Saturday Memory: Television Series “Family”

Family was a groundbreaking 60 minute drama that ran from 1976-1980 on ABC. The show centered around the Lawrence Family – Kate and Doug Lawrence and their three children – Nancy, Willie and Buddy who lived the quintessential middle class life in California. The show covered some daring topics – alcoholism, dementia, divorce/infidelity and even a famous child predator episode.

I have only the most vague recollections of this show, mostly because of Kristy McNichol (Buddy) as I was 5-9 when it was on the air and I’m sure m parents did not allow me to watch it. I might have watched it at my friend Sherry’s house? Anyway, it slipped into my faded memories until the DVD was released and I caught season 1 and 2.

What resonates with me is that the show was supposed to be a typical middle class family yet they dealt with some very challenging topics – this makes me suspect that the concept of “typical middle class” was probably accurate in spite of what the powers that be might want us to think. Yes, people had family members who were alcoholics and divorced. Yes, people had sex before marriage. Yes, parents argued.

My memory of the show was slightly mixed up with my own young life. My friend Sherry had an older blond sister whom I often confused with Nancy from the television show. And then there was ‘The Juror” – the episode where Kate served jury duty for a sort of a jerk on trial for harming children. Jerk or not, Kate realized he was targeted for being Latino and he wasn’t guilty. Turns out the “reporter” covering the trial was the guilty party and targeted Kate’s daughter, Buddy. People rightfully focus on the racist element of the show, but I was very creeped out by the final scenes with Buddy. She was okay, but it was very chilling. I have no idea how I saw this or where or when, but I bet it was a babysitter who didn’t realize what they were doing as I was only 7 when it originally aired.

When I rewatched the show, I was pretty creeped out. Lesson? Even nice middle class white guys can be the predators.

This show is another example of how excellent television was during the 1970s – these programs would never make it today. Or perhaps I underestimate how “Family” paved the way for “Parenthood” and “Sisters and Brothers” etc.

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