill issue will be addressed in this episode — and only as it relates to Alex.

Alone in his room, Alex delivers a lengthly soliloquy (and a little more fat-shaming) as he agonizes over whether or not to take the pills. Seeking the advice of his framed 8×10 photo of Richard Millhouse Nixon, Alex eventually pops some pills (off-screen).

The next time we see Alex, he’s high on stimulants playing Monopoly with his family (as if Monopoly could be any more aggressive). Alex’s ex-hippie parents are very oblivious to the fact that their son is high. I would truly expect better of people who met at Berkeley.

Later, Alex approaches Mallory for more pills and when she tries to cut him off, he breaks cardinal rule number one (never go through a teenaged girl’s purse) and takes the pills for himself. Mallory tells Alex that she never wants to speak to him again. Alex tells Mallory that if she tells their parents about what he’s doing then she’ll be in trouble with them too. (Seriously? The hip Berkeley parents of the 80’s?? Mallory isn’t all that smart, so she believes this to be true.)

Alex becomes increasingly exhausted and irritable. This culminates in a fight with his mom after he catches her watching a documentary with Jennifer about the human reproductive system. He turns off the television, calls it smut, and says Jennifer should believe in the stork until she’s twelve. Oh boy, the Reagan Years.

Alex’s mother tells him that it isn’t his house and sperm-egg fertilization is science not smut. His mother decides to punish him by having him clean the house — which his speed-addled-heart loves. Come on parents, why so slow on the uptake???

Alex later tries to bribe Mallory for more pills, which doesn’t work. He then calls her friend directly. (On a cute little yellow touchtone phone. Oh man don’t you miss how fun landlines were???)

Mallory’s friend hooks Alex up with more pills (also off-screen). The next time we see him, he’s studying while painting his room bright blue at 3:30 am. This finally causes his father to realize something is up. He then discovers that Alex has only slept four hours total during the past week and finally realizes his kid is on drugs.

Alex tells his dad that he’s doing great on pills. (He isn’t. He started digging trenches for a sprinkler system nobody asked for in the backyard.) Alex’s father tells him that when he was younger he took speed too, which is why he can say that this is a horrible idea. He tells Alex that they both need to go to bed and will discuss this further in the morning. Alex falls asleep mid-lecture. He continues to sleep through his big test.

Waking up an hour late, he frantically tosses his room looking for more pills. It’s so poorly written but Michael J. Fox is so good. He’s really, really too good for this writing. Alex finally realizes he can’t stave off the inevitable crash and that his whole speed plan seriously backfired. We then end with Mallory reminding Alex of the details of his date with her friend — oh and another fat joke.

Very Special Lesson: Sleep is super, super important. Like SO important. It also just makes me sad when people abuse drugs for the purposes of studying. Like damn, I know our education system is broken but still. I suppose the one good thing about this episode is that even model-student goody-goody Alex P. Keaton is not immune to the cycle of addiction. But that’s about all this episode does well. Diet pills and supplements are often terrifying. And popular culture knew that when this episode was released–at least in terms of OTC pills. Allowing for the fact that doctor prescribed diet pills are largely a sign o’ the times in this episode, it’s a real shame that neither Alex nor his (formerly) hip-to-drugs father spare a moment for Mallory’s friend, who was taking those pills to impress people like Alex while most likely suffering the same side effects he found so debilitating. For all we know, she wasted several hours off-screen making him a shitty card, risking her life in an attempt to satisfy conventional beauty standards. But Alex was too busy insulting her, using her, and worrying about his grades to think about how she might be feeling.

On a lighter note–just a quick plug: I’ll be participating in the 3rd Annual So Bad It’s Good Blogathon later this month. Stay tuned for my take on the CLASSIC film Her Alibi staring Tom Selleck and Mr. Feeney.

Family Ties: Birth of a Keaton

Okay, kids. I gotta be honest, I’m phoning this one in. I started a new job this week (WOOHOO CORPORATE HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN!!!) Tonight (yes, I am speaking to you from the past), I planned to work on this, but I ended up chatting with my BFF on the phone and then I started watching a bunch of Shalamar videos on YouTube.

Okay, so now onto our final telethon episode!

This episode is actually about a PBS fundraiser, which I do recommend supporting because OMG they let me watch episodes of Sherlock for free on their website!! But our final fundraiser will be for the NRDC because Antartica is melting.

Tmv5bmjm5mdawmzy5mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnza0mtgzmje-_v1_uy268_cr870182268_al_he Keaton kids are really dreading PBS pledge week, but Elyse is excited about it because she’s hoping to be able to perform as a singer/guitar player. Steven doesn’t want her to perform, but she’s mega-pregnant so he knows better than to say no to her. It turns out that she has a lovely voice…until she hits the high notes…

As the week progresses, Steven begins to notice that his children are not terribly excited about manning the phones at the telethon. After talking to Elyse, Steven decides that he was rude to the children because he never asked them to participate. (He thinks it’s a problem of manners rather than the fact that they’re simply bored out of their minds). Of course, when he gives them the option, they all decide NOT to participate.

But as the week goes on, and they see all of the other families participating in the telethon (is that a thing??), the Keaton children begin to feel guilty. So they schlep on down to the station to make up for their selfish behavior.


In this HIGH DRAMA episode (aka I have almost fallen asleep 4 times) Steven must leave immediately after the children arrive because they have plumbing issues at the house!!! OH NO, he’s going to miss Elyse’s performance!

From home (where the ceiling is about to cave in) Steven watches Elyse perform. Just as she is about to hit that high note, she goes into labor.


Ugh, this SERIOUSLY could have been a single episode because NOTHING happened in part 1. Part 2 starts off with labor pains and a big snowstorm. (Also, it turns out that going into labor led to a lot of pledges!!) Sadly, they are snowed-in and Elyse will have to have the baby at the station!

(Full discloser, I’ve been skipping through this episode a lot. Steven goes to the hospital and Elyse’s isn’t there. Since there are no cell phones she sends him messages over the air at the telethon. This causes even more pledges to pour in. Even though the roads are impassible, Steven leaves the hospital and makes it to the station. He brings a doctor…couldn’t they have just called an ambulance like an hour ago? She has the baby. It’s fine.)

Oh my gosh you guys, this was so boring. I’ll never do this to you ever again.

Here, enjoy some Shalamar:

For Your Consideration: Satisfaction

cd90d059fe2f263f038a5565f6ec7161I have an HBONow largely because Silicon Valley is the funniest show on television. But I’ve also been justifying the membership cost by expanding my movie horizons. That’s how I found Satisfaction, a 1988 film starring Justine Bateman, Julia Roberts, Liam Neeson, and a bunch of other people. Julia Roberts caught my eye on the movie poster, Liam Neeson lent this a shred of credibility, but it was Justine Bateman who drew me in. I love her and I want to go back to 1988 and marry her, but I realize I’ll have to settle for this movie instead.

Justine is the lead singer of a rock band. They spend the first few minutes of the movie proving how tough they are. This includes: throwing a jay-walking citation in the trash and ripping the radio antenna off of their car to use as a weapon.

And why is this weapon necessary? They’re engaged in a turf war with some teenage boys because they “popped” a vending machine over on Freemont.

Well, like how are you going to listen to the radio now?

But actually this is really high stakes. This dude pulls a knife and one of the girls has to whip his hand with the radio antenna. And then he hits their van with his van and their van ends up in the river. (But don’t worry, the girls jump out just in time.)

So what kind of music does this tough-girl band play?

They play covers of late 60’s music. Justine plays the cowbell. She also does all of her own singing. (It’s not great.)


Also, they’re so hardcore that their guitarist is addicted to (check-it) MARIJUANA! (I sense an intervention to follow.) The first major conflict in this film is that the bar they’re supposed to play at is closed on the first night of their summer-long gig.

So they go to some random house where I guess the bar owner lives? I have no idea. But they’re greeted by an angry Doberman Pinscher, so the stoned guitarist sings him “Amazing Grace” until he is docile. Ohhhh okay, so this is Liam Neeson’s house. He has a lot of Gold Records and is apparently in charge of the auditioning bands for this bar residency.

los-10-chicas-mas-sexys-de-las-historietas8-pngHOLD ON A MINUTE. I felt like the stoned guitarist had such a familiar voice. It turns out that she is the singing voice of Jem!! Maybe I judged this movie too hard. Plus, the stoned guitarist is also on pills, so they’re starting to raise the dramatic stakes.

Fake-Jem is the best part of this movie. Well, pretty much no one else has a character. Actually, she doesn’t really either since her whole character is a drug-addict gimmick. But she really won me over when she had a long discussion with the Doberman Pinscher about how he may be a narc because he wasn’t interested in her pot.

familytiesbandontherun-0212Ugh, now I’m listening to Justine Bateman butcher “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Really, if they were going to nominate a Family Ties cast member to head up a girl rock group movie, it should have been Tina Yothers.

Um then Justine Bateman (who cannot swim) jumps into the water after Liam Neeson (who is clearly not drowning). And now she’s only wearing his shirt. And they’re playing that light 80’s hookup music. But like this movie just clearly stated that she graduated from high school RIGHT before coming to this rich dude’s house.

Omg I just saw Justine Bateman’s underwear which means Liam Neeson probably just saw Justine Bateman’s underwear too. But then she goes upstairs to change into her now-dry jeans. And she’s just like asleep in the bed. (Oh yeah, he’s making all of the band members sleep in a crappy cabin that is mostly full of fishing poles.) And then Liam Neeson just goes downstairs to write a song.

Oh thank goodness, we cut to fake-Jem singing “Mr. Big Stuff.” This is by far their best cover song so far. This also comes with a montage of them having fun on the beach, including but not limited to Justine Bateman and Liam Neeson horesback riding in the surf.

MSDSATI FE001But actually, this is the worst script ever. It’s so horrible. Although, they did manage to get Debbie Harry to make a cameo. She’s Liam Neeson’s friend who acts all icy to Justine Bateman. But he’s all like noooo it’s not like that. So he and Justine make out and then we have to endure her singing over an acoustic guitar in which a lyric is actually “like the birds sing to be free talk to me.”

Poor Fake-Jem overdoses. Ugh nooo she’s the only character I care about. Why, cruel world???? While she recovers, the rest of the group disposes of all of her drugs. She wakes up and discovers this and can only yell, “You mothers!” (Because anything else would have been too much for the PG-13 rating.

Ugh, okay so how can I sum up this awful script:
Liam Neeson breaks things off with Justine Bateman and she freaks out and doesn’t want to go to school or tour with her band. So the band decides to prove to her that they are there for her. The drug addict says, “I’m not gonna kill myself no more.” And Julia Roberts says, “I’m blowing off Frankie” (who is the boyfriend she’s been talking about marrying for like the past 30 minutes straight).

But then the dude whose van they stole (oops yeah they stole a van, did I mention that?) shows up to basically murder them. Also, the tour guy only wants Justine to tour and sing with studio musicians. But that’s seriously the least plausible part of this crapy-film because Fake-Jem is the only one with any musical talent in this group.

MSDSATI FE002So Justine goes back to the city to go to college and hang out with her band. She tells Liam that she’s keeping his shirt and by forever. I guess that worked out for the best since she’s like eighteen and he’s like thirty-four and them moving in together like she wanted would have been a disaster.

Oh okay, this was brought to you by NBC, the same people who brought you Family Ties. So that explains a lot.

Very Special Lesson: Don’t watch this movie. If you think “Hey, that doesn’t sound half bad,” watch Girls Just Want to Have Fun instead.

A, My Name Is Alex (Family Ties)

This episode opens with Jennifer explaining to the youngest Keaton son that Alex’s friend, Greg has died and that everyone else is at the funeral. So right from the beginning, it’s a downer. It’s not quite what I’d expect from Family Ties, but here we go.

Soon the rest of the Keaton’s arrive home and Alex is busy cracking jokes. He says how great the funeral was, which is important because “the dead have an image problem.” But we quickly learn that these jokes are all a thinly veiled coping mechanism for Alex’s guilt.  Alex would have been in the car accident with his friend, except that he was too selfish to help move a piano. Incidentally, this selfishness turned out to be a lifesaver.

Oh Greg, we hardly/never knew ye

Apparently, Alex and Greg were so close that Alex delivered Greg’s eulogy. (That’s so interesting because I don’t remember ever hearing about Greg before.) Soon Alex begins hallucinating that Greg is back in ghost form. (Not only is he grieving, but he also stayed up all night writing that eulogy and hasn’t slept.)

Now, I would assume you might call a priest in a time like this, but Alex invites a monk into his home. I wouldn’t know where to find a monk if I tried. Are there monasteries just hanging out in suburban America and you can call them up and request that a monk come and sit with you? That appears to be the case here.

But Alex decides he doesn’t really want to be a monk (he’s not ready to give up the ladies) and soon he’s back to hallucinating conversations with Greg. He even makes him a sandwich. But when Mallory finds him talking to himself in the kitchen, he has a total meltdown. Michael J. Fox is such a good actor. He’s truly phenomenal and deserved so much better than the crappy writing on The Michael J. Fox Show. He makes this episode incredibly powerful when it could have easily been overwrought and clunky.

But that’s when things turn into experimental theater. And it’s like kind of weird for a family sitcom, even with Michael J. Fox’s exceptional skill. Actually, it’s like super weird. He’s just sitting in an arm chair in front of a free-hanging window talking straight to the camera (on off screen psychologist).

And then things kind of turn into a really depressing “Carousel of Progress.” Little vignettes with Alex’s friends and family pop up behind him and he jumps into the scenes. This is not to say that the writing is bad– the two-part episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series–but rather that the change in the storytelling method is just as jarring (if not more so) than the subject matter itself.


Although bizarre at first, I think that the change in narrative style works in this episode’s favor and keeps it from falling into trite “very special episode” pitfalls. It’s obvious that the Family Ties writers knew they could get away with this with Michael J. Fox carrying the show, so instead of an after-school special we get an emotional tour de force on grief and self-actualization.

“A, My Name is Alex” is best described as Family Ties re-imagining itself as a different kind of show for 1 random hour, which is kinda cool in it’s own right. Ultimately, Alex has to decide what he believes and what feels right to him about his place in the world now that he is alive and his friend isn’t. I feel like I cannot reiterate enough how terrible this episode could have been if carried out by a less capable cast. But luckily we have (national treasure) Michael J. Fox. And for Fox’s exceptional skill reason alone, this episode is totally worth the watch.

Very Special Lesson: Grief can cause us to lose our way or it can be an opportunity to find ourselves more deeply than we had before.

Family Ties: Rain Forests Keep Fallin’ on My Head

First of all, isn’t rainforest one word? Secondly, it’s really cool that youngest child Jennifer wants to rid the family home of 80’s toxins. This was before we removed formaldehyde from our hair conditioners, people! But she doesn’t know how to accurately dispose of any of the waste.

She forces Mallory to stop using her conditioner. The results are not pretty.
She forces Mallory to stop using her conditioner. The results are not pretty.

She gets depressed and ends up talking to a parakeet about the Brazilian rainforest. Her parents try to help her relax by watching a baseball game on TV, but there is a breaking news update on the Exxon Valdez (ripped from the headlines!) and she runs upstairs on the verge of tears. Jennifer gets like super, super depressed and decides that life is pointless because the environment is in danger.

Jennifer sporting her post-industrial look.
Jennifer sporting her post-industrial look.

Her parents convince her to see the school counselor and she ends up freaking him out. By the end of their session he totally agrees with her and feels like there is nothing they can do and that life is over and depressing.Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 9.43.07 PMScreen Shot 2014-11-15 at 9.43.15 PM

Luckily, Jennifer has two ex-hippie parents who know how to rally a depressed activist. They tell her that things seemed bleak and hopeless when they tried to save the whales. They encourage her to join Greenpeace or Sierra Club. They also use the pet parakeet to makes sure there’s no Radon in the basement.

Very Special Lesson: Don’t freak out. Join a club.