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 on television.… 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 on television.… Comedy Jaleel White ABC
TV Review

Family Matters (1990)

EW's GRADE
B+

Details Genre: Comedy; With: Jaleel White; Network: ABC

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.

Sign up for EW.com's What to Watch Newsletter!

What to watch on TV. Hear what's on tap for the night ahead and get witty, morning after recaps of top shows (sent weekday mornings).
Originally posted May 04, 1990 Published in issue #12 May 04, 1990 Order article reprints