When it was originally on: 1989-1998
Original network: ABC (moved to CBS for ninth season in 1997)
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: In my youth, I saw syndicated episodes on ABC Family all the time, but it’s been years.
What IMDb says: The Winslow family deal with various misadventures, many of them caused by their pesky next-door neighbor, ultra-nerd Steve Urkel.
Why I picked it: Family Matters was always a fun sitcom of its era, but the real reason it made the list is that I know the pilot is not representative of the rest of the show. The show’s legacy lies in Steve Urkel. Ask people to tell you about Family Matters and they’ll probably say it’s that show where the annoying kid with the glasses says “Did I do that?” in reference to something he very obviously did. Even people who never watched the show know Urkel. And yet he wasn’t actually introduced until later in Season 1, and it was even longer before they started consistently writing entire episodes around him.
And so there’s this part of me that’s dying to know what the Winslow family looks like sans Urkel. I’m dying to know what the writers thought this show’s hook was going to be. And so, the pilot for Family Matters made The List.
What I liked: I love the Hariette/Carl dynamic. These two seem to constantly bicker when alone together, yet whenever they’re confronting their kids or Carl’s mom, they’re a united front. Both of these characters know how to be a hard ass when that’s what the situation calls for, or show their softer side when they need to. There’s no mean parent/lenient parent cliché. We just have two strong people who stand on equal footing in an even stronger partnership.
Part of why allows that dynamic to flourish is that we have two other adults in the household, a grandmother and an aunt. That means that if there’s ever a need for a “lenient parent” it’s easy for either Aunt Rachel or Mother Winslow to step into that role. Not only are these two endearing characters, they also can help set up interesting conflicts that wouldn’t come up in a more typical parents-and-kids sitcom.
What I didn’t like: A lot of the jokes didn’t really land for me, but I suppose that’s subjective. I also wished the kids had had more defined personalities. Eddie pretty much only exists to cause conflict between the adults, while Laura and Judy don’t even get any real plot. However, all of these are relatively typical stumbling blocks for a pilot, and not really indicative of the whole show’s quality.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Sort of? I’m still really curious to see how this pilot slowly evolves into the Urkel-centric show that everyone remembers. But if I didn’t have that prior knowledge, I would probably shrug this one off as another halfway decent, but somewhat obsolete product of its time.