Family Matters (1989-1998)
Perfect Strangers (1986-1993)
Type: Spin Off
Perfect Strangers was a sitcom that told the story of a pair of mismatched cousins. Larry was a young photographer new to Chicago who was living on his own for the first time. But before he could even get used to being on his own, his cousin Balki Bartokomous arrived and became Larry's roommate. Balki was an immigrant from the country of Mypos. A former shepherd, Balki was all innocence and decency. Larry was smart but prone to taking actions based on his desperation to get ahead. They made for a sort of male Laverne and Shirley with lots of physical slapstick and silliness. My favorite joke had to be when a delivery man delivered a package, held out the invoice to Balki and told him to sign his name. Balki slowly and methodically spelled out his name in sign language and slammed the door in his face. The next time the deliveryman came with another package, he thrust a pen in Balki's face and ordered him to "take this pen and sign your name". Balki took the pen, gave his name in sign language, slammed the door and kept the pen. The entire time you had the feeling Balki knew exactly what the guy wanted but just insisted on screwing with him. It was innocent and snotty at the same time.
Well, back to the point of this - the spin off. In 1987 Larry and Balki both went to work for The Chicago Chronicle newspaper. With the addition of the newspaper to the show came a bunch of new characters who worked at the paper. One of them was Harriette Winslow the building's elevator operator. Harriette was blunt, honest and outspoken and served as a sort of friendly but, like I said, blunt voice of advice for Larry and Balki. Her husband Carl was a heavy set donut loving cop. Reginald VelJohnson who played Carl has made a whole career out of playing friendly black police officers (Die Hard 1 & 2, Ghostbusters, Perfect Strangers...). Carl was also a friend of the guys.
In 1989, Carl and Harriette Winslow spun off into their own series called Family Matters. It was a friendly family sitcom. With some of the same people who made Happy Days working on Family Matters, it had the same sort of feel. Sort of a black Happy Days for the early nineties. Like Happy Days, it centered on a nice enough if maybe a bit bland middle class family. And like Happy Days, it didn't truly become successful until it discovered a strong character to liven things up. On Happy Days it was the super cool Fonzie. For Family Matters it was a character at the entire opposite end of the spectrum - super uncool Steve Urkel. Urkel was a genius who was also a hopeless nerd. The show played to Steve's staying a nerd because he was proud of who he was.
Steve caused all sorts of slapstick comedy with his clumsiness and especially annoyed Carl and the Winslow's daughter Laura. Carl's problem was that Steve viewed him as a close friend and always wanted to hang out and help him. Of course in "helping" Urkel always ended up screwing things up. His signature bit would be to by accident utterly destroy something and then whine out, "Did I do that?" For Carl's pretty and smart daughter Laura the problem was that Steve was helplessly in love with her. While she didn't hate Steve she sure didn't want to date him. In his persistence, Steve did slowly wear her down (as he would say "I'm wearin' you dooown baby!) and she did come to see the good decent person he was. But he still made her nuts on a regular basis and would never give up on her. By the end of the series he had actually even become engaged to her!
Family Matters had one other thing in common with Happy Days I just have to mention - the disappearing sibling! When Happy Days started, the Cunnigham family had three children - young daughter Joanie, High School aged son Richie and their off at college son Chuck. Chuck was mainly known for his constant basketball dribbling and, being in college, didn't figure into the show too heavily. After a short time he was dropped from the show entirely. Again, since he wasn't of major importance his disappearance was hardly noticeable. You just assumed he was in college. But no! Later episodes would clearly state he no longer existed at all. In one episode when asked how many children he had, Mr. Cunnigham responded, "Two. One daughter and a smart alecky son!"
On Family Matters the goodbye girl was daughter Judy Winslow. The show focused mainly on the older Winslow kids Eddie and Laura. For kid appeal there was adorable little cousin Richie. With all the other kids around, there was little left plotwise for Judy. I think they wrote her into the show in the first place as a sort of spare kid. Happy Days ran into trouble when all the kids grew up and left the show. I think Judy was there just in case some of the older kids left. But they didn't. All the kids stayed with the show to the end! That being the case, there wasn't much need for Judy. I don't think there was even one story on the show about her! She was expendable. And so in 1993, Judy disappeared and nobody seemed to even notice. What the hell is up with that? What sort of loving family does not notice their daughter is missing. Did Steve accidentally kill her and brainwash the others into not knowing she ever existed? WHAT PHANTOM IS STEALING THESE CHILDREN. the horror. The horror.Other Family Matters Crossover Links
Family Matters and Full House
Family Matters and Meego
Family Matters and Step By Step
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