What should I be doing instead of this?
Home · Articles · Columns · Living Out Loud · Life Isn’t a Sitcom

Life Isn’t a Sitcom

By Larry Gross · January 11th, 2011 · Living Out Loud
I was doing some Internet surfing the other day and came across a Web-based talk show called Wake Up and Get Real. It features Kelly Cutrone, a fashion publicist, and actress Justine Bateman. The show is kind of like The View with the lid off.

I don’t know much about Cutrone. Apparently she’s also on a television show called The Hills, which I know nothing about, but I’m very familiar with Bateman. She played Mallory Keaton on Family Ties.

I watched a couple Wake Up shows, and while I found it kind of enjoyable, the thing that shocked me a little was Bateman’s language. She used the word “fuck” a few times. As I listened to her talk, I thought to myself, “What has our Mallory turned into?”

Probably a lot of you younger people have watched reruns of this show, but if not let me fill you in some on this classic 1980s series.

Family Ties was a situation comedy that ran on the NBC from 1982 to 1989. Elyse and Steven Keaton were former hippies now raising a conservative teenage son, Alex, a ditzy teenage daughter, Mallory, and a youngest daughter, Jennifer. A toddler son, Andrew, came along later in the show. Based somewhere here in Ohio, the series was quite funny, sometimes serious and, for the most part, well written.

I was married when this show was on with kids of my own. Our house in Westwood resembled the interior of the Keaton house and as my family set down to watch the show every week, sometimes I would make comparisons with the Keaton family to my own.

The Keatons were always able to wrap up family issues and/or problems by the end of the show — in half an hour counting commercials. In my family, issues and/or problems would often go on for weeks, months or even longer.

The Keatons' reality wasn’t my reality.

As the series was starting to come to an end, so was my marriage. I remember once telling a therapist when my marriage was starting to fall apart, “Why can’t my marriage and family be more like Family Ties?”

Of course, it never could be. I don’t think I actually believed my life and my family could be like the Keaton’s. It was mostly wishful thinking. Just like sitcoms, I wanted everything in my world to have a happy ending.

But life isn’t a sitcom. It isn’t produced and directed on a soundstage. It doesn’t have commercials and it doesn’t have a laugh track. Maybe that’s why I haven’t watched any kind of television to speak of in the past 10-plus years. These days, I’m trying to stay firmly in reality.

Watching Bateman and Cutrone’s talk show on the Internet got me to thinking about the actors who played in Family Ties all those years ago and their own current realities. Perhaps doing a reunion show based on those realities would be interesting.

Michael J. Fox, who played Alex Keaton on the show, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. How would sitcom parents Elyse and Steven cope with this? Would the illness make their ever so cocky son a little less cocky?

Chances are Elyse and Steven would remain the loving parents they were on the series and Alex would be getting laughs despite and/or because of his illness. He’d still be funny like he was over 20 years ago. At least that’s what my sitcom mind wants to think.

Blending real life with sitcom humor would be a bit harder with the Family Ties parents. Last year, actress Meredith Baxter let it be known she’s a lesbian.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that in real life, and actor Michael Gross, who played husband Steven on the show, has supported Baxter’s coming out in real time. But in the world of television sitcoms, I doubt if Steven would be that supportive. I mean, TV mom Elyse had been living a lie throughout the entire sitcom marriage. That’s kind of hard to resolve and wrap up in 30 minutes.

Brian Bonsall, who played cute and lovable Andrew Keaton, is no longer cute and lovable. While Justine Bateman might talk like a sailor these days, Bonsall looks like one with tattoos all around his neck. He looks scary.

Bonsall was also in the news last year with legal and substance-abuse issues. He’s been in the slammer more than a few times. How, in TV land, would the Keaton’s deal with this?

Keeping in character, Elyse and Steven would no doubt try to get Andrew into rehab. There’s also no doubt that his two sisters and older brother on the show would be very supportive. As far as resolving this issue in less than half an hour, I’m not sure. This serious real-life problem could result in a two-part Family Ties sitcom special.

While I have fond memories of watching this series in the ’80s, it doesn’t make me want to check out current family sitcoms on the air now. Don’t ask me which ones are on, because I have no idea. I’m going to keep it that way.

I think I’ll continue to check out Wake Up and Get Real on the Web. It’s based in reality, and I like that. Besides, Justine Bateman, now in her forties, looks great and seems to have a good, smart head on her shoulders.

I’ll even try to get used to Bateman’s — you know, Mallory’s — potty mouth.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross@citybeat.com



comments powered by Disqus