Family Matters | EW.com

TV

Family Matters When it debuted this past fall, there was nothing to suggest that ABC's Family Matters would become one of the most enjoyable sitcoms ...Family MattersComedy When it debuted this past fall, there was nothing to suggest that ABC's Family Matters would become one of the most enjoyable sitcoms ...1990-05-04
B+

Family Matters

Genre: Comedy; Lead Performer: Jaleel White; Broadcaster: ABC; Status: In Season

When it debuted this past fall, there was nothing to suggest that ABC’s Family Matters would become one of the most enjoyable sitcoms on television. The show was a spin-off from the exhausted, overheated Perfect Strangers — executive producers Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett took Perfect’s amusingly blunt elevator operator Harriette (JoMarie Payton-France) and gave her a family and her own show. Appearing at 8:30 p.m. Fridays, it leads into Perfect Strangers.

Spin-offs are usually inferior to their source material, but Family Matters soon proved it had one of the best acting ensembles in TV comedy. The wittily dour Payton-France has been paired with Reginald VelJohnson as her husband, Carl. VelJohnson plays Carl like a latter-day Jackie Gleason — he uses his own bulk and Carl’s short-fused temper to create an expansive yet edgy comic character.

There’s a big family in Family Matters: three kids (including the marvelously un-cute, subtle actress Kellie Shanygne Williams as middle child Laura), a feisty grandmother (Rosetta Le Noire), plus Harriette’s sister Rachel (genially sarcastic Telma Hopkins) and her infant, Richie.

And let’s not forget the show’s break-out star, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), who combines prepubescent nerdiness with lover-boy amorousness (he has a wicked crush on Laura) in a strikingly original way

All of these characters interact with speed and snappiness — Family Matters is directed with the slamming-door precision of a good Broadway farce — and the writing is sharp. When Laura recently made a foolish remark, Harriette fixed her with a look of disbelief and muttered to no one in particular, ”I must have braided her hair too tight this morning.”

Family Matters offers a picture of black family life that takes its middle-class ordinariness for granted, which is unusual for TV. Even more unusual, it’s a show you can watch with your whole family, and chances are, everyone will get a few good laughs out of it.

More from Our Partners