The Insanity of Family Matters

‘While back, I was asked to write content for a website that no longer exists. I wrote one thing in a Cracked-esque tone for what was to be a recurring series called SitBomb, where I’d deconstruct a classic sitcom’s universe for fun and profit. Without the profit.

So here it is, edited and reworked a little in hopes of being a little better. Keep in mind, at the time I didn’t realize Cracked had already touched on this episode in an article, and this was well before BuzzFeed was even a thing, as I saw in a search that they touched on it too. Ok, here goes:

What is SitBomb?

SitBomb is a column that takes one episode of a beloved sitcom and breaks it down into bite-sized chunks of absurdity by simply explaining its plot. For our debut SitBomb, I’m taking a look at the ABC Juggernaut, Family Matters. This column assumes that you are well aware of the show’s premise and concept. If you’d like to watch the episode I’m talking about, it’s right here.

The Rundown

While watching the classic film, Mutiny on the Bounty, Carl tells Eddie about his lifelong  dream to sail tall ships in the 1700s. He has literally never mentioned this before. Harriet walks in holding a frozen octopus that Steve had put in her freezer. Obviously. Then this dialogue occurs:

Harriett: Do you know where he [Steve] is?

Eddie: He’s in 1870.

Harriett: Where?

Eddie: Not where. When. Steve combined his teleportation pad with his time machine and now he can travel anywhere in history.

Harriett: Well, when he gets back, you tell him that his octopus is defrosting in the backyard.

To reiterate, after Eddie reveals to his mother that their dear neighbor and friend has invented and can easily use two earth-shattering, mind-porking technologies that would change the world and civilization as they know it forever, Harriett just blankly accepts it, and gets back to cleaning out the freezer. Priorities.

Using an effect straight out of IMovie, Steve pops into the present dressed like a cowboy complete with an accordion, makes jokes about Native Americans, and “days go by-y-y.”

Steve briefly regales Carl and Eddie about witnessing the French Revolution, setting up chairs for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and giving Gandhi a cookie. Then he complains that his dear buddy Carl didn’t come with him. Carl pulls the whole, “Oh no, Steve, you’re never getting me involved in one of your crazy schemes again!” schtick and then promptly gets involved in one of Steve’s crazy schemes again.

And whattaya know? Steve’s plans go awry when he and Carl teleport/time travel to a pirate ship in the middle of the ocean which Steve somehow guessed was there. Think about that. Even when Doc Brown when back in time, he was still at the same location (which, now that I think about it, isn’t really true considering the movement of the Earth through space) but Steve’s amazing machine not onyl sent them in time, but it took them out of Chicago and chucked them inot the ocean onto a ship.

Steve and Carl, being black on a pirate ship in the 1700s , are, of course, cruelly beaten and shackled in the ship’s cargo space. Except this is Family Matters, not A Different World,  and so that doesn’t happen at all. Instead Steve corrects a pirate for using “Ebonics,” (when was the last time you heard that word?) and Carl is instantly made captain of the ship. I realize that, unlike Fresh Prince and A Different World, Family Matters never tried to really touch on the deeper social issues such as race and class,  but come on, nothing?

After some swashbuckling antics, including Steve using a modern butane lighter in front of pirates who aren’t fazed by it at all, Steve accidentally drops his Boba Fett grappling hook-looking time machine overboard. Steve and Carl are aghast. The idea that they could be stuck in the past forever, never seeing any friends, family members, or loved ones ever again slams harshly into the two men’s psyches. This, combined with the daunting reality that the cultures of the 1700s are unfamiliar to them and the comforts and knowledge of modern life no longer exist drive Carl and Steve to the verge of suicide, as made evident by Steve’s comical whining, and Carl’s mild irritation.

No, seriously, they’re sad about this for like two seconds.

In the present, Harriett is concerned Carl won’t return from the past in time for dinner. Yeah, you read that right. She’s worried that her husband and neighbor, wh have complete use of a TIME MACHINE will be late. TOTALLY oblivious to the punctual benefits of said machine. Steve and Caral could stay in the past for 20 years and still be there on time. 

No one else, including the audience, grasps this concept.

Myra, Laura, and Maxine show up. Myra pulls out her own time machine (complete with tracking capability (of course it has tracking ability) and says she’ll go get the guys. The temporally inept Harriet quips, “Tell Carl the Gundersons will be here in 20 minutes!”

Back to the 1700’s, the overwhelming, soul-crushing gravity of the situation finally dawns on Steve, urging him to…joyfully sing a sea shanty? Carl retorts with, “Steve, you’ve really done it this time!” Real depth emerges when Carl says, “I was just thinking about all the things I’ll never get to see again…like hot showers.” True F-Mat connoisseurs will recall many an episode where Carl would longingly stare at hot showers.

Before Carl pines too much, the ladies show up, and after the pirates make some truly TGIF’d-up sex jokes, the gang breaks into a Motown dance number, engages in a Hook-style swordfight, and tricks the pirates into allowing them to time warp back to the present, somehow arriving late for dinner with the Gundersons, despite the fact that COME ON. 

If this episode hadn’t already run the gamut of gimmicks, the last two minutes are a 3D pirate spectacular with Urkel exploding into your TV set via cannonball.

The Lesson:

Never question anything. Understand concepts as vaguely as possible. Race is never an issue. Pirates are friendly. The early 90’s are a time unable to be recaptured.

Oh, and, just because it exists, here’s some actual Family Matters fan fiction.



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