Welcome to the first installment of TGIF Month! Every Friday through October (and the first weekend of November), we’ll be watching and live blogging the pilot of five beloved sitcoms that aired during the iconic ABC TV block of programming, TGIF. Why? Because we can. Also, because a lot of these shows are now available on Hulu for the very first time, so we’re taking advantage of the nostalgia while we can.
First up is Family Matters, which centers on the Winslow family, a middle-class black family living in Chicago, Illinois. It is one of the longest-running non-animated sitcoms featuring a predominantly black family, having run 9 seasons. It was one of the biggest shows to come out of the TGIF lineup, and brought us one of the most iconic characters on TV history. #DidIDoThat. Let’s take a look back at the very first episode featuring the Winslows.
Season 1, Episode 1: The Mama Who Came to Dinner
Original Air Date: 9/22/1989
Pilot Plot: Mother Winslow asserts a little too much authority when she comes to live with her son Carl and his family.
T: Did we all know that Family Matters is a spin-off of Perfect Strangers (another TGIF program available on Hulu)? Because I definitely forgot that fact.
M: Definitely never knew it in the first place. We compared notes of our Perfect Strangers memories, and both of us just remember the opening credits. To be fair we were like 3.
T: There’s no cold open in the pilot, and it launches right into the opening credits with the unforgettable theme song, “As Days Go By”. It was catchy like a lot of the other TGIF theme songs – which makes sense, because many of them were written by a dude named Jesse Frederick, who’s probably super rich rn. Also, this reminds me of when we did our Cheers recaps because it LOOKS like the ’80s.
M: I still get warm, cozy feelings watching this theme song. It feels like being home after school during the winter when it was dark out early, to name a very specific cozy feeling.
T: This is an extended version of the theme song!!!
M: You know what doesn’t happen anymore? Those opening credits where (A) it’s a long – and I mean LONG – song and (B) they show little clips of the characters from the episodes.
T: Everything in their house looks so dark? As in the wood trim and paint look much darker than I remember? But that just might be a result of the TV pilot structure, when a lot of things are different than when they are in the rest of the series.
M: Funny enough, this came up in our Cheers recaps too – that it was so dark, not in tone but the actual palette. It is also of a fuzzier quality than I remember. I specifically remember watching ’70s sitcom reruns and being super-proud of the better picture quality of our early ’90s shows.
For what it’s worth, I’m sure the paint was brighter later. It’s a very dingy beige. The house is all shades of brown, like a McDonald’s meal.
T: I probably haven’t seen this show since I was living at home at watching reruns on Nickelodeon, but I don’t remember Carl having such an adverse reaction to his mother being around? Or is my memory just horrible and that was the entire premise of the show?
M: In my memory, the grandmother was BELOVED.
T: Is everyone overacting? Was that a 90s sitcom thing?
T: I’m V into Harriette’s sweater.
M: It’s the brightest thing in that whole drab house, is what it is.
T: Remember extemporaneous daughter Judy? I barely do.
M: In my memory she was Aunt Rachel’s child and they both moved, leaving Richie behind for whatever reason. Wrong. Just a childhood head-canon to make sense of Judy’s departure.
T: Eddie’s adorbs.
M: This show started when we were LITTLE (age 3) and as a result I always saw Eddie and Laura (and Judy for 5 seconds) as big kids. Oh my god, they are all absolutely adorable.
T: Wait, are they living in an apartment??
M: In later episodes the front door came from outside/the front porch, but here it definitely looks like an apartment hallway. Which is weird, because the house is, like the Full House house, ENORMOUS with extraneous doors and hallways everywhere.
T: Kind of upset this episode doesn’t have Urkel in it. Didn’t realize that he wasn’t introduced until halfway through the first season!
M: That’s right… he wasn’t planned to be a big part of the show, but audiences loved them some Jaleel White.
T: Do they ever reveal why Rachel is a single mother?
M: Now I’m picturing 1990 execs suddenly realizing they had put a single mother on TV and pulling Rachel during hiatus.
T: This is the type of outfit I always picture Mama to be in.
M: I like how old people on TV always used to be stuck in another century. Speaking of which, I IMDB’d it and Rosetta LeNoire (Mama) was born in 1911. WHAT. Time is a crazy thing. We’re youngish adults in 2017 reminiscing about a lady who was born when the Titanic was still a promising venture. And her godfather was Bill Bojangles Robinson!
T: UPDATE: Rachel’s husband Robert died so that’s why Rachel and Richie had to move in with Carl and fam. It’s like Full House but Danny Tanner is a supporting character.
M: True Story: My brother and his kids moved in with my parents after my sister-in-law died and I always refer to our family situation as “a real Miller-Boyett production.” Also, why does Rachel ask Laura if she “remembers” an event that had to have happened a couple months ago, and is a huge deal? (Exposition, is why.)
Harriette: Girls, don’t argue at the dinner table.
Laura (to Judy): Ok, let’s take it outside
Do not mess with young Laura.
T: THIS BOLO TIE ENSEMBLE
M: If I was several years older I’d have been all about Eddie. Despite those pleated slacks.
M: Mama says “it’s almost the 90s.” Did we know that “it’s the 90s” as a catch-phrase started before the 90s even did?!
T: Carl’s heart-to-heart with Mama included a musical cue of emotional music as soon as he hit the main talking point in his conversation, which I just realized is a common denominator in all these 90s family sitcoms. Danny Tanner assuring Stephanie he still loves her after accidentally driving a car into the kitchen? Cue the emo music.
M: My main thing is when the emotional music is THE THEME SONG SLOWED DOWN AND INSTRUMENTAL. Full House always did that, but the Brady Bunch perfected it first. “it’s the sto-o-o-ry of the lovely la-a-a-dy”
T: Eddie moved to the attic to let his grandma stay in his room, but it still looks like an attic? Like they couldn’t have cleaned it up and moved the misc. furniture and knick knacks to another location?
M: And they live in Chicago, so that attic will be hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. And there’s a grandfather clock in the attic and downstairs. How many grandfather clocks does a family need?
T: Of course Harriette, Rachel and Mama are singing He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands and OMG THEY JUST PANNED OUT THE SHOW THE FAMILY IN THE WINDOW SURROUNDING THE PIANO AND SINGING, WHICH IS IN THE CREDITS!
M: During the credits I almost said “this show involves far fewer family old-fashioned piano parties than the credits would have you believe.” Which was all-the-way wrong.
T: I feel like I’ve never even seen this episode before, and despite the fact that it’s corny like most 90s sitcoms, I thoroughly enjoyed it!
M: I also don’t remember this one (and haven’t watched Family Matters since I was a child), but I could see putting on episodes as sort of soothing background TV now that it’s on Hulu. Love those Winslows!