Category Archives: Growing Pains

Groaning Pains: Matthew Perry Goes On to a Better Place; Or How We Learned About Drunk Driving

With the proper premiere of Go On this week and its promising ratings, it seemed like the appropriate time to revisit our Groaning Pains series, specifically Go On star Matthew Perry’s short stint as Carol’s ill-fated boyfriend, Sandy. In other words, it’s time to discuss how we learned about drunk driving (and that a guy could be named “Sandy”).

When Friends premiered back in 1994 we may have been the only eleven-year-old in the country who thought to himself “there’s the guy who was in the Married with Children backdoor pilot and there’s the guy who was Carol’s boyfriend on Growing Pains that died from drinking and driving.” The former is Matt LeBlanc, whose Married With Children character Vinnie Verducci – Joey Tribbiani’s spiritual predecessor – was spun off with his father Charlie  (the immortal Joseph Bolonga) into the very short-lived series Top of the Heapand the latter is, of course, Matthew Perry. For years, Matthew Perry stuck in our mind because of his role on Growing Pains – 1) because his arc ended so tragically, and 2) because we never could quite wrap our heads around the fact he was named Sandy – and it would take a little while for us before we thought of Perry as Chandler Bing and not as Carol Seaver’s love lost, a cautionary tale.

Go on

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Groaning Pains: The Time that Mike Seaver Said He Had a Black Friend

Today we continue our look at some of Growing Pains more memorable – or notorious – moments, especially those bits of dialogue or storylines that surprised (or mildly stunned) us when we rewatched the show as an adult.

One of the episodes of Growing Pains that we remember most from our youth, one that stuck with us all throughout childhood and beyond, is Season One’s “Reputation.”  In this episode Mike Seaver* prepares, fully intends, to cheat on his Civil War exam in Mr. Dewitt‘s history class, writing key dates, names and locations on the soles of his largest pair of sneakers.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the test: he actually learned the answers, and when the time came he didn’t need to take a peek at the bottom of his Reeboks.  He absorbed and retained that information, and in much the same way we absorbed and retained this episode.  It was because of this episode that we’ve known for as long as we can recall that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and Andrew Johnson took over after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  Yes, we’ve always had an aptitude for history, but we feel entirely comfortable crediting Growing Pains with teaching us about this specific and significant event in US history.  And in addition to the lesson this episode provided, we also vividly recalled Mike Seaver’s stirring, high-pitched, plea of innocence to his parents – “I did not cheat!” and Jason Seaver’s surprising but unwavering belief in his son’s word.  If we didn’t already have a father who loved and trusted us, we would have desperately wanted Jason Seaver to serve that role.  And even though we weren’t in the market for a replacement parent, we never forgot or stopped admiring Jason’s unconditional love.

But despite having such a strong connection to this episode, something did take us quite aback when we years later watched the episode on DVD, Mike’s explanation to Ben about the crib-sheet sneakers.

We’re not sure what’s more hard to believe, that they so casually equated a black guy with the basketball team, or that there would actually be a black student in their white, upper-middle class, Long Island suburban paradise (a neighborhood not unlike the one we grew up in).  We’re racking our brains trying to come up with a single black character on the show, and we’re coming up empty (Apparently Growing Pains was the Girls of its day).  But it is the first reaction – the flippant political incorrectness – that really struck us.  We could envision a line like that a few years later on a more provocative show like Married with Children, but it’s not like Growing Pains was ever considered edgy.  But, then again, the TV landscape has changed, and while you can say, do and show more now, you can also say, do and show less.  As the limits of sex and violence and vulgarity have expanded over the last twenty-five years, you can make the argument that the levels of political correctness and racial sensitivity have conversely, almost paradoxically, expanded in kind.  Appomattox Court House, captain of the Dewey High School basketball team, is a perfect example of this.

*We’ve been talking about the New York Mets a lot lately, so it’s worth noting here that the Seavers were named in honor of Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who just this past Sunday was named to the Mets All-Time Team as right-handed starting pitcher.  Also named to the team as the all-time lefty starter was Jerry Koosman, which not coincidentally is the surname of the Seaver’s next-door neighbors.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Local Flavor, Makes You Think, Matt Christopher Books

Groaning Pains: The Time That Mike Seaver Said He’s Gay

This is the first in what may be an ongoing look at some of the more melodramatic, socially conscious, politically charged, culturally relevant, righteously pedantic or potentially controversial moments from ‘Growing Pains.’  Today we take a look at the sixth episode of the show’s first season, “Mike’s Madonna Story.”

Kirk Cameron, America’s premier born-again Christian, has gone on record (with Piers Morgan, not Greta Van Susteren) that he opposes homosexuality.  Whether he hates gays and believes God hates them too is up for debate, but he certainly disagrees with their lifestyle and believes they’re destructive to “our” Christian civilization  It’s a bit jarring then that his television alter-ego Mike Seaver would make light of same-sex relationships, suggesting to his mother in this early Growing Pains episode that the reason that he did not have sex with a young slut (played by the late Dana Plato) is that he’s gay.  Of course, the truth was that Mike was just too ashamed to admit that he was scared to go all the way (which is fine, kids!), but we find it weird that in 1985 they included this remark, especially that they used such a sensitive issue as a laugh line.  But, perhaps, this was a time that was pre-gay panic, where something like this was not yet politically incorrect or possibly offensive and instead totally acceptable on ABC Saturday night at 8pm.  We do know, however, that we never noticed – or perhaps more accurately, understood – the meaning of this reference until we saw this episode as an adult.  We were probably five or six when we saw this episode (in syndication), and the concept of homosexuality went way over our very short heads.

Besides the surprising, now distracting, throwaway mention of homosexuality, this scene features the hallmark endemic to any great, quintessential Growing Pains episode, an extremely long, deliberate, wordy scene between two or three Seavers, often concerning some social issue, but usually about love or family or trust or respect, some kind important value.  Most Growing Pains episodes actually break down into the same format, jokey opening, set up, conflict, and then a third act that may be comprised entirely of one extended scene.  In fact, many of these scenes actually feel like little one-act plays, with dense, measured dialogue and careful, detailed blocking.  Just look at this scene above and observe Joanna Kerns as she cuts across the room, then back to the kitchen counter, and then finally gliding over to the kitchen table. She reclines in no less than four places, all the while doing professional scene work with a carton of ice cream (note how she gracefully adds some granola crumbs to her dessert), while Kirk Cameron does his own prop work with a magazine and a baseball.  It’s theater, it’s Death of a Salesman, on a hammy, corny 80s sitcom.  It’s impossible to imagine a network airing a scene with this kind of glacial pace today, let alone viewers sitting through it.  But that’s what Growing Pains did from week to week, and even if it seems positively antiquated today, it does strike us as somehow very brave, very ambitious (including the gay joke, even if it feels in bad taste now).  It’s probably just how sitcoms were built then, and when you’re producing TV in a world of hammy, corny sitcoms replete long, melodramatic, sappy teaching moments, it’s hard to step outside that world.  And in that world of long, melodramatic, sappy teaching moments, few did it better than Growing Pains.  Even if we had no idea what “gay” meant.

But we have to wonder: would born-again Kirk Cameron approved of that joke?  Would he be willing, perhaps enthusiastic, to use homosexuality as a punch-line?  Or would he have been steadfast against any mention of the “sin” in the show, especially the suggestion, even as a goof, that his character is gay?  We can only hope he’ll comment on this post and enlighten us.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Makes You Think, Nostalgia Corner

We Know Someone From ‘Growing Pains’ When We See Someone From ‘Growing Pains’

Lost amid the Downey Jrs. and the Ruffalos and the Johanssons and the Smulderses in The Avengers was the brief but vital appearance of one Ashley Johnson, better known to millions across the globe as Chrissy Seaver.  When we first glimpsed her as a [SPOILER ALERT] Noo Yawky waitress in a Noo Yawky diner our Growing Pains Sense immediately went off.  But what was she doing in Joss Whedon’s Avengers?  Couldn’t be her, right?  Wasn’t that shade of blonde just a bit too golden for Chrissy Seaver?

Well, we’re happy to say, Yahoo confirmed it.  That was just the right shade of blonde for Chrissy Seaver  and that was Ashley Johnson in the supporting role.  To celebrate her long-awaited comeback, why not take a look back at her earlier work?

FINALLY, some good press for the Seavers.

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Filed under Geekery, Growing Pains, The Big Screen

On a Very Special ‘It Gets Betterish’

For the better part of the last year we’ve had the privilege of producing the wonderful little web series It Gets Betterishcreated by and starring our dear friends Eliot Glazer and Brent Sullivan.  And this week we premiered our most bonkers video to date, they were generous enough to let us direct.  It’s our tribute to one of the great sitcom tropes of the late 80s/early 90s, equal parts Golden Girls, The Cosby Show and Growing Pains.  Except our take involves trannies, home birth and Tilda Swinton.

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Filed under Golden Girls, Growing Pains, Huh?, Virulent

Kirk’s Back: The Way of the Master Leads to the Pilgrims

Kirk Cameron just won’t quit.  He could have stopped at teen heart-throb.  He could have quit at WB star.  He could have hung them up after marrying his co-star and adopting four children.  He could have called it a day after headlining a Christian film franchise.  But Kirk Cameron wouldn’t be Kirk Cameron if he just settled for the status quo.  So, in true Kirk Cameron fashion, he’s forged ahead, adding documentarian to his resume, attempting to answer the question “What the fuck happened to America?”

And it looks he finds his answer!  Our money is on “too many Jews.”

Our only question is “when will Nic Cage star in the big screen adaptation?”

WATCH YOUR BACK, MICHAEL MOORE!!!

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Filed under God Laughs, Growing Pains, The Big Screen

‘Survivor: Redemption Island’: The Sweet Taste of Crabs (Director’s Cut)

So this week we entered the post-Russell Hantz era.  And for those of you who complained that Russell was a sneaky, nefarious player who only made it to the finals because he had no chance to win, and that his dominance was a product of editing, and that he was a bore and boorish, well, do you miss him now?  Because, say what you want about the guy, there’s no denying that he made things interesting.  Which is perhaps something you can’t say about last night’s Survivor

Keep reading: Phillips say the darndest things. Plus: Tetris! Rubix Cubes! A giant maze!

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Filed under Century 21 Reality, Growing Pains, It's gross., Tribal Council