Family Matters started in 1989 as a spinoff of Perfect Strangers, designed to show viewers the home life of Chicago elevator operator Harriette Winslow (JoMarie Payton-France) and the three generations of family living with her. But it’s arguable whether the show would have become the ABC nighttime staple it was, surviving for nine seasons, if it wasn’t for an actor named Jaleel White and a now infamous character known as Steve Urkel.
Maybe that’s why Urkel is featured prominently on the packaging of the DVD release of Family Matters: The Complete First Season – from the slipcase, to the front and back of the DVD box, to the liner notes, to all three of the discs comprising the set – despite the fact that his first real appearance doesn’t come until the 12th episode of the 22-episode season. After all, without him the first 11 episodes were dull. Despite an interesting cast of characters, Family Matters had an undeniably late 80s/early 90s sitcom feel, of actors painfully trying to hit their marks and laugh tracks galore. But with the addition of Urkel, the show did something different. It actually became funny, while still finding time for its poignant family moments.
Luckily, the producers of the show recognized a good thing when it hit, and ran with it for almost nine years. As a result, however, the debut season of Family Matters can feel a bit like two different shows. Sure, it’s the same family and same Chicago setting, but Urkel really does make all the difference in the direction of the show.
On DVD for the first time, Family Matters may not impress new viewers in its first half, but it holds up as a surprisingly solid show in the latter portion, showing why it helped drive TGIF programming to major success until 1997, and why it is second only to The Jeffersons for the longest running black sitcom on television. The biggest disappointment is that there’s not a single special feature included in the set. As such a historic series, it’s a shame Warner couldn’t put together at least one retrospective featurette, include outtakes or give it a high-definition bump after all these years. Warner gets points for recognizing the show was long overdue for a home video release, but for the lack of extras should be asking themselves those four infamous words.
“Did I do that?”
Bill Jones is the editor-in-chief of padsandpanels.com, a site dedicated to the coverage of games and comics.