Raised by TV . . . with Reunions on YouTube
TV Guide Magazine, the great-grandmother of the humble publication I occasionally contribute to, has made a list of TV's Top 50 Families.
This was a list concept close to my heart, and I couldn't wait to totally ignore the editors' picks so that I could decide on my own. For like many children who were born after the analogy "Book : Library :: TV : Living Room" started to make sense, I had an extended family tree which included people on the other side of the thick glass pane of the telly. (You know, characters.)
Being a bookworm as well--and someone inclined to live in her head in general--I also felt related to a whole bunch of families from literature. But never mind them now. This is a TV-themed post!
My Top 5 TV Families
1) The Lubbocks of Just the Ten of Us
If I didn't know better, I'd blame an anti-Catholic conspiracy for the fact that this wholesome and hilarious family didn't make the original list at all. (A more reasonable explanation is that they were simply booted in favour of two Reality TV families: a non-denominational editorial decision.)
My favourite element of this show has always been the cheesy, 80s take that the four eldest daughters (aka the Lubbock Babes) had on Louisa May Alcott's "four sisters" model. They didn't have much privacy in that big attic bedroom they had to share, but I don't think they minded very much.
I also liked that everyone had lots of personality. When one is part of a family that huge, one has to fight a little just to survive breakfast. This could easily have been a character-driven drama. I'm glad it was a character-spiced sitcom. Because, you know, the best thing about family is that it's funny.
Now let me warn you that the Lubbocks are the only "traditional" family on my list.
2) The Bower-Micellis of Who's the Boss?
Here's another family which didn't make the "official" list--likely because they weren't "really" a family. (Tony and Angela never did get married--and that was Tony Danza's rotten idea. I think Tony Micelli would have been more traditional . . . and more romantic.)
But they certainly looked like a family, behaved like a family, and made me wish my own family could be more like theirs. If I hadn't wanted them to be a bit of a surprise, I would have put them at #1!
For, feminist wish fulfillment and lax 80s mores aside (and don't tell me you didn't notice), they managed to tell some hard truths with heartwarming humour. Particularly the the fact that single parents--especially the mothers--really can't "do it alone." It doesn't take an enlightened village to raise a child, but a man and a woman who grow up enough to hang in there with each other and to do whatever is necessary to bring the bairns up right.
3) The Tanners of Full House
I wouldn't be a proper "Child of the 80s" if I didn't mention this show and yet I must now admit that I don't remember much of it! I do know that Bob Saget is intent on throwing all the "Danny Tanner" goodwill he built up over the series' entire run, back in the faces of all the show's fans. If only it were possible to separate Danny from Bob . . . like in Total Recall when Quaid separates himself from Hauser. (Oh, crud. Did I just spoil that movie for you?)
It was impossible to feel sorry for the three Tanner girls who had lost their mother, when they got to be brought up by the famous Uncles Jesse and Joey, two glorious foils to their idealised, if middle-of-the-road father.
Now I have to ask . . . Has anyone else ever thought that a show with the title Full House should have five people: one pair and three of a kind? Not that I'd eliminate any of these great characters. I'm even really glad that the writers didn't make Uncle Jesse move out after he started his own family--which would have happened in "real life"--but found a way to expand the well-loved San Francisco home. Something we seem to have forgotten about family since the 80s is that more really can mean merrier.
4) The Salingers of Party of Five
There's something so 70s about single mothers (even when they pop up again in later decades), and something very 80s about single fathers. What else could the 90s have done but eliminate both parents altogether?
No, it didn't become an actual trend . . . but Party of Five has turned out to be a decade-defining show that can now draw out nostalgia for its era with the best of them. And though its young actors never did break out of the 90s, they can at least look back on this achievement with some pride.
When the show was first came out, I was closest in age to Claudia and identified with her the most. If I watched the first season again today, I bet I'd save most of my sympathy for Charlie, the eldest Salinger, whose carefree, post-uni existence slams up against his new responsibility as head of the family. I suppose that when I am a parent, I will also feel real fear at the thought that my children might have to raise themselves. And that was the great thing about Party of Five: it had something--or rather, someone--for every member of the viewing family.
5) The Bentons of Jem!
Yes, a cartoon family. And this cartoon family because I was a child in the 1980s.
Emmett and Jacqui Benton had four daughters: their own offspring and two foster girls. When all four grew up, they remained close enough to want to remain together under the same roof, to play together in the same pop band, and to run their own foundation for foster children. Not a bad legacy for their parents!
Well, okay, they did slip up a bit . . . Jerrica resented her mother's career because it took Jacqui away from the family--and the girl turned out to be right when Jacqui died in a plane crash on the way to one of her gigs. And Emmett's poor judgment of his business partner's character meant that his daughters were nearly deprived of the family's business after his death.
But Jacqui handed on her love of music, and Emmett provided some amazing technology; and then it just took a little bit of inspiration for these unlikely sisters to reinvent themselves as "Jem and the Holograms" and save both control of the company and their foundation. I'd say they were raised right!
Image Sources: a) Just the Ten of Us cast, b) Who's the Boss cast, c) Full House cast, d) Party of Five cast, e) Emmett Benton, f) Jacqui, Jerrica and Kimber Benton