Family Matters (“Rachel’s First Date”)

Season 1, Episode 4
Date of airing: October 13, 1989 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 20.8 million viewers, 13.1/25 in Households

Jaleel White was in the cold open of this episode. This shocked me, because I thought he would appear for the first time halfway through the season. I understand that the first episodes of FAMILY MATTERS were reworked just slightly in the editing room to get a little more out of Steve Urkle during the show’s syndication airings, but does that also mean scenes were shot after the season wrapped production just to add them into episodes randomly to make it look like Urkle had been part of the show forever? Or might this have been a scene that comes from a later episode? After all, Urkle was asking for Laura already, and Carl said to him “Once again you’ve come between me and the things that I love,” which suggests that Urkle has been annoying the Winslow family already and it’s just another Urkle comedy moment like most of them probably will be through the back half of the season and maybe the next one. I need some of my answers questions, because it sure as hell looks like this scene was added way after the initial airing of this episode. Someone George Lucas’d this half hour of television.

It’s a summer dress for her date.

This was a solid episode otherwise. I’m loving the moments during which the show turns into a more serious route and delivers an enthusiastic and heartwarming monologue about how life should be better for the characters and how they can’t just sit back and let things happen to them. Mother Winslow was definitely out to give Rachel a meaningful and thorough life lesson to have the heart grow two sizes, and Rachel’s story of needing to get over her late husband was definitely here to showcase that FAMILY MATTERS appreciates life stuff and that it’s not always about the punchline or the sitcom stuff. Maybe this will be an element that turned FAMILY MATTERS into the hit show that it was about to become, and it’s probably a good thing I don’t remember anything about it, since the last time I watched it on television was when it aired on a week-daily rhythm in German television, which was probably more than 15 years ago.

So, Rachel went on a date with a guy she blew off constantly, which means Alan must have tired many times to convince Rachel to go out on a date with him. The fact that he was still trying must mean he is a creep, and 30 years later this episode would have included a plotline about how Rachel was trying to say “No” without actually using the word and then reluctantly going out on a date with Alan, because she felt she couldn’t handle the negativity coming out of being her own person. That only shows FAMILY MATTERS has lost the momentum of being a timeless show, although that was already happening due to the way the Winslow family was being portrayed by its cast members — there is a sense of the series being a family sitcom from the 1970s, in which kids are here to entertain and make the adults either laugh or feel humiliated (I never knew what Alan felt, because visited both ends of the spectrum), while the storytelling remained with the adults in the room only.

“Which card am I holding?”

Anyway, Rachel went on a date, which means her back story of her husband’s death is probably going to disappear now, which is not a hard thing to do, since it hasn’t been part of the show for its first three episodes. It may have been mentioned once or twice, but it’s not like it has been used as a back story to inform Rachel’s decision-making, up until this episode. And even then, chances are Rachel won’t be dealing with her grief majorly over the next few episodes, as FAMILY MATTERS will continue to focus on stand-alone stories that won’t define or develop the characters. Which is also something that could change in the future of the show after the writers and producers realized it was a hit show and kept ABC’s Friday going, eventually turning it into one of the center pieces for their TGIF block.

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