As the Family The First and Second Complete Seasons set shows Family, the ABC television family drama, was a big hit when it was on television and quite often the talk of the town. This series was famous for dealing with issues without the facile all is well that ends well television solution. The first episode of Family The Complete First and Second Seasons opens with Nancy (Elayne Heilveil who would be replaced by Meredith Baxter Birney for the second season) finding her husband in bed with another woman and wondering if she will keep the child she is carrying. For the mid-seventies (and even now in our very politically correct everybody is afraid of right-thinking republicans) this was one hell of a start for a television drama. The Family DVD set is one of those long-awaited, what took them so long to put out on DVD television shows but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has finally come through.
What made Family such a popular TV drama is how balanced every thing is and how nothing is ever shrill. Unlike many other such shows then and now there is no message, lesson to be learned, or agenda shoved down your throat. The first episode of Family The Complete First and Second Seasons deals with infidelity, indirectly with abortion, and growing up. Buddy (Kristy McNichol) steals the family car and gets arrested while Kate finally makes peace with her husband about his own infidelity twenty years ago. The only character in this first episode that does not have much to do is the brother, Willie (played by Gary Frank).
Willie gets more to do in the episode where the grandmother has come to visit the Lawrence family one last time as she knows her days are numbered. This episode of Family, The Complete First and Second Seasons, like many others takes a serious subject and deals with it like most families would. It is this realistic, ordinary people facing life's every day challenges that make Family such a good television drama.
The show has also not really aged at all. Yes, the costumes and so on look dated but the people and the events they have to face are still current. Yes, the background music sometimes tends to hammer the point that this is a dramatic scene but, then again, American television, drama or comedy, has always treated viewers as if they had the brains of lemmings.
Another way television hammers its point home is in the opening scene of season two where Meredith Baxter Birney (Family Ties) takes over the role of Nancy: her ex calls and a picture of Nancy / Baxter Birney is right there next to him. You have to admit though that Baxter Birney is a much better actress and Nancy a better character because of her. You also have to admit that this hammering away is a rare instance in Family, a solid and very watchable family drama.
The writing in Family The Complete First and Second Seasons, already pretty good in season one, improves in the second season. The first episode of season two, where Nancy has an affair with a professor manages to make the mutual seduction subtle and believable. This is just an example of how the show is able to deal with issues a real family and its members have to deal with without going for the rose-colored glasses approach of most TV dramas. Another good example is Lovers and Strangers where Willie has a The Graduate experience with a filmmaker he met at the airport although the musical cues are a bit heavy.
All in all, Family, the Complete First and Second Seasons is a very interesting series that has aged well, makes you wonder why television does not do quality family oriented dramas where realism does not take a back seat to keeping everybody happy.