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"Family Matters" The Complete First Season DVD Review

Buy Family Matters: The Complete First Season from Amazon.com Family Matters: Season One (1989-90)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: William Bickley, Michael Warren / Developers: Thomas L. Miller, Robert L. Boyett

Writers: Alan Eistenstock, Larry Mintz, William Bickley, Michael Warren, Robert Blair, Sally Lapiduss, Pamela Eells, Barry Gold, Ken Kuta, Geoff Gordon, Gordon Lewis, David Scott Richardson / Directors: Richard Correll, James O'Keefe, John Bowab, Joel Zwick, Peter Baldwin

Regular Cast: Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow), JoMarie Payton-France (Harriette Winslow), Rosetta LeNoire (Estelle "Mother" Winslow), Darius McCrary (Eddie Winslow), Kellie Shanygne Williams (Laura Winslow), Jaimee Foxworth (Judy Winslow), Joseph Julius Wright (Richie Crawford), Telma Hopkins (Rachel Crawford)

Recurring Characters: Jaleel White (Steve Urkel), Randy Josselyn (Rodney Beckett), Ebonie Smith (Penny Peyser)

Notable Guest Stars: Valerie Jones (Judy Winslow), Larry Block (Mr. Seeger), Peter Fitzsimmons (Dr. Alan Smith), Jacques Apollo Bolton (Will "The Thrill" Morgan), Susan Merson (Sylvia), Olivia Brown (Vanessa), J.W. Smith (Jake), Ken Foree (High Top), Ron Glass (Buddy Goodrich), Ann Ryerson (Brooke Nash), Keith Williams (Tyrone), Adam Jeffries (Mark), Ken Page (Darnell Watkins), Ron Taylor (Darnell Coleman), Lou D. Washington (Darnell Clark), Louis Mustillo (Russell), Ellen Albertini Dow (Miss Gilbert), Tyren Perry (Shirley), Kendra Booth (Robin), Shawn Harrison (Guy in Towel), Gino Conforti (The Maitre d'), Teddy Wilson (Captain Casper Davenport), Tim Russ (Jeff), Malachi Pearson (Rambo), Markus Redmond (Bull), Rachel Griffin (Margie Flegman), Ara Easley (Rebecca), Chance Quinn (Jerry), Bumper Robinson (Kyle)

Running Time: 529 Minutes (22 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98; DVD Release Date: June 8, 2010
Season 1 Airdates: September 22, 1989 - April 30, 1990
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Clear Keepcase in Cardboard Box

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Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett were kind of to 1980s sitcoms what Rodgers and Hammerstein were to Broadway musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. The production team, established in 1980,
was behind the long-running comedies "The Hogan Family", "Perfect Strangers", and "Full House." In 1989, with much of mainstream America won over, Miller-Boyett sought to expand its reach with a black family sitcom. By then, "The Cosby Show" had been the country's most-watched show for four seasons.

Created by William Bickley and Michael Warren and developed by Miller and Boyett, "Family Matters" seems well aware of the "Cosby Show" success, for its central family is cut from the same accessible cloth: a large, happy middle-class clan residing in one of the nation's most populated cities. Like Brooklyn's Huxtables, the Winslows of Chicago are African American, but their race seems to be a minor part of their identities and their ordinary domestic adventures are of the universal variety.

The Winslows' home on Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago is the backdrop for the "Family Matters" title screen. In the premiere episode, chubby cop Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) explains to his no-nonsense wife Harriette (JoMarie Payton-France) why living with his mother might not be so pleasant.

The head of the household is stout police officer Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson, no stranger to the occupation, having already portrayed cops in Ghostbusters, Die Hard, and Turner & Hooch). His wife Harriette (JoMarie Payton) actually qualifies "Family Matters" as a spin-off; the no-nonsense character had made recurring appearances in the third and fourth seasons of "Perfect Strangers" as the elevator operator at Larry and Balki's newspaper workplace (as Carl, VelJohnson had joined her in one Season 4 episode).

No family sitcom is complete without kids and the Winslows have three. Slow-witted teenager Eddie (Darius McCrary) is quite comparable to Malcolm-Jamal Warner's Theo on "Cosby". His two younger sisters, industrious Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth), are familiarly precocious, but unlike the "Full House" girls they're a bit reminiscent of, they're not given a whole lot to do just yet, besides trading barbs over house work and taking shots at Eddie's intelligence. (Judy would disappear, without explanation, late in the fourth season.)

A third generation comes into play in the first episode, which moves Carl's widowed mother Estelle (Rosetta LeNoire) into the house. Because the more the merrier, there is also Harriette's colorful younger sister, sassy author Rachel (Telma Hopkins), who's also recently widowed and with a baby boy of her own, Richie (Joseph Julius Wright).

The three Winslow kids -- Judy (Jaimee Foxworth), Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), and Eddie (Darius McCrary) -- receive screentime in proportion to their height. Though she has a young baby (Joseph Julius Wright), Aunt Rachel's (Telma Hopkins, half of the Dawn that sang with Tony Orlando) newly-widowed status makes it okay for her to be a bit boy-crazy.

You may notice that I haven't mentioned the show's by far most iconic character: Jaleel White's suspendered, high-panted neighbor nerd Steve Urkel. Much like Fonzie on "Happy Days", Urkel was a breakout character who eventually came to be the star and nearly everything. That was a somewhat gradual process on "Family Matters". Here in Season 1, Urkel makes a brief uneventful guest appearance in the fourth episode (supposedly this was added for syndication).
He is brought back midway into the season and instantly granted recurring guest star status. Thenceforth, Urkel remains focal as he makes regular unannounced and unwanted visits, proving himself to be more intrusive than the Tanners' stinky-footed neighbor Kimmy Gibbler. Though not part of the opening credits cast until Season 2, Urkel is immediately elevated to star status, claiming as many "A" storylines as anyone in the Winslow family to rising viewership ratings and hearty audience approval of whoops, hollers, and applause.

Still, Urkel only appears in eleven of the first 22 episodes. Despite this, he claims about 70% of the front cover space (more than all the Winslows combined), half of the back, the full booklet cover, all three discs, and a majority of the menus of Warner's long-awaited upcoming The Complete First Season DVD. It is indicative of this side character's rise to prominence and his standing as the show's most memorable invention. But the packaging is also about as deceptive as any major video release and far less suspect than a $1 public domain overstating a movie star's pre-fame supporting role. Of course, downplaying Urkel on what could very well end up being the show's only retail DVD release wouldn't have been wise. But there was probably a happy medium between misleadingly making the whole package about Urkel (I'm really not exaggerating this) and accurately recognizing his limited Season 1 contribution (which the rear cover synopsis almost tries to explain).

Before Urkel, his catchphrases (including his most famous, "Did I do that?", first uttered here), and cool alter ego Stefan Urquelle fully took over, we find a pretty standard family sitcom here. In its storyline subjects and joke targets, "Family Matters" is familiar. Season 1 covers such timeless sitcom issues as finances, report cards, child athletics, diets, dating, a pet, cooking and savvy home businesses. Like its Miller-Boyett brethren, the show is good-natured and upbeat. Like "Full House" but with less of an "awwww" factor, it unabashedly reveals heart and sentimentality near the tidy conclusion of each installment.

Revisiting these episodes twenty years after they first aired, they certainly aren't uproarious. But they are moderately funny and not too poorly dated at all. Even an unextraordinary turn-of-the-'90s sitcom remains plenty appealing to me. I don't expect the same from this as a comedic television show airing now, which explains why it doesn't seem quaint or old-fashioned to me. But those are conceivable reactions for those who weren't weaned on this type of program: a positive family depiction without the bite and irony of today's few surviving multi-camera sitcoms. At some point, a retired sitcom becomes less about supplying laughs and more about a comforting entertainment experience. An average show like "Family Matters" certainly didn't need twenty years to get to that point, but it's there now, with nostalgia factors not even looming largely over these not especially referential episodes.

Harriette, Carl, and Rachel give a typically disturbed reaction to the nerdy neighbor who would come to take the sitcom's focus away from them. Before Stefan Urquelle, the show doubled Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) the old-fashioned way: a life-sized cardboard photo standee.

"Family Matters" was introduced in the second season of ABC's TGIF Friday night programming block. There, it aired in between "Full House" and "Perfect Strangers." (Though it would move around and be broadcast every weeknight but Thursday at least once its first year.)

By its second season, "Family Matters" was neck and neck with "Full House", becoming the 15th and 14th highest-rated programs on television for 1990-91. Though it would never crack the top 25 by Nielsen numbers again, "Family Matters" nonetheless had a long, prosperous run of nine full seasons for a total of 215 half-hour episodes. That was slightly longer than "Seinfeld", "Cosby Show", and "Home Improvement." Wikipedia's second paragraph on the show points out that among African American sitcoms, only "The Jeffersons" (with 11 seasons and 253 episodes) has remained in production longer. Of course, it's easy to argue that supply exceeded demand on "Family Matters". Along with fellow Bickley-Warren-created, Miller-Boyett-developed TGIF sitcom "Step By Step", "Family Matters" moved from ABC to CBS in 1997. Aired as the bookends of the short-lived TGIF competitor CBS Block Party, both shows would be cancelled after just one season on CBS, with their final episodes burned off in the then desolate summer months.

Apparently, the original theme song to "Family Matters" was Louis Armstrong's heartwarming "What a Wonderful World." According to Wikipedia, that lasted for just three episodes, but that is three more episodes than it is attached to on this DVD. All twenty-two episodes feature the show's memorable subsequently used theme "As Days Go By", performed by Miller-Boyett favorite Jesse Frederick (who wrote the tune with Bennett Salvay).

Thankfully, that appears to be the DVD's only musical substitution. Still present here are brief snippets of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" and Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step" (heard twice, once with music video clip). The Winslow family's renditions of other existing pop songs, including Brown's "My Prerogative", The Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love", "Proud Mary", Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money", and The Contours' "Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)" (performed by Carl at his high school reunion), are also left intact. The consistent runtimes suggest nothing has been cut (and they add up to 45 minutes longer than Warner's conservative case estimate).

Synopses follow. A star () denotes my favorite episodes from the season.

Carl has a talk with newest resident Mother Winslow (Rosetta LeNoire) on the porch swing where the show often gets serious. Harriette explains to her old Chicago Chronicle boss (Larry Block) why she's qualified for a management job. Harriette and Carl are a bit sick of having a third wheel, prompting "Rachel's First Date" as a widow.

Disc 1

1. The Mama Who Came to Dinner (23:45) (Originally aired September 22, 1989)
Changes are soon felt when Carl's mother moves in with the family and tries to gain Eddie permission for a curfew-breaking party.

2. Two-Income Family (23:47) (Originally aired September 29, 1989)
The Winslows' financial concerns are compounded when Harriette loses her job.

3. Short Story (23:47) (Originally aired October 6, 1989)
Rachel's semi-autobiographical story rubs Harriette the wrong way. A high utilities bill has Carl stressing over the family's water usage.

4. Rachel's First Date (24:07) (Originally aired October 13, 1989)
After intruding on Carl and Harriette's date, Rachel nervously goes on her own first date since her husband's death.

Carl sees an opportunity for a bedroom father-son chat, while 1980s Michael Jordan hangs back near the wall. Harriette checks in on her sister Rachel's stealthy late-night welding meant to repair "Body Damage." While assisting Carl with bathroom work, Eddie shatters the door glass in only highlight presented audibly in the opening title sequence montage.

5. Straight A's (23:47) (Originally aired October 20, 1989)
Eddie surprises all with a straight-A report card, but he finds out it's not the real thing.

6. Basketball Blues (24:07) (Originally aired November 3, 1989)
Carl works Eddie out around the clock to prepare him for the school's basketball team tryouts.

7. Body Damage (23:47) (Originally aired November 10, 1989)
Carl's safety record puts him in temporary possession of a classic police car, which Rachel and Harriette accidentally crash and try to cover up.

8. Mr. Badwrench (23:47) (Originally aired November 17, 1989)
Unwilling to pay contractors, Carl tries to install a second shower himself with help from Eddie. Rachel tries to get Richie to repeat his first word.

Carl checks the wire on foxy new partner Vanessa (Olivia Brown) on their "Stake-Out." Beloved sitcom dad Buddy Goodrich (Ron Glass) is questionably arrested by a presumed jealous Carl. Kellie (Shanygne) Williams gets to do some real acting when Laura sells the Winslows' 200-year-old family history quilt (seen behind her).

Disc 2

9. Stake-Out (24:07) (Originally aired November 24, 1989)
Carl is assigned an attractive new female partner (Olivia Brown), causing his family to worry and crash the cops' motel diamond thief stakeout.

10. False Arrest (24:07) (Originally aired November 28, 1989)
Carl's actions are questioned when he arrests Buddy Goodrich (Ron Glass, "Barney Miller"), the two-faced star of the Winslows' favorite family sitcom.

11. The Quilt (24:07) (Originally aired December 8, 1989)
To buy a new VCR, the kids hold a garage sale and Laura ends up selling the priceless patchwork quilt Grandma didn't want to part with.

12. Laura's First Date (24:04) (Originally aired December 15, 1989)
Carl arranges for Steve Urkel to take Laura to the dance, which complicates things when someone else asks her.

Carl, the one family member who doesn't want a pet, comes to be quite fond of Mickey the dog. The Winslows' marathon tart-making weekend gets a bit messy for Rachel and Carl. Nothing says out-of-control house party like the guy in the purple turtleneck.

13. Man's Best Friend (24:06) (Originally aired January 8, 1990)
The kids bring home an abandoned dog and try to hide it from Carl.
Soon, Carl is the only one who can stand destructive Mickey.

14. Baker's Dozen (24:07) (Originally aired January 11, 1990)
After impressing everyone with his homemade tarts, Carl goes into business. When they get way more orders than anticipated, the Winslows set out to make 12,000 tarts in two days.

15. The Big Reunion (24:06) (Originally aired January 23, 1990)
Embarrassed about his weight, Carl agrees to let Rachel coach him through diet and exercise so he can attend his 20-year high school reunion.

16. The Party (24:07) (Originally aired February 3, 1990)
While the adults struggle to get to Carl's out-of-state brother's birthday, the Winslow kids unintentionally wind up hosting a happening house party. Shawn Harrison, who would come to be a regular as Waldo Geraldo Faldo, appears here as "Guy in Towel."

Urkel gets a dinner date with Laura, after helping Eddie with algebra. In "Sitting Pretty", Laura's babysitting service fills the Winslow house with rowdy kids on the night of an important dinner. Carl is at a loss for words as Channel 13's new traffic reporter, after the jokes Rachel wrote for him are taken away.

Disc 3

17. The Big Fix (24:06) (Originally aired February 9, 1990)
Urkel tutors Eddie in algebra in exchange for a date with Laura. Carl struggles to fix an uneven chair.

18. Sitting Pretty (24:06) (Originally aired February 20, 1990)
Laura starts a babysitting service and gets busiest on the night Carl has invited the new captain he's trying to impress to dinner.

19. In a Jam (24:06) (Originally aired March 16, 1990)
Eddie debates whether he should get involved in Urkel's dispute with a bully (Markus Redmond of "Doogie Howser, M.D."). Carl gets to do the traffic report on TV.

A debate is the biggest challenge for Eddie's freshman presidential campaign in "The Candidate." We learn that Harriette and Carl take bowling quite seriously in "Bowl Me Over." The Rappin' Winslows close out Season 1 with this hip "We Are a Family" music video.

20. The Candidate (24:06) (Originally aired March 23, 1990)
Eddie runs for freshman class president, with Laura managing his campaign. On a recycling kick, Rachel goes overboard.

21. Bowl Me Over (24:06) (Originally aired April 17, 1990)
The Winslow family goes bowling and the close results produce a spirited battle of the sexes.

22. Rock Video (24:06) (Originally aired April 30, 1990)
Eddie's band makes a music video for a contest. Carl struggles with filing income tax returns by himself.

Harriette (JoMarie Payton-France) catches Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) going for a middle of the night snack. Sleepwalking joke coming in 3...2...1... Urkel (Jaleel White) may be the nerd, but Eddie (Darius McCrary) doesn't seem much cooler with his sweater tucked into high waist pants.


Despite what is printed on the discs, "Family Matters" is presented in 1.33:1, the aspect ratio Warner calls "standard" and most people know as "fullscreen" (although the number of screens it fills is shrinking every day). This is, of course, true to the series and all '80s/early '90s sitcoms' original format.
Picture quality is quite satisfactory. There is no way of escaping sitcoms' modest means, and the video here doesn't have the detail or sharpness of modern productions. But it is clean enough and slightly superior to the standard-definition transmissions you'll currently find in the wee morning hours of Nick at Nite. Colors are a little washed out, some episodes are blurrier than others (and desired), and you'll spot the occasional imperfection. But a 20-year-old sitcom is only going to look so good.

The stereo soundtrack also meets one's expectations. It is as full and potent as you could hope for and the dialogue is always intelligible. Still, it's nice to get English subtitles for the hearing impaired and a French translation as well. Volume levels must sometimes be adjusted, but the fine sound exceeds the picture in quality.

With no special features and a main menu that recycles the cover art, about the DVD's most exciting creation is episode pages pairing titles with Urkel flexing his muscles.


As has come to be the norm for catalog TV programs, especially sitcoms, "Family Matters" is joined by absolutely no bonus features. We don't even get previews
for relevant other works (which I somehow never tire seeing, even on a roughly 10 DVD-a-week diet).

Adhering to Warner's simple standards, the menus are static screens recycling artwork from the package. The end credits score plays over each disc's unchanging main menu.

While special touches may be missed on the discs themselves, Warner has at least done a nice job of packaging them. Slipping into a not entirely redundant six-sided cardboard box, a clear standard-sized keepcase with swinging tray holds the platters. An enclosed 4-page booklet (these are still made? gasp!) supplies titles, writers, directors, air dates, and synopses for all 22 episodes, arranged by disc. Nice publicity photography spruces up the welcome insert and the interior of the cover art, which also lists cast and characters for the season.

This may have been business as usual during the TV-on-DVD boom, but as studios have generally scaled back everything, the colorful and informative packaging is appreciated here. Now if only Warner could have dug up an outtakes reel or some old promos... or maybe even reached out for the always satiating cast retrospective.

Rachel (Telma Hopkins), Eddie (Darius McCrary), Harriette (JoMarie Payton), Laura (Kellie Williams), and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth) console Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) after he has to part with a friend in a first season "Family Matters" episode.


In some ways, "Family Matters" does feel like a poor man's "Cosby Show" at its start. But this sitcom is appealing enough in its earliest days, before Urkel took over in extremely outlandish ways. This first season may be different from what the show became over its long run, but anyone who ever considered themselves a fan should enjoy it. It seems like you had to be around and of TV viewing age back in 1989-90 to really like these stylings. Even so, this hasn't aged poorly and, like other Miller-Boyett productions, "Family" is easy to watch and appreciate on some level.

Warner's Season 1 DVD offers a good presentation, although the complete lack of bonus features naturally disappoints. Based on other popular sitcoms whose DVD releases have stalled (including "Growing Pains" and "Perfect Strangers" at Warner), it will probably take a miracle for us to see more "Family Matters" on disc anytime soon.

More on the DVD / Buy Family Matters: Season 1 from Amazon.com

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Reviewed May 27, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1989-90 Miller•Boyett Productions and Lorimar Television, 2010 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.