Welcome to Analytical Episode Reviews, where I take a look at one or two episodes of different shows. Obviously using the format of my episode guide,except that I will only look at one episode rather than over 200. Today I want to look at one of the mega hits of the 80’s:
“A, My Name is Alex”
 
This is is a very special episode of Family Ties, coming along during Season 5 and airing March 12, 1987. It got a ton of hype when it first aired. But was all the attention worth it?
Plot Summary-After the sudden loss of a close friend, Alex is experiencing severe denial. It seems his friend Greg was killed in a car accident, in a car Alex was very nearly the passenger of. Ouch. His attempts to deal with the grief and guilt over being alive leads to him a surreal therapy session where he explores his inner psyche on an empty, dark stage.

Best LinePsychiatrist: You surprise me, Alex. A bottom-line guy likeyourself. I didn’t think you would believe (in God)
Alex:Well, part of me is a little nervous about it. I like to know what I know: seeit, be able to prove it on a test— to know it, to learn it, and be done…And I just got a feeling that you keep getting tested on this one.
Nitpick of the episode-As I have talked about this episode before you probably can guess my one complaint. It is certainly nothing new for a sitcom to invent a friend or relative for the purpose of a story. But here, the fact we have never met Greg before this show just hurts the final product. Not saying it ruins it, but it could have been so much stronger if we had spent time with this guy first. Heck, even just seeing him ask Alex to go with him atthe start would have been something! Yeah they try to recreate that but imagine that was the opener, and then the next scene is the funeral. Ouch. The episode relies too much on Alex and the family having to fill us in on Greg and while Michael J. Fox does a great job there are points it doesn’t even feel like the same series. What do I mean? More on that below.
Standout Character-Duh. This is Michael J Fox’s episode and he does afantastic job. The best scene for me is the one just before we enter thetherapy session while he is still in deep denial. Alex is in the kitchen with Mallory,when she teases his as usual. This time, he has a major meltdown which is oneof the most powerful moments I have ever seen. Anywhere. Though I have to ask,Why does Mallory treat Alex like he should be fine in that scene when he isclearly in pain? She unintentionally comes off a heartless.
Syndication Edit-The episode is split into two parts on the DVD but the episode is there in full. I am not sure what was cut for syndication since I have not seen the re-run much. But I do remember when I watched it you can really tell this was cut up and works much better in full, without the commercial breaks
Episode Fun Fact:When the episode first aired the whole second part aired commercial free which was unheard of then. I am happy to say that I did see this when it first aired, and it was quite an experience.
My Thoughts-This episode won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, and man does it deserve it. At the time, this was quite an episode.Today? I have to be honest, it doesn’t hold up quite as well as I would have hoped. The Agony Booth actually tore this show apart, and they were a little hard on it. But it is…..weird.
I mean, the whole second part is like a stage play, a vacant, dark stage which is very moody but also out of step with the series. Are the family, and Skippy, and the teacher, really there or not? They freeze in place, move on cue, and talk as if Alex is a little kid. Is this a hallucination? Possibly since in part one we saw Alex hallucinate Greg there in the kitchen and he also appears in Part 2. Yet Nick and Andy are clearly present in the here and now when they walk on for their brief cameos. Is this a play? That doesn’t make sense. Is this all in Alex’s mind? Maybe it is but the scenes with the family are done in a low tech way (like a stage play would do). And how does reliving childhood memories help him deal with his grief? And in some instances these don’t even feel like the same characters, Mallory is way too sweet for example. I guess to enjoy this episode you have to turn your brain off a bit at that part and just accept it as a play because when you really think about it as a sitcome episode that whole part makes no sense.
Let’s talk about what this episode is really about. If you ignore the stuffI mentioned and listen to the dialogue, man is there some heavy stuff here. God,life and death…when was the last time you heard this stuff in sitcoms? The episode is, in essence, a character study of Alex. It’s also a chance for Michael J Fox to show he can act. And man, does he! Did I mention he won forbest actor in a comedy that year? The stuff in this episode is amazing. This episode gets mocked because it’s a “Very Special Episode”, but people forget two things. One, that wasn’t a cliché in 1987 (thank you Blossom), and for Family Ties it’s pretty typical.  Unlike some shows that may do this, this sort of story isn’t that out of step for a Family Ties episode. Yes it’s a little heavier, but the show has dealt with major stuff before. And unlike oher shows like Facts of Life, Family Ties was much better at knowing when to lighten the hell up and get a few laughs in there.
The first half is pretty strong. After we get the exposition dump from Jennifer we see Alex is in major denial. You can tell that while Alex is pretending to be happy, he was in a tremendous amount of pain. There is a scene with a monk which is a total waste of time, but considering the heavy material I can’t blame them for doing something light. Then we get the breakdown in the kitchen,and after that it’s “Our Town”. Well, sort of. It is really hard to describe this scene so if you haven’t seen it check it out.  The whole bit is surreal, especially with theoff screen therapist we never see. One thing I don’t get, we never really see Alex say goodbye to Greg. It turns into more of a lecture on God and Alex’s character. The show tries to bring Greg back into it every few minutes, but I would have liked to see a final moment between the two. Though the final line is very good, as Alex decides he needs to talk more. The therapist tells him to go ahead, and Alex starts by basically reciting the title.
You can argue it’s a little much for a sitcom episode, but the way it was you really can’t call it a normal sitcom episode. Despite my gripes all in all the episode is still aspowerful and as moving now it was twenty-five years ago.
Grade=A, gripes aside this is one hell of an episode and a MUST SEE

 

That’s it for today folks, I hope to be back with another review of a classic sitcom episode real soon!

By richb

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