One of the benefits of working frequently between the hours of 4 PM and 2 AM is that you are available to watch some great afternoon TV. Recently, I discovered that MTV2, in addition to actually existing, shows two hours of Saved by the Bell and Boy Meets World back-to-back from noon til 4. As you’d imagine, this was a revelation and ever since I’ve been reliving some of my favorite childhood shows. What follows is the second of several look-backs at some of those incredible shows and what made them so (not-so) great.
Before I get into this wonderful show, I think it definitely bears mentioning that it’s no longer in syndication. Anywhere. Aside from how big of a crime against humanity that is*, I’m sure it helps me remember it fondly.
When your only memories of a show are from 5, 10, 15 years ago, it tends to play with exactly how well you recall each and everything about it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way… I’m not sure Family Matters was my favorite family sitcom of the 90’s (although, it’s certainly close), but it may have been the best. It had basically everything** that makes a show great, almost literally from start to finish. Let’s take a look.
Right off the bat, the show started with a banger.
It is interesting to note that during the first season of the show, Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” was the theme music. Really. Oh, and by interesting, I of course mean fucking idiotic. How soon was the guy who suggested this song as the theme fired? Twenty minutes after it aired? Thirty? I like to think there’s some alternate universe out there where that remained the theme song and people my age remember Family Matters as the show they used to fall asleep during as kids. Moving on…
So, besides the quality of the song itself*** and its shockingly good remix, there was the quality of the actual video opening. It had all the cheesy character introductions we love (you know the ones I’m talking about, where everyone stops what they’re doing to give a “what up” to the camera). Several characters had funny names (does it get better than Reginald VelJohnson? For some reason, I’ve always enjoyed calling him Reginavald, almost like his first and last name are the new hot celebrity couple) and later on there was that part where Waldo got drilled in the head by a basketball (but, more on him in a moment).
Let’s see, what else… There were also good looking women****. Laura turned into a cutie (though, this is just completely unfair to her now), her friend Maxine was attractive too, and even the aunt and grandmother weren’t bad. But most interesting was Steve’s girlfriend Myra (full name, of course, Myra Boutros Boutros Monkhouse). Michelle Thomas, who sadly passed away in 1998, was probably the hottest of the bunch.
Oh yeah, and the show had one of the most ridiculous endings of any show I can remember. Instead of bowing out gracefully after Laura and Steve agree to get married, there are two more episodes where (somehow) Steve winds up going into space with NASA, Eddie gets shot but survives, and ultimately Steve returns… from space*****. If you never saw those episodes or didn’t know about them, consider yourself lucky.
But of course, the best part of the show were the characters. Obviously, that means Steve Urquel but I also add Waldo Faldo to that list as well. He has to be one of the dumbest buddy characters in sitcom history (right up there with Buddy from Charles in Charge) and inexplicably he was an incredible chef.
Either way, Urquel was everyone’s favorite (did you know, he didn’t begin to make regular appearances on the show til season 2? Fun fact meter, ding!). I’m not sure which Urquel spin-off I liked most, the gangster cousin from Detroit, the Bruce Lee clone (which, in retrospect, would almost certainly be considered racist if done on TV today), or Stefan Urquelle. Each had their ups and downs, but Stefan was just so damn cool. How Laura didn’t choose him over Steve is a mystery right up there with Kennedy assassination, far as I’m concerned. And how about how apparent it became towards the end of the show that Jaleel White wasn’t a nerd and was way too big to be playing a dweeby kid? Finally, anyone who wore suspenders while playing basketball gets a gold star in my book.
All in all, great show. Had just about everything (including the over-the-top morality lessons) and was just bad and just good enough to be enjoyable. Thankfully, I can’t watch it anymore so I won’t be able to change my mind.
*I’d love for an aspiring politician to make one of his or her central campaign platforms to restore classic 90s sitcoms to their rightful place among the syndicated living. There’s no way on Earth episodes of Melissa and Joey (new or otherwise) would out rank any episode of Family Matters.
**Except for recurring, worthwhile white characters. I know, I know… find me a recurring black character in Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, etc. No argument there. Fun fact: according to wikipedia, Family Matters is the 3rd longest running sitcom with a predominantly black cast (behind The Jeffersons and Tyler Perry’s House of Payne)
***The Step by Step, Full House and Family Matters theme songs were almost identical. I realize Miller-Boyett were behind each of those shows, but it honestly sounds like they banged all 3 out in the same recording session with just one set of instructions: Make sure the Full House and Step by Step themes are just a little whiter than the Family Matters theme.
****I’m confident enough to also argue that there were some good looking men on that show. Darius McCrary, Jaleel White and the kid who played Waldo weren’t too shabby.
*****What were the other options for the finale? Steve gets eaten by a lion that escaped from the local zoo, Eddie shoots the lion in the chest and Steve escapes? Steve cracks a hole in the Ozone layer causing mass-climate change and all sorts of issues and as ending credits roll he shouts “Did I Do That?”? Where in the fucking world did him going to space ever come into play?