Monday, December 17, 2012

Family Ties: "A Keaton Christmas Carol"

"What is wrong with these people?  You show 'em a little snow, they break into song about 'Chestnuts nipping at your nose!'  Christmas!  Bah, humbug!"  
-Alex Keaton

Alex refuses to participate the Keatons' traditional Christmas photo.

First aired December 14, 1983

It's Christmas Eve, the Keatons are trimming their tree and getting ready to celebrate the Holidays.  But Alex (Michael J. Fox) has other ideas.  He arrives home in a bad mood about the snowfall and rants about the phony sentiment of the Christmas season.

  Alex suggests that his family shouldn't exchange Christmas gifts.  His father Stephen (Michael Gross) says that's out of the question, since everyone else has already bought gifts.

  Alex's sister Jennifer (Tina Yothers) says that just because he's acting like "an old Scrooge" the rest of the family doesn't have to suffer.  Alex has also forgotten to pick up cough syrup for Jennifer, who has a sore throat and a nasty cough.

When it comes time to take the traditional family photo around the Christmas Tree, Alex refuses to participate, and runs upstairs.

Alex disappears when it's time for the photo.


Alex's hostile attitude continues at bedtime.  He berates carolers outside and threatens to call the police on them.

  When he turns off the lights and goes to sleep, he's visited by a spirit.  She looks like Jennifer, but calls herself The Ghost Of Christmas Past.  Alex doesn't believe in her, until he realizes she's intangible.

The Ghost Of Christmas Past.

They go back in time and visit the Keaton's living room on Christmas 10 years earlier, in 1973.  Alex sees himself and his family enjoying Christmas:

 Steven dresses as Santa and hands out gifts.  The kids know it's their father (even the infant Jennifer), but everyone has a good time.  The younger Alex (Chris Hebert) says he gets more joy from watching others get gifts than getting presents for himself.

He watches them pose for their first-ever photo around the tree.  It turns out it was Alex's idea to pose around the tree the same way every year.  Alex is beginning to see he was wrong to lash out earlier and regrets losing his Christmas spirit.

The Keatons pose for their first traditional Christmas photo.

He returns to his room and goes back to sleep.  It's interrupted by the arrival of the Ghost Of Christmas Future.  This ghost is the spitting image of his sister Mallory (Justine Bateman):

They visit Christmas 30 years in the future.  The Keaton's living room is a mess.   There's laundry hanging from clotheslines all over the place.

The Keatons are in rough shape in the future.

Alex is shocked at this, the Ghost tells him Elyse was forced to take in laundry to get by.  Steven is unemployed, fired by Alex.  They can't afford a Christmas Tree.  Jennifer can barely speak.  When Alex forgot to buy her cough syrup, her throat never healed.  Mallory is pregnant, for the 4th time.   Her husband has been sent to debtors' prison by Alex, who now lives in New York and is a big shot in the business world.

Alex of the future is selfish and bald.

"Future Alex" shows up in a helicopter.  He is ashamed of his family and leaves after a few minutes.  The only "present" he has for them is his latest batch of laundry.  Alex of this time is also losing his hair. He's ashamed of his family, he leaves them and heads off to Las Vegas.

Alex is shocked and disgusted by his future-self and asks the Ghost if there's anything he can do to change.

J.A. Morris says:

I'll admit up front that I've got a bit of nostalgia regarding this episode.  I remember watching it when it was brand new 29 years ago. Family Ties was one of my favorite shows of the 80s.

Alex arrives home on Christmas morning bearing gifts...from 7-11.

"A Keaton Christmas Carol" a good sitcom adaptation of A Christmas Carol, even if Marley's Ghost and the Ghost Of Christmas Present don't appear.  I found Alex's transformation to be believable.  Unlike Scrooge (who goes all-out for the Crachits with a prize turkey), Alex buys his family rather paltry gifts.  But he expresses his love for them, which is a nice way to end the show. He even insists the family pose for their traditional photo after all.

Here's a bit of trivia:
During the Christmas Past segment, "young Alex" is played by Chris Hebert.  He also portrayed a younger Alex a year earlier in the first Family Ties Christmas episode, we reviewed  that episode back in 2007.

A younger Alex angrily reacts to the news coverage of the Watergate scandal, saying the press is engaged in a "witch hunt".
This episode can be found on dvd and currently streams on Netflix.

"A Keaton Christmas Carol" isn't a great episode, but it is a fun take on the Dickens story.  Also fans of Back To The Future might also enjoy seeing Michael J. Fox in another time travel story!

Alex hugs his family on Christmas morning.

J.A. Morris' rating:
3 candy canes

RigbyMel says:

I enjoyed watching Family Ties when it first aired, but find that some things are best remembered fondly in the past, Christmas Past or otherwise.

Jennifer isn't sure how to react to Alex's new found love of Christmas.

This episode has fun with an updated (for the 1980s) version of  A Christmas Carol but it's not one that particularly stands out in my memory or upon re-viewing.

After being schooled by the Christmas Spirits, Alex relents & poses with the family.

 Alex Keaton makes a pretty good Scrooge in the beginning, but I found his redemption to be a little (cough?) syrupy.

RigbyMel's rating:
2 candy canes

1 comment:

bga said...

I was a big fan of this series, but don't recall this episode. Perhaps it was not memorable enough to have stood the test of time for me.