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As long as we got each other,
We got the world spinning right in our hands...
Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns are Jason and Maggie Seaver, a Happily Married couple living on Long Island with their three children: mischievous teenager Mike, brainy Carol, and precocious Ben. Maggie has decided to return to her pre-motherhood career as a journalist, and Jason has moved his psychiatric practice into the family home.
Early focus on the parents shifted quickly as Kirk Cameron's Mike became the face of the series.
Behind-the-scenes turmoil shaped the series' later years. In early seasons, Mike and Ben had often teased Carol for being overweight, which was cited as a factor when Carol's portrayer, Tracey Gold, left the show to get treatment for anorexia. Another source of controversy emerged when Kirk Cameron became a born-again Christian. He started requesting script changes to eliminate risqué content, and insisted that fellow cast member Julie McCullough, who played the family's nanny (and Mike's fiancee), Julie, be fired due to her past appearances in Playboy. In 1991, executive producers Dan Guntzelman, Mike Sullivan, and Steve Marshall quit after Cameron telephoned Lewis Erlicht, who was then president of ABC Entertainment, and accused them of being "pornographers". The show was cancelled the following year.
Growing Pains was also notable for its use of both Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome and Cousin Oliver to combat the aging of the series regulars. Jeremy Miller, who played Ben, outgrew the role of precocious child, but didn't seem able to replace now-adult Kirk Cameron as a teen heartthrob. Chrissy, the baby the Seavers had in 1988, went from infant to school-age over the summer of 1989. Mike went into teaching and brought orphaned teen Luke (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) home for the Seavers to adopt.
- Alcoholic Parent: Not the Seavers. When Luke joins the family, Jason thinks he's drunk the alcohol from the wine cabinet. Turns out he dumped it down the sink because his alcoholic stepfather used to beat him after his mother died, which is why he ran away from home.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys
- All Just a Dream: Episodes "This is Your Life" (season 3, episode 10) and "Meet the Seavers" (season 6, episode 21).
- Aloha Hawaii / Vacation Episode
- Artistic Title
- Beware of Hitch-Hiking Ghosts: In a Halloween episode, Mike claims he had met a beautiful teen-aged ghost named Kara, who had died 17 years earlier in a car accident. An in-joke in the episode is that, along the way, Mike and Kara stop at a roadside bar, where a talent show — featuring all of the guests dressed as dead celebrities — is taking place. Of course, Mike's making up the entire tale.
- The "B" Grade: Played in an interesting way. Carol makes out with her boyfriend instead of reading a book assigned for English class. She takes a pop quiz the next day and still gets an "A". The anguish begins after Mike looks over her test and points out she used a lot of big, intellectual sounding words and essentially confused the teacher into giving her an "A".
- Billing Displacement: After the success of Titanic, commercials for the show on Disney Channel focused almost entirely on Luke (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), despite being on the show for only a season.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Several extreme examples. One of which involved actual drawing on the TV screen. Also averted (or perhaps completely turned on its head) by actually showing a fourth wall in the "Meet the Seavers" episode.
- Bowdlerise: When aired on ABC Family.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Usually played straight, although occasionally subverted by Mike.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The family gets a dog in a Christmas episode, but then he's never seen again.
- Clip Show: At least one every season, including the series finale.
- Couch Gag: Starting in the fourth season, the show taped several different versions of the shot in the main title where the family goes into the house. Whoever was the last to go into the house would usually be the focus of that week's episode.
- Cousin Oliver: Both Chrissy and Luke.
- Death Is a Sad Thing
- Dream Sequence
- Drunk Driver: Carol's boyfriend Sandy (Matthew Perry) was in an accident while driving drunk. Viewers were bracing for the climatic Aesop (Sandy would recover, lesson learned, let's move on)... until Sandy bit it..
- Eighties Hair: Look at the women in the picture on top of this page. Yeah.
- Between's Kirk Cameron's perm and Alan Thicke's not-quite mullet the first couple of seasons, it's safe to say the guys weren't immune either.
- Enforced Method Acting
- Fan Disillusionment: Ben catches his favorite rock star, played by Brad Pitt, cheating on his wife.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Boner
- Hot Mom
- Ivy League for Everyone
- Lamaze Class
- Long-Lost Uncle Aesop
- Medium Awareness
- Opening Credits Cast Party
- Or Was It a Dream?
- The Other Marty: Carol
- Parent Ex Machina
- Pie in the Face
- Poorly-Disguised Pilot: For Just the Ten of Us. Coach Lubbock, the central character of Just the Ten of Us, was an established recurring character on the show, although his domestic life -- a rather large family, with another baby on the way -- was not seen or even alluded to until the episode which was used to spawn the spinoff.
- Post-Robbery Trauma
- Put on a Bus: Carol. She returned.
- Also Boner, who was shipped off to join the Marines in the fourth season.
- Real Life Relative: Inverted. Kate, Mike's girlfriend, was played by Chelsea Noble who would later marry Kirk Cameron.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Mike's character saw drastic changes in the last few seasons because of Kirk Cameron's religious conversion.
- Reunion Show: Two of them, which don't quite match up.
- Revenge of the Nerd: Gender flipped; Mike asks out a hot girl, only to discover he used to tease her for being "Bucktooth Becky".
- School Play: Mike plays George in Our Town.
- Screwed by the Network: For Just the Ten of Us. Despite earning decent ratings as part of ABC's TGIF block and frequently winning its time slot, the show was abruptly cancelled in the spring of 1990, due to ABC wanting all shows in the TGIF block to be packaged by Miller-Boyett Productions, as was the case with fellow programs Full House, Family Matters, and Perfect Strangers.
- She Is All Grown Up: Essentially the focus of the episode where Carol is nominated for homecoming queen. Even big brother Mike reluctantly admits that she's pretty.
- Shout-Out: In the finale, Jason comments that if they move to Washington, D.C., he might get to meet Joan Lunden. Word of God stated that this line was specifically included because at the time, tabloids were speculating that Alan Thicke and Joan Lunden were romantically involved.
- Side Bet: When Mike graduates from high school, Carol finds a note in her purse reminding her of an ancient bet they made as children that he would never graduate. Cue a Flash Back to the conversation.
- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Chrissy.
- Someone to Remember Him By: In Name Only. Ben insists on naming his new baby sister Chris, after an old man he befriended in the hospital.
- Sorry That I'm Dying: Show Within a Show-style.
- Spin-Off: Just the Ten of Us.
- The Couch
- Thematic Theme Tune
- Theme Tune Cameo
- Trapped in TV Land
- Unexpected Positive: Maggie is doing a series of news reports about regular medical checkups, and thus undergoes all the usual tests. This is how she discovers she's pregnant.
- In another episode, Jason allows a pediatrician to examine him to show a teenage boy it's no big deal. This is how his hernia is discovered.
- Wag the Director: After converting to Christianity, Kirk Cameron became a Moral Guardian and started forcing his views onto the production. He also was partially responsible for getting actress Julie McCullough fired from the show because she posed for Playboy, and at one point he called up then ABC Entertainment president Lewis Erlicht and accused executive producers Dan Guntzelman, Mike Sullivan, and Steve Marshall of being pornographers (really). The executive producers couldn't fire the guy, since it was his mug in all the teen magazines, so they simply quit the show.
- Years later, Cameron admitted that his behavior was immature and inapproriate.
- Even more ironic, Steve Marshall would actually be arrested for child pornography in 2010.
- You Look Familiar: Brooke Theiss and Jamie Luner, who had both appeared before as other characters, played Coach Lubbock's daughters in the Poorly-Disguised Pilot for Just The Ten Of Us.