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Family Ties is a rather straightforward Dom Com from The Eighties.

Former flower children Steven (Michael Gross) and Elyse (Meredith Baxter-Birney) Keaton are now adults and raising three kids of their own: hyper-conservative Alex (Michael J. Fox in the role that made him a star), ditzy Mallory (Justine Bateman) and precocious Jennifer (Tina Yothers). A fourth Keaton child, Andrew, was born in the third season and played by Brian Bonsall beginning in season 5.

As stated, it was rather straightforward, though a lot of the humor came from the conflict between the Republican Alex and the very Democratic parents. In a rare example, there was no Strawman Political sequence to be found here: both ideologies were given equal time in the spotlight, and there was no Idiot of the Week episode either.

The aforementioned straightforwardness was actually notable in itself. Not many Dom Coms -- then or now -- are actually about a completely standard "nuclear" family. Think My Three Sons, Family Affair, The Brady Bunch, Diff'rent Strokes, Full House. The fact that Family Ties had no adopted kids, cousins, kids from previous marriages, or single parents actually made it something of a subversion.


Tropes Involved:

  • Absentee Actor: Meredith Baxter is absent from some of the season three episodes. Sometimes it is explained, often nobody bothers with an excuse.
  • Artistic Title: The opening Title of season 3 features a family portrait. The beginning of the theme shows the first brush stroke. By the end of the opening sequence, the painting is finished
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Alex and Ellen. So much so that, years after she moved to Paris and they broke up, when Alex met Lauren he knew he liked her because "No girl has made me this angry this quickly since Ellen."
  • Big Damn Movie: Family Ties Vacation, an action-adventure TV movie filmed on-location in England.
  • Big Ego, Hidden Depths
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: The Ur Example.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Mallory, sometimes. Jennifer, when Andy came along and later when she was going through puberty.
  • Canon Welding: In the last episode of Spin City where Michael J. Fox appears as a regular, it is suggested that the series takes place in the same universe as Family Ties.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin'
  • The Cast Showoff: In later seasons, Jennifer. In earlier episodes, Elyse.
  • Clip Show: several. Two sees the Keatons share stories with Alex's girlfriends Ellen and later Lauren, another has the men and women of the family rehashing past incidents.
    • Parodied on SNL when Justine Bateman hosted. They did a Family Ties spoof where they would flashback to another episode and in that episode they flashback to another episode and so on until they flashbacked to a real episode of The Jeffersons.
  • Cool Uncle: Uncle Ned (played by Tom Hanks) is really cool, but has a drinking problem.
  • Costumer: In the episode "Philadelphia Story" Alex has a dream where he must convince Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and the cast wears clothing from that time period.
  • The Couch
  • Cousin Oliver: Andrew
  • Crossover: Oddly happened a decade after the show ended. Michael J. Fox went on to play the lead on Spin City and his character on that show eventually had an off-screen run-in with Alex - who is revealed to have become the junior senator from Ohio.
  • Dawson Casting: Michael J. Fox was 21 when he was cast as 16-year-old Alex.
  • Deadpan Snarker: EVERYONE.
  • The Ditz: Mallory
  • Ditzy Genius: Alex. He's a hypercompetitive straight A student and math genius who was doing his parents' taxes when he was five years old and advised his parents on mortgage rates when they bought their house. Yet in everyday activities he often proves completely incapable. His little sister frequently beats him in sports, he fails at things like building kites, cooking or fixing cars even with extensive directions.
  • Dom Com
  • Drop in Character
  • The Eighties
  • Eighties Hair: Jennifer's hair in later seasons was a fairly extreme case.
    • Alex had a bit of a mullet around season 6, too.
  • Evil Matriarch
  • Excellent Adventure: In one episode, Alex P. Keaton falls asleep - and he witnesses the Declaration of Independence. As this episode occurred around the time that Michael J. Fox (Alex's actor) was also playing Marty McFly on Back to the Future, this episode was possibly a nod to the then upcoming film. In the film, Doc Brown types in the date of the Declaration of Independence - when demonstrating to Marty how his time machine works.
  • Extraverted Nerd: Skippy Handelman, even though he's not particularly intelligent.
  • Good Parents: Steven and Elyse
  • G-Rated Drug: One episode has Alex becoming dependent on "diet pills" (implied to be amphetamines) to stay up late studying.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Steven's father.
  • Heel Realization: Happens in about half the episodes, usually to Alex, though the other characters get their fair share as well.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Tom Hanks as Elyse's alcoholic brother.
    • Courtney Cox as Alex's girlfriend Lauren.
    • Geena Davis as Karen, the Keatons' housekeeper when Elyse is pregnant.
    • Ronny Cox as Ellen's blustery father.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Alex is the "sexy" nerd, while Skippy is an Extraverted Nerd.
  • I Want You to Meet An Old Friend of Mine
  • Inter Class Romance: Mallory and Nick.
  • In with the In Crowd
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Subverted.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Alex
  • Lamaze Class
  • Locked in a Room
  • Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: The alcoholic uncle, Elyse's brother Ned (Tom Hanks), and Elyse's sister Michelle--although in an earlier episode Elyse argues with her mother and refers to herself as "your only daughter". There's a Very Special Episode featuring Mallory's favorite aunt, the never-before-seen Trudy, who dies of a heart attack (which of course is never again mentioned). Also teen pregnancy was dealt with by bringing in a never-seen-before friend, and both Alex and Mallory mourn friends whom we'd never seen alive or would hear about later.
    • Ned was in a two-part episode the previous season fleeing the FBI for stealing money from his company.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Both actor Michael J. Fox and character Alex P. Keaton.
    • It's been suggested that the P stood for Peace. Mallory at one point suggests, not necessarily jokingly, that it stands for Pompous.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Michael J. Fox is Canadian and says sorry as sore-ee. The show is set in Ohio.
  • Opening Credits Cast Party
  • Opposites Attract: Alex and Ellen.
  • Parent Ex Machina
  • Post-Robbery Trauma: Elyse invests in a gun after a break in.
  • Romance on the Set: Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan, who played Alex and Ellen respectively, got married in real life.
    • However, according to Fox's autobiography Lucky Man, the two actors did not start dating until sometime after Family Ties was cancelled, as Pollan was already dating Kevin Bacon, while Fox was dating Nancy McKeon. Fox did have a crush on her, though.
  • Scatting: Mallory unconsciously does a weird, Yiddish scat to the tune of "If I Were a Rich Man" while she and Alex are sitting at the kitchen table working. Alex starts dancing in place for a moment before he stops her.

  Alex: You were yidle-didle-ing.

  • Screaming Birth
  • Smug Snake: Mr. Tadesco, Alex' teacher in "The Harder They Fall".
  • Soapbox Sadie: Jennifer in later years.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Andy. Went from infant in season 4 to about four years old in season 5.
  • Teens Are Short: Alex being only 5'5", exactly a foot shorter than 6'5" Michael Gross
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Without Us", sung by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.
  • Talk About That Thing
  • Title Montage: In the first season.
  • Tranquil Fury: Don't get Steven mad.
  • Vacation Episode: See Big Damn Movie, above.
  • Very Special Episode: A number of these including: Uncle Ned's alcoholism, a colleague of Stephen's inappropriately touches Mallory, Alex gets hooked on stay-awake pills, a friend of Alex's is killed in a car crash, Alex suffers from insomnia, Stephen has a heart attack, among others...
  • Wacky Guy: Mallory's boyfriend, Nick
  • What Could Have Been: Originally, the actor who played Nick, Scott Valentine, was supposed to have been spun off into his own series, The Art of Being Nick. Unfortunately, however, NBC did not pick it up because they were reportedly afraid that Nick's absence would hurt Family Ties.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: The Keatons are at a loss as to how their kids ended up so differently, particularly Alex.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: Jennifer and Mallory take the form of the Ghosts of Christmas past and future (respectively) and Alex learns the true meaning of Christmas, and what his greed could lead to.
  • You Are Not Alone:
    • A particularly impactful example is the episode "'A,' My Name is Alex," where Alex has a nervous breakdown after his best friend dies in a car accident.
    • Mallory actually winds up doing this for the shattered mother of a friend who committed suicide.
  • Younger Than They Look: In the last couple of seasons, Jennifer is 15 or 16 years old, but look like she could be in her late teens or early twenties toward the end of the series. Also, Michael Gross who plays Steven. He went grey early, his hair thinned a bit, and was only about 42 by the time the show ended.
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