Saturday, October 24, 2009

...And Life Goes On

In the early 90's my favorite television show was ABC's Sunday night family drama Life Goes On. It was on Sunday nights at 7pm and in my book is one of the best shows of its type. The program had a bittersweet mood that was unusual for the genre.

The program centered on the Thatcher family, a clan persistently troubled with loss of employment and prejudice. Drew Thatcher (played with earnest conviction by Bill Smitrovich) was the understanding and hard working blue collar father to the family. His wife Libby Thatcher (stage veteran Patti Lupone) was the equally understanding ex-actress juggling work and caring after the children. Originally LGO centered on down syndrome actor Chris Burke playing the son Charles nicknamed "Corky". Corky and the family would encounter prejudice and misunderstandings as they struggled to give him a "mainstream" education in high school. Later, the program would shift its focus to teenager Becca Thatcher (Kellie Martin, who I thought was attractive in that girl next door kinda way) the outspoken smart girl going thru standard teenage issues when not fighting for a cause. Lastly there was the adult stepdaughter Paige (originally played by Monique Lanier then later by JAG actress Tracey Needham) who was often confused by what to do with her life both romantically and professionally.

Ultimately what I liked about LGO was it's ability to balance warmth, conservative family values and liberal social outlook. For a Sunday evening program in the family hour, LGO was unusual in it's willingness to tackle social issues such as down syndrome and AIDS on a regular basis and not wrap everything up in a cozy hug at the end of the show. It was willing to have downer endings instead which was and is unusual for a tv show of this type. Like the episode when Paige works with an african american man named Marquis with a criminal past, they become friends but after a misunderstanding leads Paige to believe he is stealing from her family at gunpoint she begs him not to hurt them. Marquis sees through the predjudice and in non tv family drama form does not accept Paige's apology ending their friendship. Obviously that ending stuck with me for me to remember it, it was a well played scene.

Living up to its name, life went on for these characters despite other setbacks such as Corky accidentally burning down the family restaurant business, Becca's ex-boyfriend (and recurring character in the first few seasons) Tyler Benchfield dying after driving drunk and in later seasons the struggles of her AIDS infected boyfriend Jesse (for which actor Chad Lowe won an Emmy). Even with these "big message" story arcs LGO kept its scale down to the nuclear family and its suburb keeping things more realistic.

Life Goes On ran from 1989 to 1993, and given my own recent setbacks in life this program has been on my mind lately. You Tube has some episodes posted which is nice, though some of the comments on them point to continued prejudice against people with down syndrome which is sad. Below is the ending to the episode referenced above which still has power after all these years. Because life goes on...

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