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Growing Pains
The Complete First Season

review by Zach B.

 

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 527 minutes

Starring: Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, Jeremy Miller

 

 

Studio: Warner Bros.

Retail Price: $29.98

Features: Unaired Scenes from the Original Pilot, Seaver Family Reunion: Smores and More, Gag Reel

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Mono, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Episode Selection, Chapter Stops (4 chapters per episode), Four-Disc Set

Released: February 7th, 2006

 

 

The premise of "Growing Pains" is deliciously 1980s: the Seavers are your typical middle-class suburban family. Things are shaken though in that Maggie goes outside the house to work as a journalist, while dad Jason is a psychaitrist staying at home. Their kids are typical archetypes: Mike is the brash, horny 15 year-old who has charm and big ideas that tend to cause some kind of trouble; Carol is a bit whiny, obsessed with grades and has middle-child syndrome in seeking attention; and then there's Ben... the youngster who is like Michelle Tanner to give some comic relief, and give a take on things from a child's perspective. Needless to say, it's all been done before. Seen a sitcom like this, you've probably seen it all... albeit with some differences.

I suppose "Growing Pains" could be considered one of those 1980s guilty pleasures. It's a show you either love or loathe. While not as sacchrine as "Full House," the show can still pack in corny jokes and moments. As far as sitcoms of the era, I suppose its tone is slightly on par with "Who's The Boss?" and "Family Matters," though I think it ranks a bit lower than those gems. (I prefer Urkel, dammit.) I suppose the most important question is this: over 20 years later, does the show hold up? Not exactly. It doesn't break any new ground, and as you'd expect, plenty of the yuks are dated - so you youngsters better know your 80s pop culture! To its credit though, the show does tackle relatable issues - the small bouts that parents face together, or with their children (and oh yeah, the whole thing of women working, stay-at-home dads, etc.). Yeah, it's all nothing new... but you can be sympathetic to the characters or many of the situations if you were a kid or teen once, and had typical issues to contend with (read: that's all of you). But the biggest compliment I can give it is that it can still be entertaining if you like sitcoms. It's easy to get wrapped up in these shows, either because it's fun or you just want to make fun of it. But a statement like that just may be my own personal viewing habits and nostalgia of the 80s talking.

The other compliment I can give it is that the entire cast shines, and probably most importantly, you get a sense that they really feel like a family. Chemistry in family shows can be hard to pull off, so when there are successful sitcoms like these, you do remember them. Alan Thicke plays a lovable, affable and well-meaning dad. And yes, he does get plenty of punchlines and typical sitcom moments: supporting parent, humor from situations gone awry, etc. Joanna Kerns is perfectly fine as mom Maggie: supportive, loving and sigh - trying to balance family life with a hard-hitting career as a journalist. Jeremy Miller as Ben is pretty adorable and is a scene-stealer, and Tracey Gold has plenty of engrossing angst to spare. If this sitcom was on now, no doubt she'd be an emo teenager with an elaborate MySpace page and bitching how everyone loves Mike more than her on a LiveJournal.

Of course, the show was best known for launching Kirk Cameron. Man, how young he looks here! While his career didn't have much longevity beyond the show (he's a born-again Christian now, starring in the "Left Behind" film series), it's still fun to think back in that he did have some film roles because of the series (I know many of you love "Like Father Like Son"!) and him gracing all those glossy teen mags. To his credit, Cameron fits the role well: likable, earnest, good comic timing and being your typical teen smart ass. I wonder if all the girls who watched him then swoon for him now? It's funny to think a later cast member - Leonardo DiCaprio - would become one of Hollywood's A-list stars. Ah, how unpredictable the entertainment industry can be!

The first season of "Growing Pains" on DVD is a four disc affair, which means 22 episodes featuring a failed Canadian talk show host, a faded teen idol and a woman who once was anorexic and a reckless driver (I know it's not nice to bring tabloid fodder into reviews... yet somehow we intertwine it all with the "art"). While the audio and video may not be fantastic, you do get some nice extras... and given all the episodes, there's plenty of bang for your buck. Read on.

 

I'm sure it's to be expected, but the transfers of the first season of "Growing Pains" are nothing extraordinary. You get all the episodes in glorious 1.33:1 full screen, but these transfers aren't incredibly pleasing to the eyes. Fleshtones and color saturation are fine, but the episodes still look pretty washed out. Detail is pretty mediocre, there's plenty of noise, the episodes have blemishes on them and the overall image quality lacks sharpness.

 

The English mono tracks (in two channels) are nothing to write home about. Fidelity is decent, but these are really straightforward tracks. The episodes do sound clean though, without any hiss or distracting background noises to report. Dialogue is very clear, the music sounds fine and the sound effects are audible (yep, that includes the persistent laugh track). English closed captions are included, plus subtitles in Spanish, English and French.

 

Fans of the show should be pretty happy that there are some extras included. On the first disc, there's Unaired Scenes from the Original Pilot. While it's a shame Warner didn't include the entire pilot (at 11 minutes, it's about half), you do get a good glimpse of the original Carol Seaver - that being Elizabeth Ward. Needless to say, Tracey Gold was a much better fit for the role. Still, it's interesting to see how much of a different dynamic someone else brings to the cast, and how some elements from this pilot differ from the pilot that eventually aired.

The fourth disc houses the other two extras. The biggie here is Seaver Family Reunion: Smores and More. It's a "heartwarming" cast reunion that runs 29 minutes, as the show's principal players reunite around a campfire, eating smores and tracing the show back to the beginning. The discussion has plenty of personal anecdotes, as there is a good focus on how the cast got their parts (fun fact: Tracey Gold and Kirk Cameron knew each other before the show). It's all very nice and a lot of fun to watch, and it's clear that the cast was close. What is distracting though are the cameras that circle them. Lame.

Finally, there's a Gag Reel which is pretty fun.

 

Yep, another beloved sitcom from the 1980s has hit DVD. But as far as cheesy-yet-lovable 1980s sitcoms go, "Growing Pains" can entertain and it's easy to get caught up in it. Even if the video and audio are nothing special, the extras will definitely please fans of the show. If you love your cheesy family sitcoms, then I'm sure you're going to start collecting all the seasons of "Growing Pains." Bring on season 2 of the Seavers.