Thursday, January 31, 2008

Outstanding achievement in family programming

My Netflix community knows that I have been indulging in 70s TV, and have recently re-discovered the wonder that is Spelling/Goldberg's & Mike Nichols's (Mike Nichols? no kidding?) brown-corduroy celebration of repressed emotion known simply as "family." In lower case.
The 70's was not in fact the Me Decade. It was the Woe is Me Decade.

This titling technique was tried later with thirtysomething, the story of what people who grew up watching family turned into.

If you are remembering Family as schmaltzy, contempo-Waltons where everyone hugs at the end, you are mixing it up with Apple's Way (Vince van Patten! Vince van Patten!). The Lawrence family were much angrier.
As evidenced by the pilot episode, summarized here for your reading pleasure.

Dissatified law student Nancy Lawrence has left her husband and infant son after catching the former in bed with another woman. She comes home to her family, which consist of full-of-regret mother Kate, this-is-not-my-father's-marriage father Doug, high school drop out Willie, and perpetual tomboy Buddy. All of whom wear signature hats. Meredith Baxter would join this cast later as a smarter softer Nancy. Kristy McNichol's character aged almost too well, forcing the producers to Cousin Oliver sassy Quinn Cummings, who then never worked in this town again.

Family was not technically "family" television. It was actually on at 10pm, peak adult time, and may explain some of the jaw-dropping dialogue, though the plots are not anything we couldn't see in an afterschool special.

The Tuesday night lineup was skewed toward ABC in 1976. You started there for Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, but at 9, ABC put on Rich Man-Poor Man. Part two. (like, I am so sure) The prudent viewer would crank over to CBS for M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. (Even the Lawrences watched Mary Tyler Moore.) But at 10pm, back to ABC for the somber cello notes of the family theme song.

Highlights from the pilot episode. These are not joke captions. This is the real plot.

Brother and sister discuss the unimportance of early-developed breasts, which Buddy does not have.

Willie is so cool, he lets Buddy drive. Note the position of that "safety belt" under her arm. She is also sitting on her math book. Later she will steal the '74 Maverick and be brought home by the police -- not because of the spat over dinner when her father makes a veiled threat to spank her, but because she manages to overhear that her father had an affair 20 years ago, and.... that she was almost aborted.

Well that is a lot to take when you haven't had your dessert. And it is only 10:15.

While Buddy is being rounded up for questioning, Mother and pregnant Elder Daughter are having a heart-to-heart about adultery and abortion, over cocktails.

Note the placement of guest cigarettes. I used to fantasize of my swinging bachelorette pad as having whimsical table lighters and groovy ashtrays at every turn.

KATE: You don't sacrifice a family and a marriage, if it is a marriage, to hurt pride, Nancy.

Livvie Walton would not have said that.

Buddy is finally brought home from the precinct, and is not spanked, because her parents realized she overheard the whole thing, and instead she gets a headful of bitter Kate wisdom.

KATE: Sometimes when a woman is having a baby, you're not the one in control...Sometimes just for a minute or two, sometimes a little longer... you panic, and think you don't want it.

Enjoy high school, Buddy.

My other favorite Kate line she says to her husband Doug: "I found out I don't give a damn what happened 20 years ago. Just habit -- to throw it up to you every few years."

Lest you think the pilot was a bit "off," in the second episode, Kate has a cancer scare and a heart warming mother-son moment where they both admit they don't want to talk about it.

I intend to swallow this entire On-Cor entree of post-war frustration for as long as the discs hold out. You can look forward to many updates on character development. But I am not renting Rich Man-Poor Man Book II, no matter how much you beg.


  1. I think my brother had a Kristy McNichol poster. Where is SHE now? Probably living a normal life somewhere... as far as I know she never got caught with no panties by papparazzo or spent a lot of time in hair weaves.

    Tangent:: Have you seen the Fail Blog yet?

  2. My linky no worky?


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