"Did I do thaaaat?"Family Matters
is one of the quintessential sitcoms of the 1990s
. It started as a spin-off of Perfect Strangers
with background character Harriette Winslow and her husband Carl, a policeman. The show is about their picturesque working-class family. Carl's mother Estelle moved in with them in the first episode, and that is essentially how the show began.
Compared to the later seasons, it seemed rather quaint.
Midway through the first season, the annoying neighbor and Hollywood Nerd
Steve Urkel was introduced, intended as a one-shot character revolving around Carl finding a tame guy to take his daughter Laura to a dance. Actor Jaleel White hit the role so enthusiastically that some college students in the studio audience started chanting "Urkel" repeatedly. This was a pleasant surprise to the producers, who quickly signed up White to return as a regular.
His wackiness and prominence got to the point where Steve was the go-to example of an extraverted nerd
. As it went on, Steve came to dominate the show
, and more and more episodes revolved around him and his wacky sci-fi inventions.
The Winslow family members came to be defined by their relationship with Steve
: the oldest son Eddie was his best friend, Laura was his unrequited love interest, Estelle always recognized his good heart, Richie saw him as an honorary uncle
, and Harriette kept Carl from killing him
. In fact, the youngest daughter, Judy Winslow, was phased out to a life of porn
(after adulthood, of course) because she didn't have much interaction with him.
It's notable in being the most successful sitcom aside from The Cosby Show
and The Jeffersons
to focus on African American characters, as well as not make race an overwhelming topic. It's also like the one millionth time Reginald VelJohnson was cast as a policeman
, after Die Hard
, Turner & Hooch
Sometimes described as a spiritual successor
of Happy Days
, the two shows have many superficial similarities.note
This show provides examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: This more or less became the shows setup when Steve Urkel was introduced. Unlike most versions of this trope, he and Laura do eventually end up together in the final season of the show.
- Also played with with Steve's female but otherwise physically identical Southern Belle cousin Myrtle, who harbored an equally unreturned crush on Eddie.
- Abusive Parents:
- Steve's never seen parents are this normally for laughs. Examples include trying to push him back into the womb, not owning a car because he was born in one, neglecting to feed him, making him pay rent even as a child, and finally moving to Russia without him.
- Of course, with his parents gone, Steve moved in with the Winslows, whom he liked better, by his own admission:
"Big Guy, I love you like a father, and my father like... a neighbor."
- And who can forget the time that Steve had to stay with the Winslows while his parents went on their second honeymoon. He almost casually mentions that they went on separate honeymoons. So as to not repeat the horrible accident they had on their first. Him.
- Yet another example includes Steve mentioning his parents putting trick candles on his birthday cakes. Not the kind that won't blow out, but rather, the kind that blow up.
- Acrofatic: Carl, but he's a cop.
- Aesop Amnesia: Several examples:
- Many of the earlier episodes would have at least one character learning to be nicer to Steve (particularly after he would stick up for them or, in the case of Laura, expose a potential boyfriend with an unsavory agenda), then promptly forget it the very next episode. This was downplayed and eventually forgotten by the later seasons.note
- During the series' early years, Eddie was especially prone to this. He threatened to move out at least twice (and did so on one of those occasions) after conflicting with Carl over house rules; and at least twice got into trouble for getting into minor accidents ... without having a valid driver's license (both times to raise his value to girlfriend, Jolene). At least three other times, he got into trouble for gambling ... one time landing himself and Steve in jail (when the police busted an illegal casino) and at least twice when he ran into people who threatened to beat him (or Steve, or them both) to death if they didn't pay their debts.
- In the gambling instance, it took Eddie's fourth time in losing money to realize that gambling was not the way to recoup losses (he and Waldo had been swindled out of thousands after a con man promised them tickets to a Chicago Bulls game/locker room passes/opportunities to date the cheerleaders, and Eddie goes to his father for assistance; Carl threatens to press charges and that is enough to scare the con man into paying Eddie back).
- Throughout the series, Laura would constantly date these no good jerkasses who were clearly taking advantage of her. The corresponding episodes would always end with her learning a lesson about being more discerning of men, only for her to promptly forget it soon after.
- Ageless Birthday Episode: Several episodes were devoted to Carl's birthday with no mention of his age.
- Alliterative Name:
- Jerry Jamal Jameson (3J).
- Myra Monkhouse.
- Nick Neidermeyer.
- Penny Peyser (Laura's original best friend).
- Related, Waldo Geraldo Faldo is a rhyming name.
- All Just a Dream: Several episodes.
- In one episode, Laura partners up with Steve for a science project, hoping to get an easy "A". She falls asleep on the couch at one point and dreams that he accidentally nukes Chicago, complete with a mushroom cloud echoing "DID I DO THAT?"
- The season seven episode "Bugged" plays with this in a very interesting manner: a scene would be transitioned to in a normal fashion, and something that's been clearly on a character's mind throughout the episode (such as Myra hideously overreacting to Steve fantasizing about another woman) would happen. Suddenly, the scene would shimmer out, revealing itself to be nothing more than a fantasy.
- Happens again in "Stevil." The whole episode turns out to be just a dream. It even winds up being a dream within a dream of sorts, with Steve "waking up" and Eddie attempting to perform brain surgery on him with a cake mixer. Steve finally wakes up for real, and is scolded by Eddie for behaving so oddly during holidays.
- All Men Are Perverts:
- Played surprisingly straight for a kid-friendly sitcom. Nearly every school-age male on the show cheats on and/or demands sex from women (specifically, Laura and Maxine).
- In one episode, Eddie even refuses to introduce his male friends (other than Steve) to Greta because "they're all players." Really makes you wonder what kinds of people Eddie hangs out with (which is particularly odd since he's supposed to be a "good kid").
- Even Steve's feelings for Laura borders on obsession. There's a scene where it's revealed that his locker combination numbers correspond to her measurements. It's incredibly creepy wondering how he figured that out, not to mention that he must think about it every time he opens his locker.
- Alpha Bitch: Cassie Lynn Nubbles, a girl in high school who tried to blackmail Steve and Laura.
- Annoying Laugh: Steve's snorting laugh he always did. "Ah heh-heh-heh *snort**snort*!"
- The Artifact: Ironically, Harriette. The show was designed as a spinoff to focus on her family life, but after Steve became the undisputed main character, more and more members of the Winslow family got phased out. Unlike Laura, Eddie, and Carl, Harriette lacked any dynamic and comedic relationship with Steve leaving her as the odd man out.
- Ascended Extra: Weasel. Like Waldo, he was originally a crony of another character (in this case, he was one of Ted's friends) before he was retooled into being Eddie, Steve, and Waldo's friend after his initial appearance in "Rumor Has It..." Unlike Waldo, however, he wasn't promoted to opening titles and instead was a recurring character in Seasons 4 and 5.
- Astral Finale: The final episode has Steve going up to the NASA space station.
- Ax-Crazy: Myra in the final season.
- Back-to-Back Badasses: Twice with Bruce Lee Clones (literal ones).
- Bad Job, Worse Uniform: The Mighty Weenie's hat. Carl gets a part time job there during Season 4.
- Badass Family: The Winslows, Steve and 3J included. Carl, who has taken down crooks and has verbally defended his family (and Steve) several times and helped to diffuse a bomb. This is understandable because he's a cop. But then there's Steve, Richie and 3J (as Bruce Lee Clones) defeating a street gang, Estelle judo throwing a crook, Rachel tightrope walking on a clothesline several stories in the air (in heels) to save a drunk Steve from plummeting to his death and Harriette telling off her boss.
- Beautiful All Along:
- Steve's "Stefan Urquelle" persona shows us that all he has to do to be attractive is get some contacts, flattering clothes, and stand up straight. Toning down the voice and not breaking stuff all the time didn't hurt either.
- Late in the series, Steve starts a vigorous self-improvement regime that tones down some of his Hollywood Nerd traits into more flattering Geek chic ones while remaining true to himself.
- Aunt Oona from Altoona. It helps that Donna Summer portrayed her.
- Beta Couple: Waldo and Maxine, Eddie and Laura's respective best friends, eventually begin dating.
- Betty and Veronica: Steve ends up being in a love triangle between the cute fellow nerd Myra (Betty) and the shallow popular girl Laura (Veronica). Ultimately, he chose Laura.
- Big Brother Instinct: After Ted spreads rumors about sleeping with Laura, Eddie is certainly not amused. He ends up forcing Ted to confess the truth to the whole school.
- Black and Nerdy: Take a guess.
- Book Dumb: Eddie.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- In the Western all just a dream episode, the characters are constantly looking for the source of the incidental music, which continues outside of the dream at the end of the episode.
- At the end of the episode "Midterm Crisis", after getting into a small food fight, Steve, Eddie, and Waldo decides to go after "them" instead (referring to the viewers watching at home). They then throw eggs at the camera.
- At the end of another episode, the Winslows are spring cleaning, and Steve brings a humongous vacuum cleaner. Once he turns it on, it sucks in the entire scene (literally), leaving Steve in front of a black background with the Winslows shouting from inside the vacuum.
- Breakout Character:
- The show is a study in the handling of breakout characters. The show itself was a spinoff of Perfect Strangers where Harriette and Carl were the breakout characters. In addition to Steve, Waldo and Myra were a lesser examples as they got fleshed considerably due to their popularity.
- Brick Joke:
- In "Driving Carl Crazy", Laura and Eddie makes fun of Steve's Isetta, referring to it as a clown car. During the end credits, the cast comes out of the Isetta like it's a clown car.
- In "Scenes from a Mall", Richie wins a bet with Little G, with the latter saying that Carl does look like the father on Fresh Prince. During the end credits, this scene is expanded, with James Avery making an unexpected cameo appearance. This causes Reginald VelJohnson to break character and introduce Avery to the studio audience and the viewers at home.
- The Bride With A Past: Carl's boss's woman. It turns out he knew about his fiancée's past.
- Broken Aesop: Steve changes from a Be Yourself paragon to a Transformation Ray abuser. Unlike most examples, he gets better after he manages to clone himself. Rather than transforming into Stefan, Steve opts to improve himself the old-fashioned way. Several episodes even center around him trying to change the way he talks and dresses in order to be less grating.
- Brought Home the Wrong Kid: Waldo takes Richie trick-or-treating one Halloween, and comes home with another little boy in the same costume.
- Bruce Lee Clone: Steve actually becomes one occasionally through the use of his transformation chamber.
- The Bully: Really, 90% of the show's incidental characters are this - or, at least, those who are related to Eddie, Steve and Laura. By the time all three characters were in college, this made almost no sense.
- Burger Fool: "Mighty Weenie" is this, complete with low pay and embarassing uniform.
- Butt Monkey: Steve (obviously), Carl and, during the first couple seasons, Eddie.
- Can't Live with Them, Can't Live without Them: Anytime Steve focuses his attention on another girl, Laura shows shades of this to various degrees. She eventually falls in love with and agrees to marry him.
- Car Meets House: Eddie drives his car into the house after failing his driving test, but takes a girl out for a ride anyway.
- The Cast Showoff:
- Darius McCrary (Eddie) is featured singing on several episodes.
- And in the Bruce Lee episodes, Jaleel White gets to show off his magnificent upper body and his love of kung fu. And his accordion playing, which is actually quite good. And Steve was made into a basketball prodigy despite having no athletic talent anywhere else.
- Reginald VelJohnson's singing and dancing.
- Jo Marie Payton's singing in a couple of episodes.
- Telma Hopkins in the earlier episodes.
- Bryton McClure's dancing in some episodes.
- Shawn Harrison's tap dancing was made into a plot point where Waldo learned the art to better play basketball.
- Cast the Expert: Invoked in-universe. In "A Ham Is Born", Carl moonlights as a security guard at a movie studio where a police drama is being filmed. The movie director is annoyed at Carl's opinion of a film scene until Carl mentions his 20-year experience as a Chicago police officer. After Carl demonstrates the actual procedure for arresting criminals, the impressed director decides to cast Carl as the new lead of the film. Ultimately, Carl quits his career as a film star because he, as a married man, refuses to kiss the leading actress, even if it was only part of the script.
- Steve's ubiquitous "Did I do that?"
- "Look what you did."
- "But last week you said 'drop dead, nerd boy'."
- "I'm wearing you down, baby! I'm wearing you DOOOOOOWWWWWWNNNNNN!"
- "You love me, don't you?"
- "Shhhhhhh. Not while I'm [whatever Steve's current activity is]."
- "Go home, Steve!" "But..." "Go home, go home, go home!" "I don't have to take this. I'm going home."
- "Well, at least no one was hurt." "Not yet..."
- "Got any cheese?"
- "Way to go, Carl!"
- "(Myra) is one sick puppy."
- Cat Fight:
- Narrowly averted by Steve jumping in between Myra and Laura fighting over him.
Girls! Girls! There's no need to fight over me! (Beat
) Although it is
my dream come true.
- Myrtle and Greta's (Eddie's girlfriend in the last few seasons) meetings usually result in these. One episode had the two even duking it out in a boxing ring.
- Celebrity Star: Plenty.
- Character Development: Carl goes from police Sergeant to Lieutenant to Captain. Harriette goes from elevator operator to department store clerk to head of security. Waldo is a butt monkey until heading off to culinary school. Eddie the underachiever spends the final season working as a cop, even evoking a mama bear moment from Harriette at the end of the series.
- Characterization Marches On: Waldo was originally a crony of one of Eddie's classmates, Willie, who was the school bully. One of his earliest appearances was the episode "Life of the Party" where he was the one handing out alcohol from his trenchcoat. He wasn't exactly the honest and innocent person he was later known for, but there were traces of it. After this episode, he was reimagined as one of both Eddie and Steve's best friends (which got him a title credit) and Maxine's boyfriend. Adding to this, he and Willie were arrested for illegally serving alcohol at a party (which nearly got Steve killed). Waldo, dumb as he was, was most likely smart enough to distance himself from Willie afterwards.
- Chemistry Can Do Anything: Is seen with Steve's transmogrification device.
- Chicago: The Winslows follow the Bears and the Bulls.
- Childhood Friend Romance
- Christmas Episode: An unusually high-ratio count: seven, over a nine-year run.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
- Judy Winslow. She went to her bedroom and was never seen again. Eddie's pal Rodney also abruptly stopped appearing.
- Rachel is a subversion. Telma Hopkins left the series as a regular after the fourth season, but made recurring appearances in Season 6 (which demonstrated that she was still at the Winslow household even if she wasn't seen). She didn't appear at all afterwards, until a final season episode stated that she had a job out of town.
- Class Reunion
- Clingy Jealous Girl:
- Myra and Myrtle.
- Maxine towards Waldo. As he says to another girl, "She's a sweetie-pie, but if she saw us together she'd rip your arm off and beat me with it," all with a big smile on his face.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Waldo, at his best.
- Cock Fight: Richie vs. 3J in a Valentine's Day episode. Richie wins.
- College Is High School Part 2:
- Played straight when Laura, Eddie and Steve attend IOU.
- The students at BIT (which Steve briefly attends before transferring to IOU) are a bit more like real college students but still unrealistically blunt in the way they haze Steve at the beginning.
- Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: Steve attacks a would-be assailant with a (metal) bedpan during a hospital stay.
- Cool Old Lady: Mother Winslow.
- Cool Old Guy: Her eventual husband, Fletcher, to a lesser extent. Though he does own a Harley.
- Cousin Oliver: 3J, who is notably Richie's age.
- Covers Always Lie:
- The DVD cover for Season 1◊. While Steve overshadowing everyone else is accurate of the series as a whole, this was not the case in Season 1: he only has a prominent role in a handful of episodes, and was shoe-horned into a few new cold opens for syndication in order to create the illusion that he was always a part of the show. About half the episodes in the set are entirely Steve-free.
- Valerie Jones, the actress who played Judy Winslow in the pilot, is featured on the DVD cover for Season 1, instead of Jaimee Foxworth, who played Judy from the second episode onwards (until her disappearance in 1993, anyway).
- CPR (Clean, Pretty, Reliable): In one episode, Carl got electrocuted, leading to him being saved by Steve. Textbook Hollywood CPR ensues, but he doesn't forget a mouth barrier.
- Cross Over:
- An episode of Full House dealt with one of DJ's friends complaining that her irritating cousin from Chicago was coming to San Francisco to visit: that cousin turned out to be none other than Steve, who proceeds to wreak as much havoc in the Tanner household as he usually does with the Winslows.
- Likewise in Step by Step, where he arrives to help Mark with a science project.
- Cutting the Electronic Leash: A pre-cell phone version occurs in an episode where Lt. Murtaugh gives Carl a pager. Carl stomps on it when Murtaugh beeps him during Laura's school play over yet another frivolous issue.
- Dance Sensation: The Urkel Dance. In its appearance, Steve gets almost everybody to participate, leading them to do "The Urkel".
- Deadpan Snarker: Everyone takes turns at this, but actually Steve managed to outdo them all.
- December-December Romance: Fletcher and Estelle.
- Demoted to Extra: Aunt Rachel. She left the show as a regular, but made occasional appearances afterwards.
- Denser and Wackier: Until Steve turned science into magic, this was just a mundane sitcom.
- Department of Child Disservices: 3J doesn't have much stability in his life until mentored by Steve and fostered by the Winslows. Lampshaded repeatedly in "3J in the House."
- Derailing Love Interests: Poor Myra had always been crazy, especially where Steve was concerned. But during the breakup arc in the last season, she went off the deep end: she broke up with Steve, but it was a ploy to get him to beg her to take him back. Then, when he refused to continue the relationship, she sued him for "Alienation of Affection" and even got Johnnie Cochrane as her lawyer. Oh, and she installed a spy cam in his glasses so she could watch him through a monitor in her bedroom.
- Dinner with the Boss: Played With when Harriette's boss, Nick, is invited to play poker with Carl and his friends.
- Disappeared Dad: Shortly before the series' began, Robert Crawford dies, leaving Rachel to raise Richie alone. That is, until she is invited to stay with her sister, Harriette, and her family.
- Distaff Counterpart: The 4th season's Christmas episode has a frustrated Laura wishing that Steve could experience what he puts her through. Her guardian angel grants her wish by turning Steve into Steve Winslow and turning Laura into Laura Urkel, a female version of Steve. The perspective flip shows her what life is like for Steve, and she becomes much nicer to him after that. A more subtle version also occurs with Carl and Harriette. Typically, Carl is the one to suffer from Steve's mishaps and Harriette has to restrain him from chasing Steve. In this episode, Harriette is the one who ends up suffering from Laura Urkel's clumsiness and Carl is the one who has to restrain her from chasing Laura.
- The Ditz: Eddie's buddy Waldo.
- Ditzy Genius: Steven Q. Urkel.
- D.I.Y. Disaster: One episode centered around a do it yourself home bathroom repair idea. Naturally, the toilet flusher ends up turning on the shower, the sink ends up turning on the bathtub, the bathtub ends up turning on the sink, etc.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Steve.
- Dom Com
- Don't Try This at Home: In "Teacher's Pet", after a bunch of pencils drop from the ceiling and hits Robbins, Stefan looks at the camera and says, "kids, don't try this at home."
- Double Meaning Title: The show's title can be translated as "Family Is Important" or "Regarding Issues Concerning Family". Most episodes deal heavily with one meaning or both.
- Drop-In Character: Steve.
- Dumbass Teenage Son: Eddie, particularly in Season 1. When Waldo was introduced in Season 2 and became the resident idiot, Eddie became a little less of an airhead.
- Early Installment Weirdness: A rare case of being played straight and inverted.
- Played straight with the first half of the first season, as Steve was not yet a part of the show.
- Inverted with the season 8 episode, "A Pirate's Life for Me". It really highlighted how much the show had changed. It involved a time machine sending the characters back in time to a pirate ship in the 1700s. Words cannot describe how surreal it felt watching Carl, Laura, and Maxine fighting a group of pirates.
- Carl hilariously acknowledges this in the first (of two) time machine episodes, going through a litany of Steve's previous inventions and concluding that a time machine is "no big deal" at this point. In the same episode, when asked where he got the plutonium to make his time machine's nuclear batteries, Steve casually replies, "RadioShack." Carl is unfazed.
- Establishing Shot: Miller - Boyett loves to use these, and makes a habit of it.
- Estranged Soap Family: Aunt Rachel leaves the show, but somehow her son Richie stays around, which means that his mother is still around somewhere. She is apparently unable to make it to a number of important events.
- Exiled to the Couch: In the episode where Carl and Eddie got into a fight (over Eddie losing Carl's screwdriver), Eddie decides to move out. Harriette tries to get Carl to talk to Eddie, but he stubbornly refused:
Harriette, I have spoken! Harriette: (bows before Carl) Whatever you say, King Carl.
But if Prince Edward leaves this kingdom, you will be sleeping on the royal couch!
- Extraverted Nerd: Steve, who eventually became an example of a creator's pet. Also the former trope namer.
- Family Theme Naming: Robert, Rachel, and Richie Crawford.
- First Girl Wins: In the end, Laura eventually did warm up to Steve. The end of the series has the two engaged and had the show ran one more season, would've saw them wed.
- Flanderization: Of Steve, and really the entire show. In particular, he went from being a bright but mundane high school nerd to a full mad scientist who can wrap the laws of physics around his little finger.
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Eddie and Laura.
- Freudian Excuse: Steve's attachment to the Winslows (especially Carl) stems from his parents rather frigid treatment of their own son, eventually all but abandoning him for an extended research project. The Winslows act as a stable surrogate family for him.
- Full-Name Basis:
- Game Show Appearance:
- When Carl and Steve have a quarrel that can't be resolved by normal means, they take their case to American Gladiators.
- Eddie made two game show appearances of his own.
- Genius Ditz: Waldo is revealed to be a prodigy when it comes to cooking and tap dancing.
- Genki Girl: Myra.
- Genre Shift: Steve's inventions were often so amazing, and began appearing with so much frequency, that the show could have quite reasonably been considered a sci-fi/comedy rather than a simple Dom Com during the last few seasons.
- The Ghost: Steve's parents are never seen in person.
- Goofy Print Underwear: Usually Steve's, who had been pantsed, had his clothes (aside from his boxers) blown away by a large fan, and actually had the majority of his clothes disintegrated by a lightning strike.
- Halfway Plot Switch
- Hidden Depths: Waldo is generally an idiot, but he displays an amazing cooking talent in his first class. Also, when approached about cheating on a test, he refuses - saying, "I may get Fs, but by God, I earn them!"
- Hostage Situation: At least three episodes:
- Season 2's "Dog Day Halloween," where Steve (dressed up as Superman for Halloween) fantasizes about saving Laura, as both of them are among the hostages during a bank robbery.
- Season 2's "I Should Have Done Something," where the hostage situation is referred to, having taken place a year earlier, but is described in detail: a mentally deranged, drugged-out individual had robbed a convenience store and taken an elderly customer hostage; the police arrive and seemingly talked the criminal into surrendering, but just a split second before he is actually arrested, the suspect shoots and kills his hostage. The focus then is on Carl mourning the hostage's death and dwelling on the fact that if he could had done things differently, the hostage would likely still be alive.
- Season 7's "My Uncle the Hero" had a brief hostage situation, where — as Carl is giving a (predictably) boring tour of the police station to nephew Richie's class — a rookie officer momentarily takes his eyes off an arrestee; the arrestee then grabs one of the kids and makes his demands. Carl is quickly able to defuse the situation and nobody is hurt.
- Hypocritical Humor: In one episode, Harriette recruits the girls for a beauty contest and they initially refuse because of the thought of there being a bathing suit competition but join when they're assured there isn't one or anything like it. Come the actual contest, Maxine wears a pretty skanky outfit during the talent showcase.
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: The Season 2 episode "I Should Have Done Something," where Carl blames himself for a hostage situation gone tragically wrong, even though he and his fellow officers followed procedure to a T. What had happened was that a drug-crazed man robbed a convenience store and took an elderly man hostage, but just as it appears Carl has successfully negotiated with the suspect to free his hostage, the young man shoots the hostage in the head, killing him instantly. Carl finally gets closure when he meets with the hostage's widow at a cemetery, and learns that no one (except for the robber) is responsible.
- Intercontinuity Crossover: Steve made appearances on both Full House and Step by Step. In the latter case, it was tied directly into what Steve had been doing in his own show (his jetpack glitched and rocketed him into the next state).
- It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: The pronunciation of the last name of the school janitor, Alfred Looney. The other cast members (except for Steve after Mr. Looney's initial appearance) generally pronounce his name the way it looks like it's meant to be said, whereupon he will correct them by saying, "That's Loo-NAY. It's French!" Could double as his Catch Phrase, which Carl angrily lampshades in "The Looney Bin" about the fifth time Mr. Looney says it.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Estelle, as revealed during a photo show-and-tell for Eddie's class.
- Most of the Winslow family act like this toward Steve in every episode, regardless of how he helped them out in the previous episode.
- Steve even acts like this sometimes. During the episode "Hell Toupee", he outright tells Myra that "As soon as I get a feeling that Laura wants me, I'm done with you."
- Lots of minor characters such as Carl's boss Lt. Murtaugh, Rodney (Eddie's best friend in the first two seasons), alpha bitch Cassie Lynn, many of Laura's love interests and Nick Neidermeyer, the annoying neighbor from the later seasons.
- Karma Houdini:
- Steve's bullies would often get away with what they did to him. And the audience would often even laugh at his misery, like when someone hung him by his suspenders from a hook on the wall.
- In an episode when Laura tries to get more Black History in school, someone not only leaves her a note saying that she should "go back to Africa", but also writes a racial slur on her locker door. As far as we know, the person who did this was never caught.
- And in another episode, a gang of girl thugs not only steal Laura's jacket by tearing it off her body and beating her, but they also actually shoot another girl because she refused to give them her new shoes. We never see these girls get any punishment.
- Kid-anova: 3J.
- The Klutz: Steve.
- Lethally Stupid: Steve again.
- Lie Detector: Steve uses one on Carl in "Words Hurt".
- Logical Fallacies: In the episode "Choir Trouble", Steve joins the Winslow family's church. He reports that his father doesn't approve, because "You can't see or feel God." Steve supposedly counters with: "I can't see or feel an atom, but I know it exist." Estelle tells him that's what it means to have faith (despite the fact an atom is visible under certain microscopes). If you want to be technical, you can feel atoms too. It just takes a lot of them grouped together before you can.
- Long Runners: 9 seasons, for better or worse, definitely due to Steve.
- Long Runner Tech Marches On: The Winslows upgrade to a cordless phone in Season 5.
- Lost Wedding Ring: Down the master bathroom sink. The entire plot is, For Want of a Nail, A Recycled Script from Full House.
- Loves My Alter Ego: Laura loved and fawned over Stefan, and was visibly disappointed when Steve returned.
- The Magic Poker Equation: Used twice in "A Pair of Ladies".
- Malaproper: Waldo.
"If you cut me, do I not sneeze?"
"Wake up and smell Juan Valdez!"
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: An Eddie A-plot in one episode. Predictably leads to An Aesop about waiting for love.
- Manipulative Editing:
- Almost got Carl convicted in a later episode.
- Subverted in another episode when Carl and Steve have to serve on the same jury. Steve uses his computer to prove the defendant's innocence by exposing the manipulative editing of the main evidence against him.
- Mistaken for Cheating:
- Carl was put on an undercover sting with an attractive female co-worker. He couldn't tell Harriette because he was undercover, but she got wind of his late night meetings with the other woman and...
- Eddie once brought 2 girls back to the apartment he was sharing with Waldo. Maxine showed up and, thinking that Waldo was cheating on her, broke up with him. Luckily, the girls were so moved by Waldo's sorrow (and so disgusted by Eddie's actions), that they explained everything to Maxine.
- Moebius Neighborhood: Steve is the only neighbor that the Winslows mention for about five years, until Nick Neidemeyer moves into the house on the opposite side.
- More Hypnotizable Than He Thinks: Steve claims he can't be hypnotized, but a hypnotist entrances him just by dropping the watch in front of his eyes.
- Mundane Fantastic: Steve's sci-fi inventions in the otherwise realistic setting of Family Matters.
- Muscles Are Meaningless: Not intentional, but Jaleel White became a well built, athletic adult later in the show's run. Steve was supposed to be toothpick-thin with almost no masculine strength, so it wasn't always convincing. This is pretty much the reason why the Bruce Lee Clone episodes were written. White was an athletic and well-built young man (and huge Bruce Lee fan).
- Neck Lift: After racking up a bill for broken dishes, Steve complains to his employer, Leroy.
Leroy: (Picks up Steve) I should fire you, Urkel, but I'm in a good mood, so I'm gonna cut you some slack.
- Nice Character, Mean Actor: The Buddy Goodrich character. On screen, Goodrich (possibly a Bill Cosby Captain Ersatz) is a loving father. Offscreen, he's a manipulative jerk who hassles Carl (who's only there to get him to move his car out of a handicapped spot), reveals he's only at a charity event for the money, shoves (and later tries to punch) Carl, twists the event to look like the victim to the press, then threatens to have his assistant commit perjury and finally attempts to bribe Carl with a job as a "technical assistant" for his show.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
- Seen in virtually every episode, especially the early Steve years, thanks to the nerd's never-ending clumsiness. The Winslows' never-ending exasperation with Steve breaking things was expanded on in several episodes, most notably:
- In "Words Hurt," Steve is so traumatized by Carl's rant over a busted model ship that he repeatedly raps Carl over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Furthermore, Steve is in such a state of shock that he refuses to explain why to a concerned Harriette; a hypnotist gets to the truth.
- "What's Up Doc?": A flashback-filled episode from Season 6, featuring numerous "how Steve breaks things" incidents. Harriette once again comes to Steve's rescue by reminding the family of all the times he has helped them resolve various crisis.
- "Life in the Fast Lane," a Season 7 episode where Steve breaking things almost didn't have a "ha-ha" ending. He had gone into a stupor when he accidentally mistakes Laura's diet pills for his own Vitamin C supplements, and while in the garage, barely avoids seriously injuring himself when some large boxes come crashing down (in one of the typical for the series chain reaction accidents).
- Nice Shoes: One episode centers around Laura and Maxine's friend Josie getting a pair of super cool hightop sneakers that are all the rage among teenagers. Then she gets shot by another kid who steals her shoes. She got better, but damn...
- Not Me This Time: In "My Bodyguard," Steve becomes the target of a grocery store robber. He and Myra seek Carl's help, and Steve explains that he thinks the robber is stalking him because he saw someone looking in his bedroom window. Carl and Hariette turn and stare at Myra, who says, "I don't do that anymore!"
- Not What It Looks Like: Steve had a couple of moments of this where Myra thought he was making out with or hitting on Laura. In a non-romantic example, one of Eddie's teachers gets slammed with this. Led to believe Eddie's home is dysfunctional, she pays an investigative visit. She founds the house a complete mess and the kids living on junk food (because Hariette is on strike), Carl going out to score drugs (for an undercover sting) and Mother Winslow going out to buy men (at a charity auction).
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Played straight initially, then inverted. In the pilot, Mother Winslow, while not doing it on purpose, manages to alienate Harriette through complaints about her cooking, as well as Rachel, and even the kids with other jabs. She also causes friction between Eddie and Carl by giving Eddie permission to go to a party that Carl told him that couldn't go to earlier. After the pilot, she better as she gets along well with Harriette, including sticking up for her at times. If anything, she directs more of her sarcasm towards Carl, including making jabs at his weight and his ineptitude as a handyman.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Subverted then played straight in Weasel's case. Rumor Has It..." is the only time Weasel is referred to by his real name, Alex.
- Orwellian Editor: Even though Steve was first introduced in episode 12, the show's producers filmed new cold opens for episodes 4, 7, 8, and 10 with him in them, in order to create the illusion that he was a part of the show from the very beginning; these cold opens are the ones that are shown in syndication. The first season DVD restored the original cold opens in three out of four cases; the fourth (for episode 4, "Rachel's First Date") appears to be lost to history.
- Oven Logic: Laura tries to cut the baking time in half for a home-ec cake by doubling the oven temperature. Hilarity Ensues.
- Phrase Catcher: "Go home, Steve!", usually followed by "I don't have to take this. I'm going home."
- Please Dump Me
- Pro Wrestling Episode: "Psycho Twins," featuring the Bushwhackers as themselves. It was later inducted by WrestleCrap.
- Promotion to Opening Titles:
- Steve in Season 2, Waldo in Season 4, Myra in Season 6 and 3J in Season 8.
- Hey! It's a pattern!
- Surprisingly, Laura's friend Maxine is an exception, despite appearing in 59 episodes (more than Myra, actually), from Season 2 to Season 9.
- Puddle-Covering Chivalry: In one episode, Waldo goes on a date with Maxine. When he's telling about the date to Eddie later, he mentions that he placed his jacket on a puddle so she could cross... then picked up the jacket and placed it on her. When he realized what he'd done, he sat in the puddle so they would match.
- Put on a Bus: Estelle, Rachel, Richie and Waldo. All but Waldo appeared in the last season, with Waldo being mentioned a couple times.
- Proud to Be a Geek: Steve.
- Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Myra in the last season.
- Rank Up: Carl begins the series with the rank of Police Sergeant (just like his character in Die Hard, released the year before). He is twice promoted over the show's nearly decade-long run, first to Lieutenant and then to Captain.
- Really Gets Around: Vonda Mahoney had this reputation. She offered to be Steve when he helped her pass her algebra exam. Ultimately, Steve found out that the reason why she did this was because she wanted to popular. He convinced her that she no longer had to do this, much to Eddie's chagrin.
- Recurring Character: Maxine.
- Rejection Affection: Steve spends the entire run aggressively trying to win Laura's affections even though she is repulsed by him. His perseverance pays off in the end. One possible reason why the story arc of Steve's continued pursuit of Laura was continued long after she turned him down had to do with his overall popularity and ratings draw. Had he been a one-off character (like he was originally intended to be), he'd have been arrested or in the very least slapped with a restraining order.
- Rhymes on a Dime: Waldo Geraldo Faldo.
- Ridiculous Exchange Rates: Waldo is in the fictional Banana Republic of Santo Porto when he's Wrongly Accused of theft and arrested. Carl, Eddie and Steve come down to try and get him out of jail, but Carl balks at paying the huge bail. The guys try to break Waldo out of jail, and Hilarity Ensues until the police chief catches them in the act. He immediately threatens to arrest all of the guys unless they pay a fine on top of Waldo's bail. As it turns out, the huge sum the police chief demands is in Santo Porto dollars, which comes out to about $30 in American currency. Carl cheerfully hands over the money, and the police chief lets them all go.
Carl: Keep the change!
- Ridiculously Human Robot: Steve creates Urkelbot, which soon develops a mind of its own and wants Laura for itself. After that situation, he later become a Robocop.
- Robot Girl: Laurabot was built after Urkelbot was shut down and reprogrammed.
- Running Gag: The over the top food fights.
- Sassy Black Woman: Most women on the show took turns at this, especially Harriette and Laura. Mother Winslow is an odd example of this seeing as how she's usually sweet and kind except when she's trying to prove a point, of course.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Twice in one episode, when the Winslow kids are asked for help, they leave the kitchen in rapid succession:
Laura: Homework! (runs upstairs)
Judy: Homework! (follows Laura)
Eddie: Rodney's! (exits the back door)
- In another episode Laura and Judy are running a babysitting service. When all of their babysitters back out Laura decides to have them babysit the kids
Laura: I know it's just you and me Judy, but it's only fifteen kids. We can handle it!
Judy: WE?! I'm outta here! (gets up to leave, only to be pushed back down by Laura)
- Self-Deprecation: One of Steve's more interesting quirks was that most of his inventions didn't work: some catastrophic event made them go haywire and make things worse than what they were. He actually makes reference to this in one episode where he's trying to throw Myra a birthday party, and he invents a mechanical cake that he's supposed to jump out of. He tells Laura it's "one of my inventions that actually works!" note
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Waldo and Eddie. Steve and Eddie can count too.
- Sentimental Music Cue: While Family Matters did not employ this as much as the trope namer did, it should be noted that the two shows shared a production company, as well several staff members.
- Sexier Alter Ego: Steve had a machine that turned him into a sexier version of himself who was smooth and a ladies man without a hint of nerdiness.
- In one episode, Steve creates a self-aware nuke, which has a video screen with an AI version of himself on it in front of pretty much the same background as Max Headroom. The AI Urkel even did the Max Headroom-type stuttering.
- Steve has a pen pal by the name of Cory Matthews (this is not a crossover, as the two never meet onscreen).
- Show Stopper: Steve.
- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Richie went from an infant in the first season to a four year old at the start of the second.
- Stalker with a Crush:
- Steve to Laura, Myrtle to Eddie, and Myra to Steve.
- The first two were played for laughs, with a mixture of Dogged Nice Guy for Steve. Myra, however, was as creepy as they came. At one point, Steve finds out that she's painted a portrait of him. He notices that the background has his computer and other details of his bedroom that Myra (to his knowledge) has never been in. And most disturbing of all:
"That's me [[Beat
...]] As naked as a jaybird."
- Standard Snippet: Expect "Strangers in the Night" to be played over romantic dance scenes.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: What happens when the Winslows find out that Steve's parents are moving to Russia:
- Swapped Roles: In one Christmas episode, Laura tells Steve that she wants him out of her life and wishes that he knew how it was like to be her. Her wish is granted by her guardian angel and Steve and Laura switch places. Steve become a part of the Winslow family as a normal kid with a normal voice, while Laura becomes an extraverted nerd and pursues for Steve's affections. This time around, it is Steve who tells Laura that he wants her out of his life and even coldly slams the door in her face after she tells him that she'll still love him.
- Carl and Harriette swap roles in this episode too. Normally, Carl is the one who suffers from Steve's mishaps and Harriette stops him from chasing Steve. In the alternate scenario, Harriette is the one who suffers from Laura's mishaps and Carl is the one who has to stop her from chasing Laura. Laura even addresses her as "Big Gal", in contrast to Steve usually calling Carl "Big Guy".
- Sweet Polly Oliver: After not being taken seriously at a used car lot, Laura returns as "Larry."
- Supreme Chef: Waldo after he discovers his talent for cooking.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial
Eddie: There's nothing wrong with the car!
- Syndication: Has been in syndication almost continually for over 20 years, much like another Miller-Boyett show.
- Tempting Fate: When Myra threatens to sue Steve for "Alienation of Affection", he declares that she'd need "the best lawyer in America" to win. Myra opens the door and lets in her attorney: Johnnie Cochran.
- Theme Tune: "As Days Go By". It was not used in the final three seasons. The pilot used "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong.
- There Is Only One Bed: Involving Steve and Laura in a hotel. During the whole ordeal, Steve takes crap from Laura until he finally snaps and unloads on her.
- Time Travel: Steve invents a time machine and uses it in two episodes during Season 8: "Father Time" and "A Pirate's Life For Me".
- Title-Only Opening: The final three seasons.
- Token White:
- Lieutenant (later Captain) Murtaugh.
- Nick Niedermeyer, the annoying neighbor.
- The first, back in the pre-Steve days, was Eddie's friend Rodney.
- Too Dumb to Live: Sometimes you have to wonder just how Waldo made to high school.
- Took a Level in Badass: Happened every time Steve went into his transformation chamber to gain the personality, fighting skills and even the accent and hairstyle of Bruce Lee.
- Tranquil Fury: When Carl yells and shouts, it's usually at Steve for comically destroying his house. However, when he is calm while angry, run. Especially if someone hurts his kids, including Steve.
- Transformation Ray
- Two Lines, No Waiting: The best example is season 3's "Making the Team", when Steve and Laura join Vanderbilt High's basketball team and cheerleading squad, respectively. A Friday night is the first real performance for both.
- Two Scenes, One Dialogue: This is how we (and Eddie and Laura) find out about Waldo's interest in Maxine, and how their first date went.
All: Well, good night! (everyone hangs up in unison)
- Unfortunate Name: Actually unfortunate initials in the case of one Carl Otis Winslow.
- Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Steve and Laura.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Steve invents a time machine, and Carl witnesses him testing it. Carl is completely unfazed by it:
Steve: Holy Jumping Jehosaphat! Do you know what this device is, Carl?
Carl: A swatch-watch for a nerd?
Steve: No! It's my latest invention! You're looking at the world's first time machine!
Steve:...So? Well, aren't you impressed?
- Vignette Episode:
- Steve hosts a Valentine's Day episode that is split into stories about First Love, True Love, and Lasting Love.
- There is another episode about taking credit from others, but it's easily forgotten because everyone involved in the framing device eventually disappeared.
- Waxing Lyrical: At least twice, the kids use lines from Bobby Brown's "It's My Prerogative" in Season 1. Later, Myra does the same with a Stevie Wonder song.
- Wham Episode:
- Although the show rarely dealt with racism, there was an episode where Eddie got stopped and roughed up by a pair of cops because he was a black kid in a white neighborhood, and had to deal with the after effects of discrimination.
- There was also the episode where Laura's locker was defaced and she was harassed for starting a petition to add Black History to the regular school curriculum.
- And the time Eddie was teased for being a virgin and eventually had to confront his friends for it.
- Another episode dealt with guns and had a friend of Laura and Maxine's getting shot in the shoulder (offscreen). They even had a special segment after the episode where the actors talk about how dangerous guns were.
- Another episode had a street gang named the Dragons who come into Rachel's Place and causes trouble. When Rachel, Harriette, Laura and Eddie stood up to them and tells them to leave, they refuse and tries to vandalize the place only for Carl to arrive in time to stop them and force them to leave. That very night the family finds out that the Dragons broke into the restaurant after closing time and heavily vandalized the place. If things weren't already bad enough, a bruised and bloodied Eddie staggers into the restaurant.
- One episode dealt with the dangers of getting drunk. There was a rooftop party, someone spiked the punch, Steve got drunk and fell off the roof. He caught himself on a ledge, and Rachel had to tightrope walk a clothesline to rescue him.
- Wire Dilemma: Carl finds himself on a treadmill that will detonate without a rider. It speeds up, and Lt. Murtaugh enters. The two switch out long enough for Carl to catch his breath, and, on a whim, Carl settles for the yellow wire. It is also a funny and awesome moment.
- Wolverine Publicity: Steve. The ubiquity was, and still is, amazing.
- Yandere: Or her name isn't Myra Boutros Boutros Monkhouse.
- Yes Virginia: Twice, and Richie was never the unbeliever.
- You Look Familiar:
- J. Lamont Pope portrayed three different minor characters in three different episodes before he portrayed his most well known character, Curtis Williams.
- Garcelle Beauvais appeared in four episodes portraying a different character in each one.
- You're Not My Father: Played with; Carl expresses concern that Fletcher can't care for his mom the way his that his dad did. They are able to make peace before the wedding.
- You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses?: Many ruffians did just that with the bespectacled Steve. However, the one time it was not done for laughs was a frighteningly close encounter way back in the first season. "In a Jam" sees a bully, "Bull" Watson, intimidating Steve and constantly threatening him with serious injury if he didn't give him his lunch money. When Steve tells Bull he's not giving in any more, Bull takes a napkin dispenser, crushes it with one hand and implies that's going to happen to Steve if he refuses again. When Steve stands his ground again the next day, Bull grabs Steve, cocks his fist and is about to punch Steve in the face. However, this is averted when Eddie shows up in time to defend Steve and stop Bull.