- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

‘Ties’ that bind

Today’s best sitcoms barely resemble the comedies of just 20 years ago.

NBC’s “My Name Is Earl,” “Scrubs” and “30 Rock” all eschew laugh tracks, traffic in morally ambiguous characters and rarely offer a neatly wrapped lesson by the show’s end.

The ‘80s situation comedy “Family Ties,” finally out today on DVD, shows that the old sitcom format deserves some love.

“Family Ties: The Complete First Season” features 22 episodes from the 1982-83 season on four discs.

The show (on NBC from 1982-89) followed a pair of former hippies (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter Birney as Steven and Elyse Keaton) raising their three disparate children. Young Alex (Michael J. Fox, as brilliant as our memories recall) worshipped Ronald Reagan, not Abbie Hoffman. Mallory (Justine Bateman) cared more about boys than civil rights. And precocious Jennifer (Tina Yothers) seemed like the family’s oldest soul.

The early episodes focused on the culture clash between the Keatons’ liberal values and current realities, not to mention Alex’s “Greed is good” worldview. One installment finds Steven and Elyse getting arrested on Thanksgiving Day for protesting nuclear arms; another shows Steven chafing over Alex’s involvement with an exclusive country club.

Show creator Gary David Goldberg (“Spin City”) made ideologies collide but never let the arguments get out of hand. The final five minutes even found the family hugging without so much as a grudge.

The country sure could use some of that right now.

“Family Ties” wasn’t edgy, groundbreaking or even intellectual. We could live without half of Miss Yothers’ cutesy line readings, and some of the gags are as stiff as Alex’s pressed shirts. Nevertheless, it’s hard to top “Ties” for warm, family-friendly humor delivered by cast members who instantly clicked.

The 411 on ‘911’

“Borat” isn’t the only comedy that pokes fun at real life. Comedy Central’s series “Reno 911!” is an amusing parody of police reality shows such as Fox’s long-running “Cops.”

“Reno’s” ensemble cast of comedians and actors play dysfunctional members of the fictional Reno Sheriff’s Department in the largely improvised show.

A feature-film version, “Reno 911!: Miami” opens Friday, but if you can’t wait until then, you can catch the cast today at 9 on “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet” on Fox5-WTTG.

Die-hard fans and the otherwise intrigued also can catch up with the best of the show Feb. 27, when “Reno 911!: Reno’s Most Wanted Uncensored” arrives on DVD. The disc contains seven of the best episodes, uncensored and chosen by the cast. Bonus features include the deputies’ favorite calls and a never-before-seen live musical performance of “Don’t Steal Cable.”

New episodes of “Reno 911!” debut on Comedy Central April 1 at 10:30 p.m.

Compiled by Christian Toto and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff reports.

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