TV classics: Growing Pains
USA 1985-92, seven seasons, 166 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: Joanna Kerns, Alan Thicke, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, Jeremy Miller, Ashley Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Plot summary: When Maggie resumes her journalism career, it’s Jason who gets more involved with the Seaver kids and their growing pains.
Review: In the 1980s, family sitcoms conquered the TV market. The Cosby Show, Family Ties or Valerie (aka The Hogan Family) – as a kid of that era, those shows are as familiar to you as your own family stories. The Huxtables, Keatons and Hogans are like relatives stirring up fond memories of a time when your biggest problems were curfews, chores and flunking physics. Growing Pains was one of those shows, popular for seven seasons with two reunion movies produced in 2000 and 2004 to add to a nostalgic retrospection of a carefree childhood in more complicated times.
Growing Pains shows the daily adventures of the Seaver household. Mother Maggie who returns to her journalism career in the very first episode, leaving the kids to husband Jason, a psychologist who’s running his practice from home. Together, they are trying to handle their growing offspring Mike, Carol and Ben. Mike is not only the oldest of the brood, he is also the biggest troublemaker. His sister Carol is the smart kid while Ben is the lippy one, each of them fighting to get the upper hand in the family but also sticking together when their pubescent mess hits the fan. As a show of its times, Growing Pains put a lot of emphasis on the children and their problems without ignoring the parents and their (sometimes troubled) world. Blessed with an outstanding cast including Joanna Kerns and Alan Thicke, the show managed what the majority of programs fails to do: it’s stayed fresh not only in the hearts and minds of die-hard fans, but also works in reruns on DVD two decades after the final episode aired on TV.
Like many good programs and things in life, however, Growing Pains also had a downside. While Kirk Cameron (Mike Seaver) explored religion and its meaning in his professional and private life, plotlines and casting choices began to create controversies the born-again Christian later blamed on his inexperience and youth at the time. His screen sister Tracey Gold (Carol Seaver) struggled with anorexia and practically missed the last season due to her deteriorating health. Fully recovered now, the actress has been outspoken about the dangers of eating disorders for girls since. Despite those struggles behind the scenes, the show remains a precious piece of 80s nostalgia still worth watching – as a trip back to your own childhood or to pass it on to a new generation. After all – As long as we got each other, We got the world spinnin right in our hands. Baby you and me, we gotta be, The luckiest dreamers who never quit dreamin’ – who could resist that theme song?!