Email Roundtable #2 – Family Dinner

In honour of Canadian Thanksgiving we attempt to discuss our favourite TV families.

Kerri: First off, Happy Thanksgiving to both of you! I thought this was the perfect time to discuss our favourite TV families old and new.  Anyone want to begin?

Katie: Erm, I don’t want to start this one. Lead the way!

Jane: I’ll go: My favourite TV family is the Keatons from Family Ties. When I was young I used to watch that show twice a day. Once at 5pm then again at 5:30pm when we were having dinner. I grew up thinking they were the perfect family. I remember one episode where they buried a time capsule in their yard so one day another family could learn all this neat stuff about them. I made my family do that too. We used a cookie tin. I wish I could remember what we put in there.

Katie: I’ve never seen the show – what was it about the family that made it so special?

Jane: Family Ties was Michael J. Fox’s break out role. He played the Republican son (at the time I just understood he REALLY loved money) of two hippie parents Elyse and Steven Keaton. They also had a really cool older daughter named Mallory (that’s who I wanted to be when I grew up) and a dorkier younger daughter named Jennifer. Later they had a son named Andy. I guess he was used to keep up the cute factor when Jennifer got older.

Kerri: Oh, yes, Jane! I loved the Keaton’s, too.

I talked about one of my favourite TV families last week, The Chases from My So-Called Life, so I won’t belabor the point there.

The first family that I can remember loving on TV were probably the Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. I’m a little hazy on the details, but I think I liked the relationship between the sisters. And girls with braids. Because I liked to wear braids. Plus, they were a family with what felt like a genuine emotional bond, which I enjoyed.

Another family that comes to mind, after Jane mentioned the Keatons, is The Arnolds from The Wonder Years. I really liked the way that the family was so often at odds with each other. The parents were always fighting with their daughter and Kevin was always fighting with his brother. That, to me, at least at the time, felt real.

Katie, can you recall the first TV family that you loved or felt like your own?

Jane: I also loved Little House on the Prairie, Kerri, but much later. In reruns

Katie: As I’ve mentioned many, many times, my favourite TV family is the Huxtables from the Cosby Show! If I were to invent a time/reality machine, I would travel into the Cosby Show and be Claire Huxtable.

I appreciate the respect that Cliff and Claire have for one another and for their children. But I also respect that the parents don’t take no guff. Because television children usually run wild! There are expectations and the children are to live up to them. The moment for me that exemplifies this is in the pilot when Theo gets a bad grade and tries to guilt Cliff into letting him off easy. Theo gives a very authentic performance, and Cliff plays along for a second. But then Cliff drops the Expectation Bomb on Theo and Theo is properly shamed.

Theo: I mean, you’re a doctor and Mom’s a lawyer, but I don’t love you any less because you’re my dad. So instead of being disappointed that I’m not like you, maybe you should be happy and love me anyway, because I’m your son.

 Cliff: Theo… That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life! No wonder you get D’s in everything! You’re afraid to try because you’re afraid your brain is going to explode and it’s going to ooze out of your ears. Now I’m telling you, you are going to try as hard as you can. And you’re going to do it because I said so. I am your father. I brought you in this world, and I’ll take you out!

Now, I didn’t discover the Huxtables until my 20’s, so I would say the first family that I loved on TV was the Simpsons. I was the same age as Lisa – we were both smarty-pants and I had an annoying brother. They were my kin.

Kerri: Yes, Katie, the Huxtables were an amazing TV family for many reasons. I spent many, many hours with them. I have a distinct memory of the layout of that house. I could probably draw it up from memory if I had to.

Jane: I love how Cliff used to play along with his children right before the shaming! Great example, Katie. I don’t remember seeing that episode but I can hear both characters clearly in my head playing the scene out.

So true Kerri. I loved that house. You felt like that family could be comfortable anywhere!

Katie: Yep! This is embarrassing but while watching The Cosby Show recently, I decided that if I were to ever be a parent I’d use the Huxtable Shame method on my spawn.

Kerri: Agreed, Jane. I loved that Cliff would always outsmart his kids. You rarely see that on sitcoms anymore. The Dad is always a buffoon.

And back to The Simpsons, Katie, they were definitely on my list. The dysfunction in that family was amazing but what I think shined through all of that were the moments when you saw that the family truly loved each other.

I love the episode where Bart tells Lisa that she isn’t ugly. Breaks my heart.

Katie: We are forgetting a very important family. The Tanners! (Full House – for those of you not in the loop) Who was your favourite? When I was ten I was going to have two babies when I grew up: a girl named DJ and a boy named Jesse.

Kerri; Oh. Stephanie, for sure.

Jane: I was a Stephanie fan for sure. I always felt like DJ would boss her around and I felt sorry for her. All she wanted to do was hang out with her big sister. She could always find her own fun, though. She had a great imagination. I always wanted a Mr. Bear.

Katie: But to also divert the subject a bit – are there any families on TV now that you ladies love?

I love Coach and Tammy Taylor from Friday Night Lights. I realize that doesn’t answer the question I just asked, but I wanted to mention them. I think they are a wonderful example of a functioning relationship. We so often see couples fight, then resolve that fight in a gimmicky way. Coach and Tammy got mad, talked, kissed, talked more, ignored each other, talked… Like real humans.

Kerri: Ha! That’s funny Katie. I was literally just writing the same thing:

Thinking of newer shows, I think the Taylors from Friday Night Lights take the cake for me. There isn’t a better, more healthy TV couple that I can think of than Coach and Mrs. Coach. I love the way they deal with their daughter, Julie. That’s a family where there is a great divide between child and parent but a realistic divide.

Jane: I’ve only watched the Pilot episode of Friday Night Lights but I can tell you the way Matt Saracen interacted with his Grandmother melted my heart.

Wow, it’s interesting it is taking me awhile to think of my current favorite family. The best I can think of are the Bluths from Arrested Development but that is due to their quirky dysfunction.

Katie: I’m having trouble thinking of anything current as well. Does that mean there aren’t any great families on TV? Or, that we are watching the wrong shows?

Jane: I love the relationship between Sally Draper and Megan Draper on Mad Men. I love to watch them struggle to relate to each other out of a genuine desire to be a family. The moment I decided to like Megan was when she told Sally not to worry about spilling her milkshake.

Hmmm, I’m not really sure. There must be great TV families, but action doesn’t seem to centre around the family unit the way it seemed to in the past. Or, at least not to my knowledge.

Katie: Very true. A lot of the shows from our childhoods focused on one family and one location (their house). I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that when these shows were on air, the Boomer’s children were the perfect age to watch these shows. Lots of kids = lots of family friendly programming.

Kerri: I think there are great families on TV, Katie, but I think it might have a little bit more to do with the kinds of shows we watch as we get older. We no longer want a reflection of ourselves and our families, We want to be challenged.

I can think of plenty of troubled, great TV families: the various families on Game of Thrones are a good example. I don’t want to be part of those families but they are fascinating. I just don’t want to eat dinner with them.

There was an amazing story arc on season 2 of Justified with a weird, corrupt, criminal family, The Bennetts. In fact, that is a show where roots, familial roots, are incredibly important. You can’t escape your past or your father’s past or his father’s, etc. etc. That is a show where family is often a curse.

Jane: Good point. Things on TV seemed less complicated back then. If there was a family conflict it was solved by the end of the episode.

Kerri: Yeah. It was reassuring which is, in my opinion, what you want from family in real life, especially as a kid. It isn’t often what you actually get. Personally, I would rather see a complicated reflection of family life, now.

Katie: Agreed.

Kerri: Any final shout outs before we end things? I’d like to give props to The Belchers from Bob’s Burgers! Oh! And the Connors from Roseanne!

Jane: All great families!!

Katie: Dennis, Sweet Dee and Frank Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!

Kerri: Oh. And our own families! Happy Thanksgiving to them, too!

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