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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Family Matters' message is to treat yourself and others with respect. Some episodes tackle racism, sexism, family dysfunction, school bullying, and gun violence, but these issues are never glorified; instead, characters find healthy ways to deal with the problems of modern life. As the kids on the series mature, so do plots about teen dating. Teens kiss and talk about sexiness, and two women characters comically "throw themselves" at men (who find it unattractive). But on the whole, this show is both fun and healthy.
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What's the story?
FAMILY MATTERS was launched in 1989 as a spin-off of Perfect Strangers and originally focused on the home life of Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Payton) and her husband Carl (Reginald VelJohnson). The Winslows' nerdy next-door neighbor, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), was introduced midway through the first season as a one-time character but quickly became the focus of the show.
Is it any good?
Full of funny moments and life lessons about the value of family, friends, and friends who become family, this is still a terrific show for families to watch together. Urkel is one of TV's most iconic comedic characters. Bespectacled, high-voiced, and sporting high-water pants, suspenders, and saddle shoes, he's profoundly (and dangerously) clumsy, so smart it's a problem, and generally out of touch with most social norms. Most episodes start with Urkel making an unannounced visit to the Winslow home at precisely the wrong moment, full of good intentions that always backfire (White is a talented physical comedian) and generally wreaking havoc on the Winslows.
As the series progresses, Urkel invents more and more technologically improbable gadgets, including a transformation chamber that he uses to change himself into cool, sexy Stefan Urquelle. Laura falls for Stefan, and yet Steve turns himself back into the nerdy guy Laura and the Winslows find so annoying. Why? Because, he says simply, he likes himself. And that might just be the heart of Family Matters: Despite how often he gets on their nerves, the Winslows always come to appreciate Urkel's good intentions, his company, and his inner strength. They always come around to taking his side, and he takes theirs from the get-go.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about choosing friends based on character, like the Winslows do on Family Matters. Why do the Winslows keep opening their door to Urkel if he's so irritating? Why do they forgive him for the trouble he seems to cause? What makes Urkel so odd, and what is good about him? How is he actually similar to the Winslows? Also, when he has the chance to turn himself into ultra-cool Stefan, why should he do it -- or not do it? What would you do (or not do) for a friend or for the person you love?
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