Family Matters (“Short Story”)

Season 1, Episode 3
Date of airing: October 6, 1989 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 22.6 million viewers, 14.0/26 in Households

In which my favorite character so far owns the story of the episode, making it a better half hour than it probably has any right to be. At this point in the show, FAMILY MATTERS was still trying to find its tone and its reason for existence, but even three episodes in it’s sort of like ay other family sitcom that has aired before. The cast hasn’t been able to stand out so far, the writing has been nothing special, and the jokes don’t sit all the time, yet there is something fascinating about the show, which I cannot put to words just yet. Maybe it’s the fact that it revolves around an African-American family, which means there are parts of culture in the show I wouldn’t recognize as such, but still notice that they are there. But to know what is fascinating about FAMILY MATTERS after three episodes, I have to do research and I’m one of the lazy ones on this planet, so research is pretty much out. It does make me wonder though how much the show and the characters will change when FAMILY MATTERS gets rebooted only slightly, and how many of the characters that I’m watching now are still part of the show three or four years in. They all seem replaceable, and no one is really going to notice that they may get recast. I would notice if Rachel is gone though.

It’s a visual depiction of Rachel’s writer’s block.

Her story became a little predictable halfway through, when she was persuaded to write a story about her family, instead of something about she has no knowledge of, like truckers and tattoos. As soon as that premise was there, it was obvious her story would sell and it was clear that some Winslow family members would have a problem with the way Rachel saw the family. It’s a good thing then that the story led to a fallout between Rachel and Harriet, which led to the information that the two are sisters — up until this point the show wasn’t really clear whose sister Rachel was, but now that we now she is Harriet’s sister, the writers were able to create a dynamic between the two, let alone something that would resemble their sisterhood. In this episode they may just have looked like two people who had a disagreement about something specific, but since it’s still early in the show and the writers were still trying to find an angle to make this a potentially long-lasting television sitcom, creating a dynamic between certain family members is a good idea. But this being a 1980s show, it could be a little difficult to even get to that dynamic in the first season.

Eddie doesn’t need new high-tops, he needs a new shirt.

In hindsight, maybe the story was a little too thin for this episode, but then again I am starting to realize that FAMILY MATTERS may generally have the problem of not having enough material to put into a narrative, which is why this episode felt only halfway filled up. A lot could have been done with Harriet and Rachel’s conflict, but the writers needed a while to even get to that premise, and suddenly the episode already passed the halfway mark. In addition, the other characters weren’t really involved in Rachel’s little problem. Granted, Eddie thought he was the man of the world and he needed to go on dates with all the women (especially that one specific girl he had a crush on), but that was just the comedy part of this sitcom episode, and it wasn’t particularly funny either. In fact, when he came back home with a ripped shirt, but otherwise completely healthy and fine, as if he didn’t get into a fight at all and instead just got stuck on a fence that ripped his shirt (it happened to me and my glorious Wonder Woman shirt — not there is a huge hole on the sleeve, because a tiny part of the fence was sticking out towards the walkway, and I was walking very close to the fence), I was actually wondering why someone would beat him up over asking a girl on a date. “Bubba” must not have been a considerate boyfriend for Eddie’s crush, and any guy who beats up another guy for asking a simple question should be checked for aggressive behavior.

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