Apr 3, 2018
Family Ties “A, My Name is Alex” (part 3 of 5)
Back from break, Alex is indeed getting the help he needs, in the form of a therapist. Well, sort of. You see, the therapist’s office set is a bit unusual by sitcom standards. It’s really nothing more than a threadbare suggestion of a therapist’s office. All we see is a leather chair, a window frame, and an unattached wall of diplomas, all floating in the middle of empty blackness.
You might recognize this look from, oh, I don’t know… every college play you’ve ever seen. That’s right, this episode has taken an abrupt turn into experimental theater hell. Either that, or Alex’s therapist is Orson. Actually, that could be possible, because we never see the therapist in this episode, and we only hear his voice from off-screen.
Alex starts off by telling the off-screen therapist his name, his age, and his double major of business and economics. Actually, he confesses that he’s “majoring in money”, and money has been a “passion” of his since he was a kid.
The therapist’s voice wants to talk about his childhood. Alex then gives precious insight into his formative years, saying he did the same things as other kids. He liked to color, finger-paint, and “play the stock market”. Which makes sense when you think about it. I hear second graders invested heavily in mortgage-backed securities in 2008.
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But that’s not all; when Alex was in preschool, the other kids used to blindfold him, then drop coins in a piggy bank, and Alex could identify the different coins based on their sounds. Alex speaks in rapturous tones about the “deep bass” of a quarter, and the “sweet squish of a dollar bill… smoosh”. Off screen, the therapist drops a pocketful of change, and Alex identifies the exact coins, apparently correctly. Cue up the laugh track to “big, huge guffaw”.
Now that we’ve hit this segment’s quota of “Alex loves money” jokes, the off-screen voice brings up the subject of Alex’s mom, who says he’s been troubled by visions, and he’s not eating or sleeping.
Alex says that’s not true, and suddenly, part of the set over his left shoulder lights up. Meredith Baxter-Birney stands below a spotlight on the bare suggestion of a “kitchen” set, which is nothing but a refrigerator, table, and half a stove. Behold, the magic of black box theatre!
Elyse turns to Alex and says he’s a “seven year old boy” who needs his sleep. And with that, Alex gets up and walks over to the pseudo-kitchen set, instantly regressing into the mannerisms of a seven year old. Okay, not really. Michael J. Fox is actually just doing his usual shtick, just with a slightly higher voice. As you’re about to see, Michael’s repeated attempts to regress into childhood throughout the episode aren’t exactly what I would classify as “Emmy-worthy”. Or even “barely trying”.
Seven Year Old Alex says he couldn’t sleep because he was going over “the transcripts”. He says, “I found a flaw in John Dean’s testimony!” In case you don’t get what he’s referring to, there’s also a Nixon lunch box on the table, and Elyse complains about the phone bill from Alex calling the White House too much.
In case you still haven’t figured out what they’re talking about, Alex even wants to stay home from school to watch the “hearings”. Then he picks up a newspaper and says, “Oh, mommy, my president is being impeached!” Okay, I think we got it. They’re talking about Watergate. Watergate! For fuck’s sake, we got it!
And then Skippy enters, regressed to Little Skippy. And while everyone else in the “flashback” is wearing their usual clothes, they have Skippy in a disturbingly short, tight Cub Scout outfit. Thanks for that, guys.
Skippy’s here to walk to school with Alex, and Elyse bets that Skippy wasn’t up all night worrying about Watergate. Naturally, Skippy has no clue what she’s talking about. She then asks how much sleep he got last night.
Skippy: Nineteen hours.
Sweet. I have lots of days like that, myself. They usually happen after I endure important, socially conscious sitcom episodes. But Alex insists he has no time to sleep, because he’s got Cub Scout stuff, as well as the “Kiddie Chamber of Commerce” to deal with, and he’s skipping breakfast so he can head to school right now. So, what happened to wanting to stay home and watch the Watergate hearings?
Elyse yells, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” And as Alex wanders off the “kitchen” set, he picks up the cry and suddenly starts yelling, “Don’t go, Greg, don’t go!” So, I guess that was like a trigger phrase for Alex, causing him to remember the Greg thing, i.e., the whole reason he’s in therapy in the first place.
Alex stands alone under a spotlight, confessing that he could have “warned” Greg, somehow, about something, but they had a “fight”. Um. What? How did a “fight” suddenly become part of this story? And what exactly could he have “warned” Greg about, especially if it was just a car accident?
You know what? Alex’s story keeps changing. Is it possible he murdered Greg? Now that would’ve been a plot twist worthy of an Emmy.
Finally, Alex returns to the “therapist’s office” set and sits down. He says his mom is just being a mom, and that’s what moms do, they worry, right? The therapist goes, “I don’t know.” He doesn’t know? Worried moms are not exactly a controversial concept. I mean, it’s not like natural selection or climate change, we kind of know that moms worry.
Alex gets angry. He thinks that the disembodied voice is just playing coy, and he doesn’t like the guy’s “attitude”. Alex already knows how this will all play out: He’ll do all the talking and spill his guts, while the therapist will sit back silently and “be God”. Evidently, in Alex’s world, being God means pretending not to know anything. That’s pretty much how he says it.
But then, Alex goes over to the unattached wall and sees the therapist has a diploma from Grant College. This prompts him to do some shtick around how this is the same school Mallory is attending, which would mean the therapist really doesn’t know anything. “Maybe you weren’t pretending!” I hope you find this funny, because it’ll be a relentless running gag for the rest of the episode.
Alex does more useless walking around the set, as the off-screen voice asks if he’d like to talk about his sister Mallory. Alex says sure, and voila! Another part of the black box lights up, and Justine Bateman is standing right there, ready for action!
Alex says he likes his sister Mallory a lot. Over on her “bedroom” set, Mallory says she appreciates him saying that. Alex comes over and says it’s true. He tells her he loves her and hugs her.
Then Mallory pantomimes looking into a mirror, and begins fixing her scarf. She says she has a hot date tonight. Alex asks who with… and it’s with Greg. Wait. Does this mean Mallory was having an affair with Greg before he died? This episode’s backstory is getting more and more intriguing by the minute. If this were an episode of Dateline, right about now we’d be learning Greg is actually alive and living in Mexico under an assumed name.
Alex is creeped out by this, and he reminds Mallory that Greg is dead. I think Alex is just jealous that he’s not the only one getting visits from Zombie Greg. But Mallory assures him, “Nobody ever dies, Alex, don’t be silly!”
She says, “Greg’s coming back in another life!” He’s coming back in another life, which… she has a date with tonight? Makes sense to me! Mallory says she believes in reincarnation, and Alex talks about how great that would be if it were actually true.
Mallory insists it is true, and Alex just needs to accept it. “Read Shirley MacLaine.” Nope, not a dated reference at all. As you’d expect, this line gets a big laugh.
Alex ponders the possibility of having multiple lives, and being able to come back and do things right and fix things the next time. In fact, in his next life he could “warn Nixon about the tapes”, which also gets a big canned laugh. Um, we’re talking reincarnation here, not time travel.
Mallory says if you’re a bad dresser in one life, in the next you could “come back as a designer”, which I guess is amusing, based on the audience response. So Alex flails out his hands in an oh dat krazy Mallory! sort of way.
He puts his arms around her and says it must be really easy being her. This prompts the off-screen therapist voice to ask Alex if it’s hard to be him.
Hey wait! I see a dimly lit Tina Yothers behind them, and her scene isn’t for another ten minutes. Was everybody just standing around, waiting for their cues, like a real play? That’s kind of… awesome, actually.
Alex tells Off-Screen Therapist to butt out, and then he asks Mallory what heaven is like. So, there’s a heaven, as well as multiple lives? But the therapist continues to badger Alex, asking why it’s so hard to be him.
Alex finally yells, “You know!” And in the syndicated version of this episode, this is where they put in a hard edit to end the first half hour. Like, practically right in the middle of Alex’s sentence, the show ends. If you saw this episode in syndication, or if you have the DVD, this is the shot you end “Part I” on:
But the episode originally aired in one hour long block, so I’m going right into “Part II”, where Alex continues on, explaining it’s hard to be him because he’s “better” and “smarter” than everyone else. As well as “faster” and “stronger”, I presume.
And that’s when another part of the set lights up, showing the bare suggestion of a classroom. And this shot has been interestingly set up so that the classroom is entirely within the frame of the therapist’s floating window. Well, I found it interesting, anyway. But then again, I’m really quite bored right now.
In the classroom, Alex’s second grade teacher Mrs. Leahy appears, calling on Alex. Randomly, Mallory is still lit up, and from her part of the set, she breaks in to say “it’s all so pretty” and Alex shouldn’t worry so much. Is she still talking about heaven? Even in Alex’s hallucinations, she doesn’t know when to shut up.