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The Eighties were a magical time for pop culture. Movies had lovable aliens instead of scary ones, music involved spandex for both sexes, and TV was entering a very specific golden era: The Age of the Wacky Family Sitcom. Sure, there were traditional families on TV in shows like Family Ties and The Cosby Show, but the 80s weren't content with normal. They pushed the boundaries to show families that didn't quite fit into the mold of the All-American Family. That tradition continues today with shows like Two and a Half Men, Modern Family and the brand new NBC show The New Normal, but the groundwork was laid all the way back in the Reagan Years. Here are the ten best contemporary sitcom families of the Eighties.
Published September 04, 2012 More Info »
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Published September 04, 2012

My Two Dads

This gem should have been called “WE'RE NOT GAY,” because that was essentially the storyline of every episode. My Two Dads is another show that follows the lives of people who adopt a dead person's kid. In this case, it's Paul Reiser and a guy you've never heard of (who looks like an early version of Sawyer on Lost) who are awarded joint-custody of a twelve-year- old girl because they both might be her father. Realistic, right? In the ultimate sitcom cocktease, the show never actually revealed who the girl's father was. They did, however, reveal what Giovanni Ribisi looked like when he was thirteen. 

ALF

Perhaps the craziest premise of the non-traditional sitcom family drama, ALF is about an alien who crash lands in the garage of a suburban family. Why the alien both looks and talks like a furry Catskills comic is beyond explanation. The family eventually comes to love ALF and treats him like one of their own, despite the fact that he's constantly trying to eat their cat. Fun fact: Max Wright, who played the stern father Willie, was the subject of a National Enquirer expose that revealed him as a crack-smoking dude that likes to have sex with homeless men. Wholesome! 

Diff'rent Strokes

What do you do when your maid dies? You adopt her kids. Of course. One old wealthy white guy, his teenage daughter, two black kids, and a rotating series of maids live together in a giant two-story apartment on Park Avenue. That's pretty much the plot of Diff'rent Strokes, except to spice things up, the producers decided to only cast felons and perpetual child Gary Coleman in the lead roles. While not entirely an 80s sitcom (it premiered in 1978), this show essentially mastered The Very Special Episode with pedophiles, drugs, and hitchhiking. You just don't see enough episodes about the dangers of hitchhiking on TV these days.

Just the Ten of Us

Long before we became obsessed with Jon & Kate Plus 8, 19 Kids & Counting, and all the other reality shows about families that have never heard of birth control, there were the Lubbocks. Originally a spin-off from Growing Pains, this show followed a gym teacher, his wife, and their eight children as they tried to live together without committing homicide. Most of the storylines revolved around the four teenage daughters who attended an all-boys Catholic high school, which meant that the subtitle of every episode was “Hard Times in Blowjob City.” 

Who's the Boss?

Eighties sitcoms have all kinds of sub-genres, but one of the most popular was “Guy Moves in with Family as a Housekeeper.” Who's The Boss? ups the ante by making that housekeeper a retired baseball player who goes to work in an upscale Connecticut home along with his hard-ass Brooklyn daughter. There was a lot of sexual tension between Tony Danza and Judith Light in the show, but most of the sex plots centered around Mona, the slutty grandmother, making it the first show in television history to have a character who could be described as a slutty grandmother. 

Webster

Yet another 80s sub-genre is “White Folks Adopting Black Kids” and Webster is a proud member of that tradition. It's clearly a rip-off of Diff'rent Strokes, but that doesn't make it any less adorable. Emmanuel Lewis plays the titular shorty and gets into all kinds of hijinks that can only arise when a football player and his socialite wife take in a kid from the South Side of Chicago. 

Small Wonder

It's a classic story of two parents, their son, and their robot daughter. How do we know that? BECAUSE SHE ACTS AND TALKS LIKE A ROBOT. It's truly unbelievable that the rest of the neighborhood doesn't figure it out because homegirl has an electrical socket in her armpit. Somehow that fact goes unnoticed and the Lawsons go about their business like any other normal human family whose daughter can shrink and grow on command. 

Charles in Charge

Like Who's the Boss?, this show follows the exploits of a cool guy just trying to get by as a live- in babysitter. Thanks to the magic of first-run syndication, Charles in Charge is actually two shows in one. The first season focused on college kid Charles taking care of the Pembroke family while seasons two through five swap in the Powell family. The one thing that remained constant was Charles solving everyone's problems through his ingenuity and good looks. Oh, Scott Baio, why did you ever stop being in charge? 

Kate & Allie

When two women get divorced, how are they possibly supposed to raise their kids? Together, obviously. That's the premise of Kate & Allie and, apparently, America was into it. The show was consistently one of the top-rated shows on TV. Just like My Two Dads, both Kate and Allie had to fend off accusations of homosexuality unless, of course, it fit into a plot line to their advantage. Unfortunately, the executives decided not to call the show Lesbian When Convenient. That title is now being reserved for an upcoming Lindsay Lohan project. 

Full House

There is a show at the nexus of the 80s non-traditional family sitcom and that show is Full House. It hits almost all the hallmarks of the category. Dead mom replaced by ill-equipped and unexpected new parents? Check. Men banding together to raise a child? Check. Hunky guy taking care of children? Check. The only thing missing is a non-human in the house and that's taken care of pretty well by Cousin Joey's chipmunk puppet. If the 80s were the Golden Age of Weirdo Family Comedies, then Full House is its finest example. Now whatever happened to those adorable little twins? 


Sponsored by The New Normal, premiering Tuesday, September 11 at 9:30/8:30c on NBC.

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