Family Matters is one of the quintessential sitcoms of the 1990s. It started as a spin-off of Perfect Strangers with background character Harriet Winslow and her husband Carl, a policeman. The show is about their picturesque family living on a working-class income. 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 And Hooch and Ghostbusters.Sometimes described as a Spiritual Successor to Happy Days; the two shows have many superficial similarities.note Both by the same production company, and both spinoffs of a popular series. Both about a married couple with three children living in the suburbs of a Midwestern city. In each series, a minor character introduced as an afterthought quickly becomes wildly popular and dominates the show, one of the three original siblings mysteriously disappears and is never mentioned again, and eventually the person for whom the show was intended as a star vehicle in the first place leaves the show entirely.
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.
Acting for Two: Jaleel White played Steve Urkel, Myrtle Urkel, and Stefan Urquelle (when Steve accidentally clones himself and have one be permanently Stefan). He even got to be a one-off criminal cousin. All of that, in addition to the transformation chamber, was to allow White some opportunity to not keep up the squeaky Steve voice, which got harder and harder as he grew up.
Also because White was a talented character actor and impressionist. His Bruce Lee is actually quite good, and reportedly one of his favorite roles.
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.
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/locker room passes/opportunities to date the cheerleaders to a Chicago Bulls game, 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).
All Just a Dream: 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?"
All Men Are Perverts: Played surprisingly straight for a kid-friendly sitcom. Aside from Steve, Waldo and Eddie, 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 Gretta 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. His feelings for Laura border on obsession. There's a scene where its 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 everytime he opens his locker door.
Alpha Bitch: Cassie Lynn Nubbles, a girl in high school who tried to blackmail Steve and Laura.
The Artifact: Ironically, Harriet Winslow herself. The show was designed as a spinoff to focus on her family life, but after Urkel became the undisputed main character, more and more members of the Winslow family got phased out. Unlike Laura, Eddie, and Carl, Harriet lacked any dynamic and comedic relationship with Steve leaving her as the odd man out.
Astral Finale: The final episode has Urkel going up to the space station.
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 Harriet telling off her boss.
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 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.
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 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.
Car Meets House: Eddie drives his car into the house after failing his driving test, but taking 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 Vel Johnson's singing and dancing.
Telma Hopkins in the earlier 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 leading protagonist 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.
Character Development: Carl goes from police Sergeant to Lieutenant to Captain. Harriet 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 Harriet 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 appearance was the first "Do the Urkel" dance and he was the one handing out alcohol from his trench coat. He wasn't exactly the honest and innocent person he was later known for, but there were traces of it. He was reimagined as one of both Eddie and Steve's best friends (with Willie rarely seen again), getting a title credit and starts dating Laura's friend Maxine.
Fridge Brilliance: He and Willie were arrested for illegally serving beer at a party (which nearly got Steve killed). Waldo (dumb as he was) was most likely smart enough to distance himself from Willie afterwards.
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.
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. Somewhat more justified than the above example, as Chicago is only a jetpack ride away from Wisconsin.
Of course, the crossovers aren't very surprising, since all three shows were packaged by Miller-Boyett Productions.
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!
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.
Season 8 episode, "A Pirate's Life for Me", 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, "Radio Shack." Carl is unfazed.
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. Harriet tries to get Carl to talk to Eddie, but he stubbornly refused:
Carl: Harriet, I have spoken! Harriet:(bows before Carl)Whatever you say, King Carl. But if Prince Edward leaves this kingdom, you will be sleeping on the royal couch!
Actually Steve got most of the character development on the show, going from a one-note character (nerd in love with Laura) to a much more assertive and confident young man who managed to improve upon himself as time went on. The rest of the show was Flanderized to be centered around him though.
His skills at science were Flanderized, however, with him going from a bright but mundane high school nerd to a full Mad Scientist who can wrap the laws of physics around his little finger.
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 House Music: While Family Matters did not employ this trope as often as the respectiveTrope Namer, it should be noted that the two shows shared a production company, as well several staff members.
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.
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!"
Hot Mom: Rachel. Although not the main mother, she is Richie's mother and still counts.
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 fellow officers followed procedure to the letter. 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 Urkel 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).
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 Murtaugh, Rodney (Eddie's best friend in the first two seasons), Alpha Bitch Cassie Lynn, many of Laura's love interests and Neidermeyer, the annoying neighbor from the later seasons.
Logical Fallacies: In one episode, 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's there." 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.
Mistaken for Cheating: Carl was put on an undercover sting with an attractive female co-worker. He couldn't tell Harriet 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.
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).
Nice Character, Mean Actor: The Buddy Goodrich character. On screen, Goodrich (possibly a Bill CosbyCaptain Ersatz) is a loving father. Off screen, he's a manipulative jerk who hassles Carl (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:
"Words Hurt," early in Season 3. Steve is so traumatized by Carl's rant over a busted ship-in-a-bottle that he repeatedly raps Carl over the head with a rolled-up newspaper, in such a state of shock that he refuses to explain to a concerned Harriet; a hypnotist gets to the truth.
"What's Up Doc?": A flashback-filled episode from near the end of Season 6, featuring numerous "How Urkel Breaks Things" incidents. Harriet again rides to the nerd's rescue, reminding them of all the times he has helped them resolve various crises.
"Life in the Fast Lane," a Season 7 episode where Urkel 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's friend Maxine 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...
Mother Winslow gets along well with Harriet, including sticking up for her at times.
Orwellian Editor: Even though Steve was first introduced in episode 12, the show's producers filmed new teasers 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 new episodes are what air in syndication. The first season DVD restored the original teasers in three out of four cases; the fourth (for episode 4, "Rachel's First Date") appears to be lost to history.
Sassy Black Woman: Laura, Harriet, Rachel, and Mother Winslow all took turns at this. Some ladies more than others. Mother Winslow is an odd example of this trope seeing as how she's usually sweet and kind... except when she's trying to prove a point, of course.
Maxine had her moments of this trope too.
Myra also had some memorable uses of this trope.
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:
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.
Shout Out: 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.
The first two were played for laughs, with a mixture of Dogged Nice Guy for Steve. Myra, however, was a 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:
Swapped Roles: In a Christmas special, Laura tells Steve that she wants him out of her life and wishes he knew how it was like to be her. Her wish is granted by her Guardian Angel and Steve and Laura switch places. Steve being apart of the Winslow family, is a normal kid even having a normal voice, while Laura becomes an Extraverted Nerd and pursues for Steve's affections. This time Steve 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.
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.
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". Not used in the last 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.
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 one. 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 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 restaurant and causes trouble. When Rachel, Harriet, 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. Also a Moment Of Awesome and Funny Moment.