TV Review Series Part 1: The Facts of Life



Warning: I have no qualification and all my knowledge I have for movies and TV stem from not having a social life.

The 80s were something, crazy hair, crazy clothes, crazy times, and our parents telling us how better it was back then. But within this period NBC released a wholesome TV show called “The Facts of Life”
The show was a spinoff from “Diff’rent Strokes” where Mrs. Enda Garret left her job as a maid and became a house mother for seven girls at Eastland Academy.  With low ratings the show was facing cancellation after the first season, NBC gave it one more chance and it was rebranded.

Half the cast from the first season were fired (and made some guest appearance throughout the show) but three of the main cast remained, Blair Warner (Lisa Welchel), Dorothy ‘Tootie’ Ramsey (Kim Fields), Natalie Green (Mindy Cohen), then they introduced another character; Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon [who would later go on and play Sonny’s mom in “Sonny with a Chance”]). And Mrs. Garret (Charlotte Rae) who is now the school dietician instead of the housemother. Because every private school has one.
The story follows that the four girls get into trouble after a new student, a street smart girl from the Bronx named Jo, makes Blaire, an elite heiress, a fake ID and steals the school van and they go to some bar. After getting caught by the police and damaging the school van. Their punishment alongside Natalie and Tootie, who came along for the ride, are forced to work in the school cafeteria to repair the damages. This goes on for nine seasons, and later moves towards Enda leaving Eastland and opening her own gourmet food shop called “Enda Editable” (a name more fitting for a coffee shop in Amsterdam than some small town in Peekskills New York.) that is later burned down in the seventh season and replaced with a Five Below type store called “Over are Heads” After the girls graduate from Eastland and attend langley College, working for Mrs. Garret. Who later leaves the show and is replaced by her sister Beverly Ann Stickle (Chloris Leachman) As the show goes on more and more characters are introduced, including Gerorge Clooney, who was fired for not being funny enough. But for the most part the show still carries the same format, but having more issues when the girls start to grow older and enter adulthood.

The Facts of Life follows a “disease of the week formula” where each episode the show tackles an important issues, from bullying to gossip, to some taboo issues for the eighties; including sexual assault, easy reputations, drug use, teenage motherhood, censorship, having an abortion, underage drinking, and teenage marriage (Jo decides to run away and get married out of spite– and that’s the episode.) Also parents having affairs and divorce come up, but they bring up the divorce and make a joke, so not really. For being the time that the show they don’t always have the best outcome for the issues at hand like one might have done nowadays, but for the time it was made it was surprisingly ok. Allowing a teen audience to learn about these problems that are still around today and not fall into some preachy moral lessons that some show, even today some shows fall into, pushing the agenda they think is right. The character as well as the audience learns about some important things that people have to deal with.

For example the episode on abortions, not making a joke about how one of the students going through one, it doesn’t really push any boundaries and still plays it safe for a television show. Also, having to deal with the social issues of the times as well, taking into account the recession that was prominent during the decade, for example Mrs. Garret lost her pension, and Jo lost her scholarship due to budget cuts. This helped the show from just being a TV show, and something more than just being seen on TV, and something that had hurt many people before. Also the show talks a lot of being in different social classes, and what it is like for people at both ends, Blair comes from money while Jo does not, even though this causes these characters to fall into stereotypes. Blaire being an airhead that’s obsessed with shopping while Jo relies too much on using violence than her words, and being the first to threaten to punch someone out. This shtick does get old and for a lot of the main conflict do revolve around this issue. For it is a part of the main formula in the show, both of them grow up throughout the seasons. All the episodes end with one of the character has a talk to talk with Mrs. Garett about the “disease of the week” so they can preach the issue at hand. This is not uncommon the way many shows are written, but it is not as bad as some other shows, it still is not the highlight of the episode.

Should you watch the show? Sure why not, It’s a good way to waste an afternoon. It is very dated and a product of its time, and a lot of the references show that. It is fun to see how many of the references you might be able to get, and which go over your head. Other than that the show is a better “Full House”. It tackles many issues that are still prominent today but not as one may think, taking a safer route and not wanting to push any agenda. Teaching people the right way to act and learn from these topics. But not relying too much on pushing an agenda. In conclusion it is a good show, filled with laughs and tears.