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!”

Caption contributed by Albert

“I’m here cuz you’re da disease! And I’m da cure!”

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.

Family Ties "A, My Name is Alex" (part 5 of 5)

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?

Caption contributed by Albert

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for this yet… But your kids are gonna love it.”

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.

Caption contributed by Albert

Air Supply sure did hit the skids.

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?”)

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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!

Family Ties "A, My Name is Alex" (part 5 of 5)

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.

Mallory: Don’t worry about it, Alex.
Nick: Eyyyy.
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.

Family Ties "A, My Name is Alex" (part 5 of 5)

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.

Caption contributed by Albert

“I’m gonna go do meth just like you! Because meth is kiiiiing!”

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.

Alex: I don’t wanna die. I don’t mean I don’t wanna die young. I don’t wanna die middle-aged. I don’t want to die old. I don’t want to die. Ever.

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?

Family Ties "A, My Name is Alex" (part 5 of 5)

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.

Alex: I can be the best Alex Keaton that I can be! And I can use the gifts! That I’ve been given! And I can take time to appreciate the beauty in this life! And I can… I can be gentle! And I can be… forgiving. And thoughtful. And I can make a lot of money!

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.

Family Ties "A, My Name is Alex" (part 5 of 5)

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”.

Multi-Part Article: Family Ties "A, My Name is Alex"

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  • MP

    well done!

  • Albert Giesbrecht

    I wonder if Alex was in the car accident, and was in purgatory for this entire episode. I know I was.

  • wckiii

    The fundamental problem with this episode is it was not a Very Special Episode to explore the death of a friend and coming to grips with grief. It was just a cynical attempt for Michael J. Fox to showcase his acting talents. Michael J. Fox wanted to prove that he was more than just some actor in a sitcom who can deliver one-liners. He wanted to do dramatic acting. So the producers came up with this disaster. It happened again later in the series when Justine Bateman wanted to do drama. So they conjured-up some long lost aunt who appears long enough to die just so Justine Bateman can emote in an overly-dramatic fashion. At least Meredith Baxter had the good sense not to appear in that episode and spared any quilt by association.

    • paulisse

      I’m just making clarifications here and no offense. fyi, the ‘drama’ that you were saying happened first in season 3’s episode, ‘Auntie Up’ and this episode came out in season 5. You may also say that but just so you know he won an award for that because he got great talents not only for a money lover sarcastic humor type but also for a realistic acting experience. This episode is worth something and can be taken as a lesson. It’d be a great reflection for people who felt the same way in real life. A my name is alex was very unique from the other episodes. As seen in this episode, the sitcom hit show just wanted to show the deep realities in one’s life in lighter manner and also to twist the show a bit for a change.

  • J_dean28

    The “critic” here… is a person who so lacks the talents or abilities to enter the profession of television or acting that he/she instead sits in judgment… bitter queen.

    • Michael A. Novelli

      Hit a nerve, did we?

  • RadioChuck

    Loved the Plan 9 reference!

  • paulisse

    All I can say aside from the critic’s comments and GREAT “Marty” references, is that this episode really shaped out Alex’s character. For me, the lines: “Is it so hard to be you, Alex?” is about his difficulties of becoming the perfect Alex he is trapped into. Though sometimes he appears to be some genius money-lover big brother jerk, yet there is something that makes us love him. He turns out to be an arrogant overachiever of the family but still he does find it hard to be himself. It was because he almost never gave the chance of his other psyche to occur. In other words, it was as if for him everything was planned out. He was too mature, one-sided. And thanks to this episode I’ve seen other psyches of the Alex that I was hoping to see. Since I was a BTTF fan before watching this sitcom, I did hope to see some Mcfly attitude in this APK role but no luck. Then again, I gotta say Alex nailed that air-guitar solo like the one way back in 1955 with the starlighters. Many might say this is not as funny as the previous episodes but it’s worth watching cause we got to see Alex realizing a lot of things and knowing him deeper than before. He finally realized that there are many things to know in life because of his friend’s memories, love of a family and there is God.

  • Sue

    I loved Family Ties … especially this episode… Why are there no reruns? Such a great show!

  • John

    What kind of ding-a-ling goes into a multi page spiel about the short comings of a TV episode? A paragraph or so is understandable, but half a book’s worth of caffeine fueled ranting about a two decade old sitcom is disturbing. Go see a legitimate doctor, and leave the manifesto writing in peace.

    • cavalier 24601

      Is recapping an old show better or worse than commenting on a 3 year old recap?

    • MichaelANovelli

      You do know what kind of website this is, right?

    • adb212

      um your all timeless losers anybody that would waste the effort responding to this garbage has no life and whoops oh crap

  • restcure

    The change drop gave me the biggest laugh in the entire run of the series.