Like many since the dawn of television, the core of my moral code is derived from TV sitcoms. A long, long time ago there was something known as the TGIF Lineup which aired on the ABC network. The shows on the lineup changed every once in a while, but a certain few were particularly influential to me and my generation. Here they are, in the order of earliest-aired:
A show about three grown men who live with three young girls, Full House aired from 1987 to 1995. My ridiculous description of the premise aside, Full House was an anchor show for TGIF and taught traditional American values which Captain America would approve of. From what I recall, though, most lessons on the show are aimed at kids, including: sometimes bad stuff happens to good people; alcohol is bad; don’t be a jerk; and it’s easy to get a date if you’re a Greek dude with awesome hair.
Later in life, I saw the Quantum Leap episode guest starring Bob Saget. I was shocked by his use of foul language. Then, I heard his stand up routine.
Family Matters (also known as Full House with melanin) follows the Winslow family as they do a bunch of funny stuff in Chicago. The lessons and morals the show presents are similar to those of other TGIF shows, including: sometimes bad stuff happens to good people; alcohol is bad; don’t be a jerk; and it’s easy to get a date if you’re a star football player (who knew?).
Once in a while, Family Matters addresses an issue that most other TGIF shows don’t get into as much: racism. There’s some heavy stuff (e.g., when Laura gets a hate-note when spreading awareness for Black History Month; when Carl initially defends a fellow officer who hassles his son, only to find out the officer was racially profiling people).
Anyway, the best episodes are the ones featuring Urkel’s hilarious car or his DNA-altering machine (which made him into Stefan and Bruce Lee-Urkel). The cloning thing at the end was just weird, though; the writers definitely wrote themselves into a corner with Steve’s two love interests, Myra and Laura.
Step by Step
The Brady Bunch of the 1990’s. Step by Step had all of the family sitcom morals and lessons of its TGIF brethren. The best things about the show: the character of Cody, played by Sasha Mitchell; and Staci Keanan who played the eldest Foster sister, Dana.
Staci Keanan is extra awesome because she went to UCLA like I did, and also went to law school at about the same time, though at another school. I totally should have transferred.
And . . . now I’m curious about the type of law she practices.
Boy Meets World
The youngest of the bunch, but probably my favorite TGIF show. I re-watched (almost) the entire series on YouTube (it’s on DVD now, so you people go buy it) while I was studying in London, and it sort of influenced me in writing my novel. You might see how once I find an agent and publisher for my manuscript (so, never).
Boy Meets World is about Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), a curly-haired middle child who, for a time, is “a geek who doesn’t know he’s a geek.” The show starts with Cory in fifth or sixth grade and follows him through half of college. While Cory’s supposed to represent the average American kid, Cory scores abnormally high when it comes to morality, which is what makes him spectacular (which reminds me of my other post in which I rank Cory alongside Captain America and General Obi-wan Kenobi as one of the great “good guys” of fiction).
A few things I found exemplary about Boy Meets World is that amidst its humor, it touches upon serious issues (e.g., domestic violence; racism—in that one episode where the Japanese-American girl is called a “bad name”; parenting and psychological ramifications; and socio-economic stuff), and there’s some good pathos-evoking moments as well. Also, it teaches us: sometimes bad things happen to good people; alcohol is bad; don’t be a jerk; and it’s easy to get dates if you wear leather jackets and have great hair.
Somewhat recently, Ben Savage reprised his role as Cory Matthews in the Disney Channel series, Girl Meets World. This new show follows Cory’s daughter, Riley Matthews (Rowan Blanchard), as she navigates her life from age 12 to whatever. I haven’t seen Girl Meets World yet as I may be too old for it, but if it focuses enough on Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, I’ll give it a go.
The Wayans Bros.
Alright, this isn’t a TGIF show, but it stars Shawn and Marlon Wayans (as Shawn and Marlon Williams), is awesome, and originally aired at around the same time as Boy Meets World. The lessons aren’t always as nice and clean as those from TGIF, but The Wayans Bros. has its share of lessons about devotion to family, loyalty to friends, and generally being good to other human beings.
Of the many things the Wayans siblings have produced, The Wayans Bros. is my definite favorite.
What I learned from these shows: A bit of morality and a sense of humor (all of which were subsequently altered by Joss Whedon, Friends, The Office, and How I Met Your Mother).