Family Ties was about how family values are cyclical. Sometimes it was hard to tell what opinions the creators held about the conservative movements of the 1980s, but they definitely embraced the generation gap that arose from it as a source of conflict. The Keatons (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter) were hippies. Find a liberal cause, they probably fought for it. Name a social revolutionary, they probably smoked pot with them.
However, much as the baby boomers were largely people rejecting the behavior and values of their “conservative” families, the Keaton children represented the counter-rebellion to the ’60s upheaval. Rather than taking after his generous, bleeding heart father, Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) was a greedy, ambitious, get-rich-quick scheming go-go ’80s guy in training. His sister, Mallory (Justine Batemen), was a fashion conscious and materialistic “girly girl” that constantly argued with her feminist mother. The youngest Keaton, Jennifer (Tina Yothers), was a tomboy, which gave her more in common with her parents than her siblings, but that’s also how families are sometimes. Basically, the Keaton children were an example of the values that led America to have coke parties in business suits that cost more than a small African nation.
In “The Real Thing” (a two-parter), Alex decides to find “Ms. Right,” the conservative, gorgeous, upstanding woman of his dreams. After posing as a member of the sophomore committee, he succeeds in finding Tricia (Suzanne Snyder), a rich, WASP girl from a good family. However, he soon realizes that she’s boring, due to their similarities. As someone who identifies family love as including conflict and exchange of views, Tricia doesn’t stimulate him intellectually… and not enough physically to compensate. Soon, he meets her roommate Ellen (Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox’s future wife), a feminist, activist, art student, and general leftist that sizes him up immediately. After a few bouts of repartee and general flirting, Alex can’t handle himself and kisses Ellen, only to find out that she’s engaged, and about to leave to be with her fiancé.
The episode shows how a person’s image of the perfect match for them can be completely inaccurate, and how much of what we look for in a partner is shaped by our family, for better or for worse. And the chemistry between the two leads… well, they’re married now, what do you think?
Also, without Alex P. Keaton to jump-start his career, Michael J. Fox would not be Marty McFly. The world owes Family Ties.
NEXT – 99: Quantum Leap
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