Family Ties “Band on the Run” (part 1 of 2)
Wow, are we up to season 5 already? I guess it helps that I completely skipped over season 4 of Family Ties, a season notable for many things, including Justine Bateman inexplicably being nominated for an Emmy (for acting), a cheesy TV movie featuring the whole Keaton family going to England, and the writers realizing that after Meredith Baxter’s pregnancy was written into the show, they were now stuck with a baby in the cast who couldn’t contribute to any of the storylines and was basically dead weight on every episode.
To solve that problem, they crafted an ingenious solution. They magically aged little Andrew Keaton by about three years between season 4 and season 5, in the process adding child actor Brian Bonsall to the cast. Now, not only would Andrew be able to talk, but he’d bring back that “cute kid” dynamic sorely missing ever since Tina Yothers hit puberty. Brilliant!
Except, from the episodes I’ve seen featuring a rapidly-aged Andrew, the kid really doesn’t do much of anything. It seems he’s mostly there to look cute and toss out precocious one-liners every now and then, surely with a lot of prompting from his off-camera stage mom.
Also, Andrew’s presence is a real distraction, in that the whole time I’m watching him, I’m wondering how the hell two sons can have the same parents and be born 20 years apart. Then again, Alex and Mallory were high school age when this show started, and after seven seasons, they were both still living at home. So a lot of things on Family Ties don’t add up for me.
After Family Ties ended, Brian Bonsall went on to play Worf’s son, at least until that character was also rapidly and inexplicably aged. In the years since, Bonsall has lived up to every cliché you’ve ever heard about former child actors, being arrested on several occasions for DUI, assault, and less than two weeks prior to this writing, violating his parole by using marijuana.
Between this, Michael J. Fox getting Parkinson’s, Justine Bateman playing her brother’s love interest, and Meredith Baxter turning lesbian, I would absolutely kill to see a Family Ties reunion TV movie.
Having a new cast member means the producers had to shell out the cash for brand new opening credits. Gone is the painting of the Keatons, replaced with a framed photo of the entire family, along with individual photos of each cast member. There’s even a little joke where the frame around Michael J. Fox’s photo is embossed with Alex’s initials.
And yet, almost all of the episode clips shown between the cast photos are exactly the same as the previous seasons, despite Tina Yothers clearly being much older. They couldn’t at least spring for some new hugging?
Sha la la laaa…
At the start of the episode, Mallory is at the kitchen table reading Andrew the story of Cinderella, and I swear I had to rewind this three times to understand what the hell Andrew even says here. According to little Andy, Alex thinks the “prince is silly” to marry Cinderella, because she doesn’t have any money. Oh, that Alex, always thinking about money. That’s Alex, alright!
So Mallory tells Andrew to cover his ears whenever Alex talks. This was a running gag on the show at the time, this constant rivalry over which sibling Andrew would take after the most. As you can see here, it was never really all that funny.
With the sibling antagonism quota for the episode met, Steven enters and asks Elyse (now safely back in this dimension!) which outfit she likes better: his suit, or the pink and blue tutu he then pulls out from behind his suit.
Mallory explains the tutu is for a “fashion project” for her “sales and marketing class”. If that’s true, then I believe a pink and blue tutu calls for an automatic fail.
Mallory says she needed more closet space, so she moved her dad’s clothes to other, random parts of the house. She explains that Andy is “still in his formative wardrobe years” and needs his closet, and Alex “charges too much rent”, and also, her dad doesn’t need to worry about looking good because “you’ve reached that age”. Good old Mallory, just as much of a callous bitch as ever. Sorry. I mean, just as much of an Emmy-nominated callous bitch as ever. Also, this, I’m sorry to say, is our B plot.
Then Alex comes home, and the A plot is that he’s heading up the “entertainment committee” for “homecoming weekend” at Leland College. Because when I want entertainment, I call up the guy who carries a briefcase to class. He says they have all sorts of events lined up, including “Bobbing for Money” and a “Guess Your Classmate’s Income” booth. You know what? I think Alex likes money! But there’s a problem, which is that the band they hired to perform at the dance backed out at the last minute.
And here’s Jennifer, sidling up to Alex to suggest that he hire the band she’s in, which is called “The Permanent Waves”, which I’m fairly confident was not inspired by the Rush album. I think the band would have been around a lot longer had they called themselves “The Tina Yothers Experience”.
Alex just scoffs, because apparently Jennifer has been involved in all sorts of failed musical ventures in her life, including “The New Keaton Minstrels” and “Keaton and Garfunkel”. Performing with Tina Yothers was definitely not beneath Art Garfunkel in the mid-‘80s. A man’s gotta eat. But Jennifer says her new band is different from all that, and eventually, she convinces Alex to let the Permanent Waves audition for homecoming.
Okay, I have to say this because there’s no way to not say this, but by this point in the show’s run, Tina Yothers had clearly grown out of being a somewhat cute kid, into an awkwardly aging ball of raging hormones. She was obviously having problems with her weight (hey, I watched her season of Celebrity Fit Club, and I’m not saying anything Tina wouldn’t admit herself), and on top of that, it seems the wardrobe department saw fit to constantly put her in outfits with ridiculously broad shoulder pads, making her look like a linebacker. For Tina, the latter years of Family Ties must have been like having your worst-ever yearbook picture broadcast to the world.
In the next scene, we’re at Leland College for the homecoming audition, and the band currently auditioning is “The Polka Boys”, who are wearing the expected plaid blazers, and the lead musician is playing the expected accordion. And they might just be the whitest band on earth, despite strong competition from the Barenaked Ladies. They finish up their number, and everyone in the audience looks bored, but Alex is convinced they’ve found their band and everyone else can go home.
Jennifer’s standing there with the other three girls in the Permanent Waves. She complains they’ve been waiting all day to audition. So Alex relents and they go set up, and it seems the Keatons’ dorky next door neighbor Skippy is also here. How can it be that this is the first time I’ve had to talk about Irwin “Skippy” Handelman, even though he’s been a recurring character going all the way back to season one?
So, the first thing you need to know about Skippy is, he’s a dork. And… actually, that’s about all you need to know about Skippy, especially given the amount of screen time and dialogue he gets in this episode.
Skippy is carrying some random piece of audio equipment, and he explains to Alex that he’s taken on the vital role of the band’s “advisor”.
Just then, the keyboard player says, “Skippy, if you don’t get that thing up here, you’re fired!” And as it so happens, the keyboard player is Christina Applegate, just a few months shy of the premiere of Married with Children. But don’t get too excited, because unlike other before-they-were-famous guest stars on this show, Christina only gets two lines in the entire episode. And she doesn’t go on to win an Oscar.
But wait! That’s not all: the band’s guitar player is played by Rainbow “Rain” Phoenix, who’s had some acting roles here and there, but you know her best as the sister of River, Joaquin, Summer, and Liberty. She gets one line.
This star-studded band is in place up on stage, and a drum machine kicks in, and the beat is a cheap, synthetic imitation of the famous Motown beat you’ve heard on a dozen Supremes records. The whole band starts shimmying and grooving, and Rainbow Phoenix is strumming away, and yet, I don’t actually hear any guitar on this song.
Come to think of it, despite the Permanent Waves also having a drummer, I don’t hear any real drums, either. The whole song is nothing but cheesy synthesizers, drum machines, and the voice of Tina Yothers.
Tina starts lip syncing, and mimes an entire song for us. It seems that at the time, Tina Yothers was trying to start a singing career, and this is one of the songs she recorded. However, I can find no evidence that she ever released a full album. I’m pretty sure her “singing career” was limited to one single. (Of course, I’m referring to her attempt at a solo singing career in the ‘80s, and not the alternative rock band [!] she formed in the early 2000s.)
I’m guessing the producers of Family Ties felt bad for Tina, seeing as how they made her go on TV during the most awkward years of her adolescence, and dressed her like a linebacker, and added a younger kid to the cast when she stopped being cute, so they figured they might as well throw her a bone and let her do one of her terrible songs on the show.
The song is called (I’m guessing, because there are no song credits at the end of this episode) “Perfect Girl”, and it’s totally forgettable. And the whole “band” is far more focused on doing their choreographed ‘80s dance moves, complete with lots of crazy shoulder action, than pretending to play their instruments. Okay, I’ll admit, Christina is actually sorta moving her fingers over the keyboard, but Rainbow just keeps listlessly strumming away, with her fingers holding the same chord the entire time.
And as if all this weren’t embarrassing enough, we also have to endure Skippy up on stage, doing geeky dance moves to the song. It’s all just so very horrible in every possible way. Eventually, Skippy trips over a cord, which shuts off the tape player—I mean, the live performance.
Well, that was one way to deal with having to lip sync a song with a slow fadeout. When Greg Evigan was on Pink Lady and Jeff, they just made the audience clap really loud to cover up the fadeout. Presumably at gunpoint.
Jennifer looks annoyed with Skippy, but the whole audience loved the performance. Yes, despite the song being an awful slab of bubblegum pop totally unsuitable for a college crowd, everyone in the audience was into it. Some guy tells Alex they’ll be perfect for the homecoming dance.
Alex replies, “Take it easy, they’re not the Polka Boys!” Very few of us are. Alex immediately tells the Permanent Waves that they’ll need “proper guidance” and “career management” to be a success, and he offers himself as the only one who can provide these services. Jennifer says, “Please, Alex, we’re just teenagers trying to get through puberty!” Some more successfully than others.
Back at the Keaton house, Steven is wandering around in his underwear, unable to find his clothes. See, it’s the subplot where Mallory moved his clothes around, which I’m sure you already forgot about. He complains that it’s “winter in Ohio, and I’d like a little more… insulation”. But it’s all okay, because Mallory drew up a map to show him where all his clothes are.
Mallory finally remembers she “temporarily” put his pants in Andy’s toy chest. Andy suddenly perks up and says, “Those were Daddy’s pants?” Then he excuses himself to go run upstairs, and I don’t want to know what he did with those pants. Maybe he’s hiding his weed in them.
Enter Alex, who’s waiting for Jennifer and the other girls to finish getting ready for their concert tonight. Contrary to what you might be thinking, tonight is not the night of the homecoming concert. Instead, Alex has booked them for a series of other concerts to prepare them for the big time, otherwise known as playing Leland College. Well, I’m assuming that’s what Alex is going for here. The episode never makes it clear.
Alex says he’s now the band’s manager, and he even made them all sign a contract. Elyse and Mallory examine the contract and ask him about all the various line items, which Alex explains are his “agent’s fee”, “manager’s fee”, “finder’s fee and keeper’s fee”, and also his “fee fee”. And I know in my heart that someday Alex P. Keaton will become a high-level executive at my bank, which charges me $2.35 every time I even think about talking to a teller.
Then the girls in the Permanent Waves come downstairs, and it’s quite the transformation. At Alex’s behest, they’re all dressed in ridiculous ‘50s style chiffon dresses and elbow length white gloves.
And I have to say, Christina Applegate does not look bad in this outfit. But at that point in time, she looked good in just about anything. And also at this point in time too, come to think of it. Tina Yothers is a much different story. This is where I start to think they could have done her some favors, and not cast a whole bunch of tiny little girls to be her costars. Next to the rest of the group, Tina looks massive. She looks like she could body slam all of them at one time.
Also, Tina is the only one in the group who’s not showing any skin. For unclear reasons, she’s actually wearing a flesh-colored bodysuit under her dress. I can only imagine what that was all about, but the poor, poor girl.
Guess what? Alex even has a name change in mind for the group. Instead of the Permanent Waves, he wants them to be the “Swinging Corporate Raiders”. He pulls out a sign showing the new name, which has a dollar sign in it, meaning they’re actually the “$winging Corporate Raiders”. And for maximum comic effect, the sign even features a picture of Alex front and center, with the actual members of the band pushed off to the sides.
I don’t even get this. “$winging Corporate Raiders”? What the heck does that have to do with four teenage girls in chiffon? Oh, right, Alex likes money. For a minute there, I almost forgot that three-quarters of the jokes on any given Family Ties episode can be boiled down to “Alex likes money”.