In retrospect, it’s amusing that a nerd saved them all. As it started out, Family Matters was spun off from Perfect Strangers to give ABC a less cerebral version of The Cosby Show.
Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Payton) was the elevator operator on Strangers. Her new series took her home to take care for her own huge family. Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) was the flustered dad, a Chicago cop that can’t keep order in his family. VelJohnson was already famous for playing Bruce Willis’s sidekick in the blockbuster Die Hard. Family Matters allowed him to flash the badge for more laughs.
Eddie (Darius McCrary), Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth) acted like the Huxtable kids without the sweaters. The house got even more crowded with Carl’s mother (Rosetta LeNoire), Harriette’s sister (Telma Hopkpins) and her baby (Joseph & Julius Wright). For the first 11 episodes on Family Matters: The Complete First Season, the Winslow family came off as a rather generic large family comedy.
“The Mama Who Came to Dinner” explored the complications of having a mother move in with the family. She won’t let her son run his house. It’s the usual generational power struggle. The action got spiced up on “Stake-Out” with Carl’s new female partner. Harriette feared his undercover operation at a shady motel was an excuse for an affair. Things got out of control when she raided the active police operation. Grandma’s unleashed on the bad guys. But even with such excitement, the early episodes lacked a panache. There was nothing that truly made it stand out until a guest character arrived for a date with Laura.
“Laura’s First Date” had the daughter desperate to not arrive solo at a school dance. But before Kid Right asked, she must face the King of the Nerds. Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) was known by other school kids for once eating a mouse. He’s skinny with huge glasses, a full pocket protector, suspenders and major high water pants. He had no social graces and would not take no for an answer from Laura. Urkel’s a walking disaster zone in the Winslow house. Yet he proved to be salvation to a show that could have easily been forgotten. The producers realized Urkel’s the key to getting people to talk about the show. He went from school geek to the Winslow’s new neighbor that dropped in any time. The addition of Urkel made the series a big enough hit to last nine seasons.
“Man’s Best Friend” brought a dog into the house. The kids know dad won’t like a shaggy beast, but won’t get rid of him. The big surprise is Urkel popped up in the episode with more desire for Laura’s affection. There’s a strange sense that the producers had a quick rewrite to insert the new attraction into the script.
As the season continues, the scripts become more and more Urkel-centric. The Winslow kids were so boring compared to the new guy on the block. Where’s the real fun in watching Eddie run for class president in “The Candidate?” Urkel became a geek version of The Fonz on Family Matters, except he had no game with the ladies. Without the nerd power of Urkel, Family Matters would be as forgotten as those shows we’ve completely wiped from our memories.
“The Mama Who Came to Dinner,” “Two-Income Family,” “Short Story,” “Rachel’s First Date,” “Straight A’s,” “Basketball Blues,” “Body Damage,” “Mr. Badwrench,” “Stake-Out,” “False Arrest,” “The Quilt,” “Laura’s First Date,” “Man’s Best Friend,” “Baker’s Dozen,” “The Big Reunion,” “The Party,” “The Big Fix,” “Sitting Pretty,” “In a Jam,” “The Candidate,” “Bowl Me Over” and “Rock Video.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are fine for their age. While the episodes appear uncut, they’re not untouched. Michael Jordan’s face has been blacked out from various posters. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You will adjust the treble when Urkel’s voice attacks. The subtitles are in English.
Family Matters: The Complete First Season creates a strange sensation since you watch the first 11 episodes awaiting the arrival of Steve Urkel. It’s hard to believe this show started without the world’s greatest nerd. The boxset brings back great memories for ‘90s TGIF kids that embraced Urkel as an icon.
Warner Home Video presents Family Matters: The Complete First Season. Starring: Jo Marie Payton, Reginald VelJohnson, Darius McCrary, Kellie Shanygne Williams and Jaleel White. Boxset Contents: 22 Episodes on 3 DVDs. Released on DVD: June 8, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.
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