Family Ties “A, My Name is Alex” (part 5 of 5)
And that brings us to a completely gratuitous appearance by Mallory’s boyfriend Nick, one of the breakout characters of the later seasons. He wanders onto the experimental theater set in his low rent Rambo outfit, indulging in his usual sub-Stallone antics with a big, “Eyyyy… Al-ex!”
Alex wants to know what he’s doing here. Um, because at the time, Family Ties was quickly turning into The Nick Show? Mike, you’re just lucky the show ended before he Urkel-ized all of you. Nick explains that he’s here because “Dese all the people in your life! I’m in your life!”
Understandably, Alex doesn’t want to use up valuable therapy time talking about Nick. Nick is offended in his usual, Rocky-lite, mangled English way: “You don’t think I ain’t got nothin’ to teach you?”
But Alex reassures/mocks him with, “No, Nick, I don’t think you ain’t got nothing to teach me.” This causes Mrs. Leahy to freak out over on the classroom set, and she turns around in her chair to scold Alex for his bad grammar. Oh good, now I’m watching figments of a guy’s imagination fighting with each other. Somebody kill me.
Nick takes off, but not before insisting that he does in fact represent some part of Alex’s psyche. Or words to that effect, anyway. Just insert lots of “dese” and “dose” and you’ll have a good idea of how Nick puts it.
And then, with absolutely no warning whatsoever, Alex starts lip syncing to Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”. No, I’m serious. This is what we’ve come to. Michael J. Fox lamely playing air guitar, and painfully trying to rock out to “Born to be Wild”… while wearing a tie. What is… I mean I don’t even… They were just completely out of ideas at this point, weren’t they?
His parents are suddenly intruding on his spotlight, which I guess is supposed to be his bedroom. Alex mimes turning off a stereo, telling them he was just studying. It seems they’re here to beam over his latest report card, and again drill into our heads how much of a genius he is. But then Mallory’s set lights up, and she knows Alex wasn’t studying. She knows he was actually listening to Steppenwolf and “Jim Morrison and the Doors”. Alex says Greg is the one who likes the Doors, not him.
Abruptly, Greg is here, and now the two guys are having Impromptu Hairbrush Karaoke (yes!! I finally got to use it!!) to “Light My Fire”. Alas, there’s plenty of time to wallow in the mire of this episode. Now the two guys are back to back, lip syncing, and it’s all kind of… well, I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten this physically intimate with my guy friends in my bedroom. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. But maybe there’s a very good reason Alex misses Greg so much.
The music ends, and Greg says he’s gotta go. Suddenly, Alex freaks out and tells Greg, “Stay here with me in this room forever!” Greg is taken aback, and randomly mentions that they’re both 14, but Alex says that “in a blink, you’re gonna be 21 like me!” He also warns Greg that he’ll be killed in a car accident. Now just hold on there, Marty. What would Doc Brown say about meddling in the timeline like this? (Yeah, yeah, I know: “What the hell?”)
Alex is all Don’t go! Don’t go! And in response, Greg… wisely goes. And now Alex is on the floor and screaming. “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
And then, for no particular reason, there’s a rotating shot around Alex and the black box set, giving us glimpses of the rest of the cast as their respective parts of the set light up. Each player gets to impart a pithy final quote.
Jennifer: I’m just a kid.
Mrs. Leahy: You’re special.
Steven: Keep trying. Play fair.
Elyse: We’re proud of you, honey.
Skippy: [still in Cub Scout uniform] Lie down. Take a nap.
Cue big laughs on that last line, and then everybody but Alex fades to black. And please don’t ask me what any of that was all about.
But there’s one cast member left who has yet to be a part of this little play. I’m sure you noticed, right? Yes, Little Andrew now runs out in his Garanimals, mumbling his way through a line where he asks Alex why he’s on the floor crying. Andrew wonders if Alex has an “owie”, and asks if he can kiss it and make it better.
And that is apparently all the live theater the kid can handle, because he runs off, saying he’s going to go scam some hot chocolate from Mom. And in our obligatory “which sibling does Andy take after more” moment of the episode, Andy fakes a sneeze and gives Alex a big thumbs up.
Alex points at Andy and tells the therapist that was him “17 years ago”, and you’re never going to convince me it’s normal to have siblings this far apart in age. Alex says seeing Andrew makes him think about what it’s all worth, which somehow leads to this.
Well, that’s why you’re a true nature’s child, Alex! You can climb so high, never gonna die! Or so I am told.
I’d love to examine all of this more deeply, I really would, but I honestly don’t see the point. I mean, it’s a freaking episode of Family Ties.
To be honest, I kind of hate how anybody with even the slightest creative impulse thinks that to become a true artiste, they have to make some grand statement about death and mortality and the nature of human existence. Because the thing is, not everybody is cut out to make a big statement about mortality. Not every writer can be Don Delillo. And that’s perfectly fine.
Nobody goes to see a Star Trek movie for William Shatner’s ruminations on death and the meaning of life, and I sure as hell never watched Family Ties for Gary David Goldberg’s ruminations on death and the meaning of life. Sometimes, as an artist, you have to accept that a lot of other, more talented people already have that whole subject area covered, and maybe you’d be better off doing something you’re good at. Like, you know, making people laugh, which I used to think was the whole point of a sitcom.
The Off-Screen Therapist again asks Alex if he believes in God. Alex replies, “That’s what this all comes down to, right?” I… guess?
Alex heads back to the therapist’s office set, saying he’s torn. If there is a god, that would mean there’s a “master plan” where Greg’s death makes sense. “The analytical side of me says no!” He wanders past the kitchen set, where Steven and Elyse are sitting with Andy, and Skippy is still hanging out in his Cub Scout uniform. Alex pontificates that the world is full of “miraculous things… phenomena of nature”, such as “mountains… and oceans… and Skippy getting dressed by himself!” Damn, Skippy. You just got served.
He finally turns to the therapist to say, “The answer is yes!”
Yes, Alex does believe in God, but “not a mean, angry god”, and “not a groovy god, like Mallory’s god”, with “matching sweatpants and headband”. He doesn’t think God is like Brother Timothy’s god, either, because he can’t believe God meant him to “stay away from girls”. He adds, “If he did, he wouldn’t have made me so cute.” Okay, the line is mildly funny, but I don’t think it really deserves the huge reaction it’s getting from the audience/laugh track. Perhaps they’re just as bored as I am.
Alex believes in a god that is gentle, forgiving, thoughtful, and apparently some type of shape shifter. “One day he’s a dolphin, the next day, he’s trading shares on Wall Street!” Alex then suggests that some days, God gets mixed up, and goes to “Wall Street as a dolphin!” Um. Run that by me again? By any chance, are the antidepressants already kicking in?
The therapist is surprised that a “bottom-line guy” like Alex believes in God. Apparently, this is some huge epiphany for Alex, to take this leap of faith, because he only believes in stuff he can prove.
He says he can’t change the fact that Greg is dead, but he can “keep his memory alive”. He can take everything great about Greg and “make it my own”. Sounds like a plan. Maybe he can be a huge dick just like Greg and ask his friends to help move a piano.
Then comes Michael J. Fox’s final big acting moment, where he’s all but begging for the Emmy.
Cue the laugh track on that last part. Of course. Even an episode as important as this one needs an “Alex loves money” joke every 30 seconds, at least.
Alex says that if God didn’t want him to make money, He “wouldn’t have made me so smart!” Oh, come on. Now they’re just recycling jokes from two minutes ago!
Alex is now all fired up and raring to go. Which means… he wants to talk. What does he call all the stuff he was doing up until now? And how long is this session, anyway? But all his barriers are finally down, and he’s ready to do this for real. He has a lot on his mind, and doesn’t know where to start, so the therapist tells him to start at the beginning.
Michael J. Fox stares soulfully into the camera and says, “My name is Alex Keaton.” Cut to black. Nailed it! See you in September at the Emmys, suckers! Cue the credits, sha la la, and sit, Ubu, sit, good dog.
Yeah, that was… that. After a lot of filler and unfunny jokes, we found out in the final five minutes that the whole point of this episode was Alex proclaiming his belief in God. Which would have been just a bit more meaningful if we’d ever seen him questioning his belief in God before.
Oh, well. I guess I have to at least give the Family Ties writers some points for trying. I doubt any sitcoms today would ever dare to be this forthright about matters of faith and spirituality. Somehow, I can’t imagine an episode of Two and a Half Men devoted to Charlie’s quest for meaning in an uncaring universe. Though I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.
For a brief time, it seemed as if “A, My Name is Alex” was going to inspire other shows to push the boundaries and break the fourth wall. Alas, nobody ever took up the gauntlet that “A, My Name is Alex” threw down. I honestly can’t recall any other sitcom going full VSE like this in the ensuing years. It’s almost like everyone saw that the Very Special Episode had been pushed to its limits, had gone its Very-est and its Special-iest, and there was really nowhere to go from there.
Maybe it was this episode, right here, that led to the sitcom renaissance of the 1990s. Of course, I’m not claiming the Very Special Episode died the next day; the world still had Blossom to look forward to, after all. But it does feel like the beginning of the end of an era.
So, despite not saying much and not being terribly funny, this episode really was a watershed moment in the American sitcom. Because nobody, but nobody ever wanted to make another sitcom episode as important! as “A, My Name is Alex”.