I’ve had a heck of a time writing about good shows for families lately, mainly because there are so few on the airwaves right now. So to restore my faith in TV’s ability to produce true family shows that everyone in the house can watch, let’s reach back in time and highlight five that make the grade.
These are not only great shows for and about families, but they’re also funny and well written. If they produced more shows like these right now, I bet people would watch them.
1. My Three Sons. I’m not sure if it’s because Steve Douglas always knew just what to say or whether the boys seemed like real kids who horsed around and sometimes got into trouble, but this show with the toe-tapping theme song is one of my all-time favorites. I watched My Three Sons as a kid, so watching it now sort of transports me back to those carefree days of growing up on a cherry farm in northern Michigan, before mortgage payments and other grownup issues consumed my life.
Even though the Vietnam war was raging during the 1960s when My Three Sons aired, back on the home front, Fred MacMurray calmly raising his boys with the help of curmudgeonly Bub and later, Uncle Charlie. It was like an early version of Modern Family. In fact, have you ever noticed how many single-dad shows were on TV back then? The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and Family Affair (Uncle Bee-al!) were a couple of others.
2. The Andy Griffith Show. What can you say about this show, other than it may be the best show ever to grace our TV screens? The beauty of The Andy Griffith Show is in the simplicity of a summer’s day, a sheriff who took the afternoon off to go fishing with his son, a loving aunt who always had a chocolate cake in the oven.
Remember the episode where the stressed-out stranger breaks down and has to wait until Monday before Gomer can fix his car? The guy’s a bundle of nerves at first, but ends up wanting to stay in town. Man in a Hurry — one of my favorites.
I’d like to think those days aren’t gone forever, but parents have their work cut out for them in this age of HALO and 600 channels and double-income families. We have to work extra hard for family time (or as my kids call it, “forced family fun” – they’ll thank me later).
3. The Waltons. My dad loved this show, probably for the same reasons I loved My Three Sons. He grew up on a farm during the Depression, so The Waltons took him right back to his own childhood (which I’m sure wasn’t as carefree as mine). Watching The Waltons with my dad opened a window into his childhood.
And it’s always fascinating to watch a show from a bygone era where moms wore hats to church, kids worked hard and had to tow the line, and dads fretted over whether they’d be able to put food on the table (well, we still do that now, don’t we?).
But amidst all the troubles, you can still feel the Waltons’ happiness coming right through the TV set. Their love for each other echoed in their nightly ritual. Here, I’ll remind you: “Goodnight, John-Boy.”
4. The Cosby Show. It’s been nearly 30 years since this show premiered, and it’s still relevant and funny. One thing will never change: kids do both smart and dumb things, and parents have to figure out how to survive through it all.
A few years ago, we decided to watch the whole series from start to finish over the course of a summer. Even though I’d already seen every episode at least twice, the show was still engaging and fresh. Cliff and Clair Huxtable expected the best from their kids, but also allowed them to be individuals.
And every once in a while, you get the unexpected musical encounter, whether it’s Russell Huxtable playing a gig with his trombone, the family singing a snappy tune as a group, or Clair crooning a lovely tune with her dad, played by the great jazz singer Joe Williams. The Cosby Show was not afraid to elevate things to a new level, and it’s a show worth revisiting from time to time.
5. [amazon_link id=”B000002IOQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Wonder Years[/amazon_link]. This show starring Fred Savage as a kid growing up in the 1960s aired from 1988 to 1993. Though it takes place during the same era as The Andy Griffith Show, The Wonder Years delves into more real-world issues, like a daughter who moves in with her boyfriend and people heading off to war. The show won 22 awards, including a Peabody in 1989 for “evoking a traditional family sitcom while pushing boundaries and using new modes of storytelling.”
But for viewers like us, The Wonder Years is just a great show that’s both funny and dramatic, with real-life characters and dialogue. The final narration by Daniel Stern says it all:
“Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of houses. A yard like a lot of other yards. On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back … with wonder.”