Family Ties “Karen II, Alex 0” (part 1 of 3)
Let me get this out of the way: I liked Family Ties.
Looking back now, it was a hokey show. People forget that before the makers of Seinfeld famously declared, “no hugs, no lessons,” it was all hugs and lessons. All the time. On every show. I remember when Edie McClurg learned not to judge Marcia Wallace on Super Password. I cried my eyes out.
So it didn’t bother me when just about every Family Ties episode ground to a halt 21 minutes in so that Alex could apologize. That’s just the way TV was. He’d pick up his weekly Certificate of Narrowly Avoiding Being an Asshat, I’d get a snack and watch Cheers.
Oh, that’s the other thing. Family Ties was part of Must See TV. The first one. The real one. It was Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court . The night just kept getting funnier. Even if Family Ties sucked, by the time Jennifer Tilly was getting killed on Hill Street Blues, you were in such a good mood, you didn’t care. And if the death of Jennifer Tilly doesn’t leave you grinning, nothing will.
Family Ties had a lot going for it. It had likeable stars. It had talented writers and directors. It also had a crazy amazing guest cast. In the same season as the episode I’m recapping, they had: Timothy Busfield, Alison La Placa, Tate Donovan, Tracy Nelson, James Cromwell, and David Paymer. And that wasn’t stunt casting; those people were all nobodies when they appeared on Family Ties. Except for James Cromwell. He’s been James Cromwell since about 1870.
The episode I’m recapping is titled “Karen II, Alex 0”. It’s episode 12 of season 3. It aired December 13, 1984. Where was I on December 13, 1984? I was watching Family Ties. With a remote that was actually attached to the television by a cord. I kid you not. We were savages back then.
On paper, “Karen II” should be a pretty decent episode. It was written by Gary David Goldberg and the guy who went on to produce Ned and Stacey. It features lots of Michael J. Fox being adorable. It has a character actor who’s been working nonstop since Kraft Suspense Theatre. It has an up-and-coming comic about to achieve national fame. And it has a future Academy Award winning actress, Olympic hopeful, and President of the United States.
It’s amazing, then, just how badly everything went. Because “Karen II” is an absolutely miserable episode. It is not funny. And I did not learn a lesson, or at least, not an appropriate one.
As the title suggests, “Karen II” is the second Karen episode. Albert has already recapped “Karen I” or, as it was known at the time, “The Great Karen”. Very briefly, the episode was about Alex hiring an absolutely terrible housekeeper. Why? Because she was played by Geena Davis.
Geena Davis wasn’t a huge star back in 1984. She’d gotten good notices for Tootsie and the cult hit Buffalo Bill. But she was way more unknown than known. Like Tom Hanks, she’d shown herself to be a rising star who hadn’t quite found her vehicle yet. Unlike Tom Hanks, her Oscar was not accidentally misprinted, “Fluke Davis”. And then, after she sent it back, “Geena Flukenstein”. And then, after two years of arguments with the Academy, “Fluky Fluke Fluke Fluke”. You turn it around and it continues on the back, “Seriously, bitch be a fluke.”
Before I can watch “Karen II, Alex 0” on the CBS/Paramount site, they make we watch a commercial. It’s Brooke Shields selling Colgate Total. Is she now the official spokeswoman for everything?