TGIF Month: A Family Matters Live Blog

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!

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Did I Do That?! Top TV Teen Nerds

Believe it or not, I wasn’t a cool kid. Yes, I know this might be hard to get your head around, but despite my appealing attributes – short, freckled, bookish, brillo-textured red hair — I wasn’t exactly homecoming queen.

However, I wasn’t so uncool that I was a total pariah. I was just more of a non-entity. I was also not a social striver: I figured whoever liked me, liked me and I wasn’t about to try to act cool to get cooler friends. First of all, I didn’t care enough*, and second of all, I don’t know HOW to act cool. Did those girls just get a special book at the beginning of every school year telling them what to wear and how to behave? Because if there was a book, I’d have been golden. I’m good at books.

* If you think this means I was too cool to care, let me disabuse you of that idea. I am just astoundingly lazy.

All of my favorite TV nerds are the same way. These characters aren’t all so dorky that people point and laugh at them in the hall. They’re just too busy being themselves to care what anyone else thinks. However, if they did put out an annual annotated guide on how to be cool, that’s not to say these characters wouldn’t have read it:

Millie Kentner from Freaks And Geeks

Although the entire cast of Freaks and Geeks really deserves a place on this list, I’d like to take a moment and single out Millie. Millie was that girl in high school who was a total goody-goody, but only because she actually liked wholesome activities and behaving. I can relate, as my main interests in high school were being obedient and exceeding expectations. Something about Millie is so earnest, it just tugs at my heartstrings. She isn’t so nerdy and well-behaved because she’s sucking up, it’s because that’s what comes honestly to her. Again, I can relate. I can remember one girl on my tennis team  who was acted like I was judging her because she was a “bad kid” and I was, well, hyper-compliant. I wasn’t — I just wasn’t interested in anything too badass myself.

Since I brought it up, tennis is the dorkiest physical activity you can join that still counts as a sport. Seriously. Even bowling might be cooler, in an ironic, blue collar, old-man way. Tennis: The Reading Of Sports.

Also this:

Seth Cohen from The O.C.

Seth Cohen made teen nerdiness hot. And God, do I still love him for it. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since we first met young Seth, who is the first and only person I would ever describe as being “adorkable.” From his snarky message t shirts to his enthusiasm for comic books to his dorky joy about introducing people to Chrismukkah, Seth was everything good about uncool adolescents. I also appreciated how Seth was into indie/alternative music, just like most of my unpopular friends. This just goes to show that most nerdy teens aren’t lame and boring, they’re just not into whatever is in the teen mainstream. Cohen reminds us that dorky teenagers are just one semester of liberal arts college away from being hipsters. Also, just look at him.

Sue Heck from The Middle

The Middle really does not get enough play. I think it’s funny (usually) and hilarious (sometimes). Like all teen nerds, Sue is supremely enthusiastic. Rather than understanding and accepting that she’s a geek, Sue has total faith that someday, she will be one of the cool kids. Because of this, she flies whole-heartedly into the nerdiest activities (see: specialized cheerleading squad for the wrestling team). I especially love her supporting cast of dorky Wrestlerette friends:

Lisa Loopner from Saturday Night Live

By far the most hilarious teen nerd on the list, Lisa Loopner had a chronic stuffy nose, frizzy hair, and a boyfriend named Todd. She may sound like a typical dork, but this character is played with classic Gilda Radner joie de vivre, and that makes all the difference. I… listen. Just watch this.

Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons

Lisa may be too smart to fit in at Springfield Elementary, but she’s also too smart to care… usually. While she does try to fit in with the mega-90s kids on her beach vacation and the occasional third-grade mean girl, she is usually pretty content filling her time with her music, inventions, and Thanksgiving diorama of influential women in U.S. history. However, she is still just a kid, and can be seen playing hopscotch with Sherri and Terri or pining over Malibu Stacy. Lisa isn’t technically a teen nerd, but she has the reading comprehension and math skills of a girl twice her age, which has to count for something.

Landry Clarke from Friday Night Lights

On paper, Landry (or Lance, whatever) doesn’t really sound like a nerd. He’s a high school football player in a land where high school football is king. He’s the lead singer and bassist in a garage band. He loves the lovely and sometimes-badass Tyra. He even may have committed a pretty big felony (seriously, what WAS that plotline?). However, life isn’t lived on paper. Somehow, despite all of these cool factors, Landry is kind of a dork. He’s also proof that sometimes dorks can emerge victorious. Or crucifictorious, I guess.

Fun fact: As far as I know, Jesse Plemons is the only actor who appeared in both Varsity Blues and FNL. Those, along with the times my high school won states, mark the trifecta of Things That Have Made Me Actually Care About High School Football.

Kimmy Gibbler from Full House

Kimmy Gibbler sucked. I’m not denying that. The thing is, I feel so sorry for her! It didn’t occur to me as a child, but she had three grown men living next door to her who mocked her mercilessly. Danny? Joey? Jesse? You’re bullies. Also, her BFF was kind of a dud. Remember when DJ forgot Kimmy’s birthday cake and made her a dish of hashbrowns with Happy Birthday written on it in ketchup? I sometimes use that as a metaphor when I’ve made really weak gestures of friendship. Try it for yourself sometimes. Kimmy did have some positive attributes, like being a pretty decent keyboardist when Girl Talk butchered The Sign (no, not that Girl Talk).

Steve Urkel from Family Matters

I wasn’t even going to put Urkel on the list. I think he forfeited his Teen Nerd title during the later seasons, when suddenly it was All Steffon, All The Time. I’m also still a little bitter that his affinity for cheese made cheese seem nerdy. I freaking love cheese. Come at me, nerd haters and vegans!

You gotta hand it to Urkel, though. He really knew how to deliver a nerd catch phrase.

Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air

He invented “The Carlton,” and that alone earns him a spot on the list. It’s got to be hard being a nerd when you live with super-cool Hillary and Ashley and your badass cousin from West Philly. Having so much money that you live in a full-size replica of the White House probably softens the blow a little. While mostly a classic uptight nerd, Carlton also knew how to let loose and dance.