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The Best Episodes Of Family Ties According To Fans

Sitcoms about families ruled TV screens in the 1980s. Full House, Family Matters, Growing Pains, and Roseanne were among the shows that humorously — and often poignantly — showcased the universal challenges families face, each from different walks of life.

Family Ties was among those popular shows. It followed the Keatons for seven seasons, from 1982 to 1989. Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter played parents Steven and Elyse Keaton, two aging hippies who built their relationship on a foundation of activism. Though they hadn't lost their passion for advocating for justice, they traded most of their protest days to raise a family.

Michael J. Fox starred as their oldest son, Alex P. Keaton. His character directly spotlighted the differences between the '60s counterculture his parents belonged to and the more capitalism-focused, Reagan-era '80s. His folks still adhered to their liberal political leanings, while Alex was the exact opposite — a preppy, suit-and-tie wearing young conservative who dreamed of a successful business and finance career.

The differences between the parents and Alex were the most extreme of this family unit, which also included sisters Mallory (Justine Bateman), Jennifer (Tina Yothers), and little brother Andy (Brian Bonsall). None of the other kids were on the same side of the political fence as Alex. The funny show tackled a broad span of common issues from sibling rivalry to drug use to the insecurities that plague every teenager.

According to fans via IMDB, these are some of the show's most popular episodes.

A, My Name is Alex

There's nothing like the unexpected loss of a loved one to make a person question their mortality. That type of event hits Alex P. Keaton's (Michael J. Fox) life like a ton of bricks in this two-part award-winning episode from season 5. Generally, Alex isn't a member of the family who shows a lot of emotion. Painfully conservative, he takes a more cut-and-dried approach to matters, rather than letting his feelings take control. When his close friend Greg gets killed in a car accident, the audience witnesses Alex's spiral into the many levels of grief.

The torment he experiences ultimately leads him to see a therapist, and that's where this riveting episode gets intense. Viewers don't see the therapist, so those conversations appear as monologues in a stage play. Fox is a one-person tour-de-force as he talks about his life and facing the feelings of guilt he has about his friend dying — he was supposed to accompany Greg on the excursion that ended in the crash. He also is sad and angry and plays the whole range of emotions with gusto. It was character depth that we hadn't seen previously from Alex, and it endeared him to fans in a whole new way.

Mr. Wrong

In the '80s, the Rambo action movie franchise was a box office favorite. Sylvester Stallone played the main character, John Rambo, a veteran on a mission to fight injustice. His physical appearance was a mix of rebel-meets-rugged and inspired a trend. In the "Mr. Wrong" episode, Mallory Keaton (Justine Bateman) brings home her boyfriend, Nick Moore (Scott Valentine), who has all the fashion stylings of a young Rambo. At one point in the episode, Steven (Michael Gross) even announces to his wife Elyse (Meredith Baxter), "Our daughter is dating a young Rambo!"

Unlike the Keaton adults and over-achiever Alex, Nick is not an intellectual and is definitely not from the fancy side of the tracks. Steven forbids Mallory from seeing him, and naturally, she is devastated. Mallory convinces her folks to try again, and he gets a second chance to come by for dinner. That event goes badly, too, ending up with Nick storming out.

It's a bit of a surprising turn for Steven, an old hippie and humanist, to take an alienating stance. As the episode plays out, we see that his adversity is more of a general fear of change and watching his daughter become an independent person. Things get a bit more harmonious after Steven chills out a bit and gets to know Nick beyond the surface level.

The Real Thing

During his sophomore year in college, Alex is interested in finding a girlfriend, so he hits the student directory to look for a match. He finds Tricia, who, on paper, seems like everything that he is looking for in a partner — in other words, she is a lot like him. Tricia has a roommate named Ellen, and by virtue of the situation, the trio ends up spending time together.

Alex and Ellen are polar opposites. She's a liberal feminist, and he's a raging Reagan conservative, which is just one thing. Their differences inspire plenty of bickering and, after a particularly edgy spat, a heated Alex starts to realize that he has feelings for Ellen. Though she is attracted to him, too, she announces that she is headed out of town to get married to someone else.

In the episode's second part, Alex can't stop daydreaming about Ellen and decides to hop on a train to stop her wedding. The two ultimately connect and have a relationship, though it isn't a forever one. While those two characters didn't make a lasting union, things worked out well for the actors. Ellen is played by Tracy Pollan, who eventually became Michael J. Fox's wife, and the two are still going strong.

Speed Trap

It wouldn't be an '80s family-oriented sitcom without an episode about drugs. Family Ties is no exception. In "Speed Trap," Alex is trapped under a pile of schoolwork. He's prepping for tests, applying for scholarships, and writing term papers. The very competitive Keaton is under pressure to get all the work done and receive the top grades and awards that come with its completion. He gets so stressed and exhausted that he has Mallory hit up her friend Effie for some diet pills, promising her pal a date with Alex in turn.

As these methamphetamines help him motor through his tasks successfully, he gets used to taking them and develops a dependence. Along with the pills' extra energy, he also receives the mood swings that come as a side effect. He becomes unbearable, cranky, and intolerable. On the eve of the big state scholarship test, he crashes and misses the exam. That sends him into a downward spiral, and at this low point, he sees the dangers of using drugs.

The episode is a caution against not putting oneself in a vice to try and be perfect and a story of the perils of drug use. Fox is in fine form as he rolls from insanely energized to sullen and self-reflecting.

4 Rms Ocn Vu

We all know what happens on a sitcom when the parents head out of town for a few days — mayhem ensues. "4 Rms Ocn Vu" is no different. With Steven and Elyse on a trip, Alex is in charge of watching the house, but he's only concerned with Monica, the girl that he's dating. So he puts his position of authority on the back burner. He wants to get his sisters out of the house, so Mallory takes the car and ends up crashing into a telephone pole. To get it repaired and keep the incident under wraps, they need to come up with $300. 

It also happens to be homecoming weekend at nearby Leland College, so they rent out the rooms in their house to strangers in town for the event. At once, they become innkeepers without any prior experience. Their friend Skippy (Marc Price) joins in, becoming the house bellhop. With homecoming activities in full swing, it's no surprise that shenanigans take place, including a group of frat brothers using the house as a hideout for a rival's mascot — a kangaroo.

Alex Doesn't Live Here Anymore

"Alex Doesn't Live Here Anymore" is Family Ties' two-part series finale. It makes sense that the show concludes with a defining moment in Alex's life — his college graduation and subsequent move to New York City to take a much-coveted job on Wall Street. He's the eldest son and the first to go, causing everyone to feel the change in significant ways. Elyse goes to New York with Alex to check things out, and the trip solidifies the reality of her kid leaving the nest, which manifests in her experiencing both sadness and anger. It causes tension to brew between mom and son. Because the Keatons are a consistently communicative family, it leads to the two of them having a conversation where they express their respective feelings.

It's not all sadness, though; there's plenty of normalcy in the mix. For instance, Mallory and Jennifer busy themselves with measuring his bedroom to see what kind of space they'll have once he moves. It's a smart way to end the seven-season run, focusing on the reality that life is fluid and that change is inevitable and positive, even when it isn't always easy to swallow.

The Harder They Fall

It's no surprise that Alex wants to attend an Ivy League college. His sights set on Dartmouth and Princeton, he hopes that a recommendation from a beloved language arts teacher, Mr. Rubin Tedesco (Edward Edwards), will help seal his fate. On parent-teacher conference night, Elyse heads to Tedesco's classroom only to discover that the educator is a condescending, demeaning, insufferable jerk. As she stands up for the other parents at the mercy of his nasty behavior, he verbally assaults her, and she surprises herself by clocking him in the jaw.

Alex is inclined to be upset with his mom when he hears about the incident. It's indicative of Alex's nature, and naivety, in a way — assuming that an intellectual elitist must be without fault. Steven visits Tedesco to smooth things out and ends up punching the guy after enduring his verbal abuse firsthand.

Alex's big fear is that Tedesco will impede his path to college, so he invites the mean teacher to dinner at their house. He finally gets a clear look under this guy's academic veneer and sees the ugly human beneath. Though Alex is tempted to punch Tedesco too, he gives the teacher a piece of his mind and rips up the letter, letting Tedesco know he doesn't want his help.

It's pretty shocking to see the pacifist Keaton parents use their fists in frustration, but try watching this one without being reminded of that one Tedesco-like teacher that got under your skin.

Say Uncle

It wasn't uncommon to catch Tom Hanks on a sitcom during the 1980s. He starred in Bosom Buddies for multiple seasons and made appearances on shows like Taxi and Happy Days. On Family Ties, he pops in a couple of times over the series' span as Elyse's brother Ned.

In "Say Uncle," Ned shows up for a visit and happens to be in need of a job, Steven gets him an interview at the TV station where he works. In the meantime, as he prepares for that meeting, it starts to become obvious that he's got a problem with booze. When it's time for Ned's interview, he shows up totally drunk and of course blows the opportunity.

The situation is especially crushing for Alex, who looks up to Ned. He tries to appeal to Ned to get some help by reminding him of his previous successes. The episode offered Hanks an opportunity to move out of straight comedy and show his ability to go to a darker place.

My Tutor

River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993, at age 23. The older brother of Joaquin Phoenix started working as a child actor in 1980, and by the time he passed away, he had amassed a healthy resume and a lot of critical praise. On the "My Tutor" episode of Family Ties, he plays 13-year-old Eugene Forbes, a young genius that Alex hires to help him raise his grade in advanced geometry by one percent.

Eugene is up for the job until he meets Alex's youngest sister Jennifer (Tina Yothers). He falls for her at first sight and finds himself torn between helping Alex and wanting to cut loose. The emotions make him realize that his hardcore academic life hasn't included doing any fun and frivolous things other kids get to do. Though Jennifer doesn't have romantic feels for Eugene, she does befriend him and takes him to do some typical teen activities.

Mr. Right

Mallory's boyfriend, Nick, is a hard pill for her parents to swallow. Initially, they didn't like him and forbade her to date him. Although they allowed the pair to date, Nick still feels insecure about their feelings regarding him and is always worried that they're going to encourage Mallory to end the relationship.

In "Mr. Right," Nick reaches out to Alex to see how he might fare better with Steven and Elyse. Unsurprisingly, the self-absorbed Alex encourages Nick to replicate his behavior in both style and action. Next thing you know, Nick is dressing similarly to Alex's preppy style and attempting to talk like him as well. While the rest of the family is impressed by Nick's attempt to change, the one person he cares about the most — Mallory — doesn't like it at all. Of course, she never wanted him to be any different and is annoyed by not getting to spend as much time with him while he busies himself with trying to make a good impression.

Heartstrings Parts 1, 2, and 3

This three-part episode is one of the most emotional of the series. In the first part, when Steven returns home with Elyse after a jog, he is feeling unwell. As Alex is in the living room blabbing about politics to a picture of George Bush, Steven collapses behind him. After being rushed to the hospital, they discover that he had a severe heart attack and needs surgery. Naturally, the family is devastated. This episode ends before he gets the surgery.

The next part finds the family in the hospital waiting room as the doctors determine the course of Steven's surgery. While there, they go through the gamut of feelings that come with suffering a tragedy that could change their lives forever.

Steven has the surgery in the last episode and gets to come home, armed with information on the health-related changes he'll have to make. In this third part of "Heartstrings," we see Steven's realization of the situation's gravity as he flashes back to earlier times with the family.

Sign of the Times

Andy, the youngest member of the Keaton family, is in kindergarten in "Sign of the Times." There, he is assigned to show a new student, Josh, around the school. Josh is deaf and is played by deaf actor Darrell Thomas Utley. Josh's teacher and mom explain to Andy that while Josh can't talk the same way he does, he uses sign language to communicate. Andy introduces Josh to some of his classmates and explains to them what he learned about Josh. Unfortunately, a few of them choose to make fun of Josh, which upsets Andy. By the day's end, Josh tells Andy that being teased made him sad. To show support for his new friend, Andy stops talking. He hopes that by doing this, he can become an even better friend to Josh.

Take a close look at those bullies, and you might recognize one as none other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Don't Go Changing

Alex's relationship with college girlfriend Ellen is based on the pair's intense, shared attraction despite their glaring differences. She is way artsier than he is and involved in fine art and dancing, two areas where Alex is inexperienced. His insecurities get the best of him: he feels like he'd better get familiar with her creative passions, or she may lose interest.

He decides to join Ellen's ballet class and, staying true to his interests, performs an interpretation of the stock market crash of 1929. Since he doesn't have music picked out to accompany his performance, the pianist decides to play the "William Tell Overture," so he's interpreting a tragic historical event to a gloomy tune.

Can he dance? No — and that's the best part. Had they gone the route of surprising everyone by showcasing Alex's never-seen-before impressive ballet moves, it wouldn't have the same impact. It's not uncommon for Alex to go the extra mile, and this situation is no different. His goal of trying to have shared experiences with Ellen allows his sincerity to reign over the chaos.

Not An Affair to Remember

Not long before Judith Light starred as Angela opposite Tony Danza in the long-running sitcom Who's The Boss, she appeared on Family Ties in "Not An Affair to Remember."

Light appears as Stacey Hughes, a production assistant at the television station where Steven works. She's got a big crush on Steven, which other coworkers notice. When Steven catches on, he doesn't exactly do anything to deter her. He lets his ego get the best of him and starts sprucing himself up to go to work, playing into her interest.

When the two of them have to work together on a documentary project, she cranks up the heat. In the end, even though Steven finds Stacey attractive, he doesn't cross the line to have an affair with her.

Steven Keaton is a character who generally does what most would consider "the right thing," especially in challenging scenarios. This episode allows Michael Gross to take Steven's halo off for a minute as he very humanly contemplates connecting with this coworker.