Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Scattered Thoughts On Family

I've just watched the first 4 episodes of Family. More info on the show at All the following observations are based solely on those 4 episodes.

My thoughts:

It stands up; still worthwhile to view. Some good writing, good acting, and still applicable themes and storylines. A cancer scare; falling for the perfect girl, except, oops, she's pregnant; trying to make a marriage work; an unwanted pregnancy.

I was surprised at how physical Kate & Doug's relationship was, much more than I remembered (tho less than anything shown on TV today.) I was also surprised, considering this was only a few years after Roe V. Wade, that Kate talked so bluntly about not wanting to be pregnant and thinking about getting an abortion. While she did not do it, a question remains about Nancy's second pregnancy. It's mentioned in the pilot, but not in any of the subsequent shows.

I also like how none of the characters are perfect; from episode one, we see that Nancy is both spoiled and yearning for more out of life, that Kate has made personal sacrifices to stay in her marriage, that Doug lets himself be manipulated by Nancy. Buddy can be cute and annoying, insightful and child like.

But damn, it's pretty obvious it's the mid to late 1970s!

Kate, the mother, is brilliant; not just because of the nuanced performance by Sada Thompson, but also because she so represents her time period. On the one hand, she talks about wanting to get an abortion when she was pregnant; on the other hand, she has always been, without apologies, a housewife. Oh, a music lesson is mentioned... but what Kate does is clean (we are introduced to her as she washes out metal garbage cans, wearing, of course, a skirt) and bake (wonderful pies and cakes) and cook (in one episode, she makes breakfast for herself and Doug, and as soon as Willie comes downstairs, she jumps up, giving up both her seat and her breakfast to her 17 year old son who accepts both without a second thought.) She also has lived with her husband's infidelity from 20 years before. In these first episodes, there is no hint that she wants anything more out of her life than exactly what she has. While there is nothing wrong with Kate's life, can you think of any modern drama where a woman is so unapologetically a housewife? Where there isn't even a mention of the career or life she used to have?*

Kate always wears a skirt or dress; has a cleaning women (who we haven't met yet, but we know doesn't wash out garbage cans or do toilets). She is 46; she's no Desperate Housewife. She dresses "like a mother", is even called "Mother," and (how to put it nicely?) is no size 6 and doesn't do pilates.

Kate -- and this is the most telling thing of the time being shown -- councils her daughter, who has walked in on husband & best friend, to examine herself to see what she did that contributed to her husband cheating. What did Nancy do that drove Jeff to cheat?**

Doug is a lawyer; and despite living in a gorgeous house where each child has his own full bathroom (I know!!!), and a stay at home wife, says that he cannot afford to help pay for home health care for Kate's ill mother. Kate agrees; and all I can think is the hell? This from a family who isn't going to have to pay college tuition for another six years, since Nancy is married and Willie has dropped out of school. It's an odd mix of a privileged family that cries "no money" every now and then.

On to Nancy; Kate is angry at Nancy for "being spoiled," yet when I hear what makes Nancy "spoiled" I cry for both women. Kate, who thinks that wanting many things -- marriage AND children AND education AND career makes one "spoiled"; Nancy, who knows she does indeed want "more" but has no role model on how to be both a woman and have the life and career her father enjoyed.***

That said, I can see where Kate is coming from -- Nancy is shown not committing to any of the things she wants, dropping out of school to get married, having a baby then starting college again before the baby is even a year, then skipping classes while she is in college. (By the way, in four episodes the baby is never shown!!!) (And, this is Original Nancy; Nancy 2.0 doesn't show up until season 2.)

So far, not enough about Willie or Buddy; Willie, we know, dropped out of high school and we hear he writes, takes photos, and likes Science Fiction films and old films but we don't know yet why he's a drop out. Buddy is a pre teen and is very realistic; already we see her struggle to figure out who she is, to understand her relationship with family members, to define her independence.

Perhaps what most reveals the age of the show is not the mindset of Kate, the clothes or the hair; it's the music. No songs! Also, so far, each ep is SO stand alone; Nancy's pregnancy is mentioned once. Cancer scare is one ep; pregnant girlfriend is one ep; each is so standalone that it's almost as if the other episodes never happened. (And yes, I remember all about Timmy... yet another indication of stand alones, OtherTimmy is not mentioned once in the first 4 episodes and I'd bet money he's never mentioned in any future seasons.)

*I also think that this changes as the show goes on and addresses the changes in society in the 1970s, but I'm not sure.

**While Kate is quite insistent in her conversations with both Doug and Nancy that Nancy examine her actions to see what she did to drive Jeff to cheat, and that part of what a woman has to do to remain in a marriage is accept that she is responsible for her husband's actions, she never says what it is she did, or didn't do, in her own marriage that led Doug to cheat.

***OK, this reflects my knowledge of what Nancy 2.0 does in future episodes, rather than Original Nancy who, after the Pilot, has no significant story line.

Your thoughts?


Miriam said...

I had completely forgotten that Meredith Baxter Birney wasn't the original Nancy! I loved this show. Where are you seeing episodes? Are the on TV somewhere, or was the series released for home sale? As I recall, over the years the characters did refer to things that had happened in other episodes, so I think that they became a little less stand-alone as the years progressed. I wish Sada Thompson had done more television. She's a heck of an actress. I think she's been concentrating on theatre since this show went off the air.

Liz B said...

My library has it on DVD (season 1 & 2 are together in one set; season 1 was a midseason replacement so only had 6 episodes.)

Sada Thompson blew me away; she was good, she was pretty, and best of all: she made her character human and real even when she was doing or saying unlikeable things (both the things that were meant to be unlikableh and those that were not. Like, I really really wonder what the 1976 reaction was to Mom's How To Deal With A Cheating Husband Advice.)

I'm on hold for the next discs in the set. So far, it looks like no extras.