The cast in Season Two. Clockwise from top right: Jo, Tootie, Mrs. Garrett, Natalie, and Blair.
You take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em both and there you have... The Facts of Life.
— Opening theme
Long-running Sitcom and teen drama (1979-1988) about the heartwarming adventures of a group of female students. Initially they were students at a boarding school. In later seasons, they went to college and beyond, but kept living together under the watchful eye of Mrs. Garrett, formerly of Diff'rent Strokes (and, in later seasons, her Suspiciously Similar Substitute sister, played by Cloris Leachman).During its first season, the show had a large ensemble of girls, including a very young Molly Ringwald. Starting with its second season, though, the show was retooled. The mob was thinned down to four "core" girls, and almost nothing was ever seen again of their schoolmates.The central girls after the first season were:
Absentee Actor: All the cast (except Kim Fields) at one time or another, most notably in "The First Time" - the script originally called for Blair to lose her virginity, but Lisa Whelchel refused to be involved on religious grounds (see Hollywood Atheist below). As a result - in addition to this being the only episode of the entire series in which Blair/Lisa doesn't appear - it was rewritten so that the Eastland girl to become a woman was Natalie.
The other major absence involved Nancy McKeon missing some episodes early in Season 6 in a contract dispute.
A Good Name for a Rock Band: Subverted in "Doo Wah," in which the girls are entered (unknowingly, at first) in a contest where the winning group gets to sing with El Debarge. Only when they make it to the final round do the girls discover that they are called Sexy Lingerie.
Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Blair and Jo have many of these moments when they stop sniping. Blair nearly punches out a guy who assaulted Jo. Blair secretly helps Jo get a scholarship so that she can stay in school. Jo replaces a childhood toy of Blair's after it is ruined. Jo jumps to her defense after a disgruntled wife accuses Blair of sleeping with her husband. Blair skips a ski trip to spend Christmas with Jo, etc., etc.
Beware the Nice Ones: Natalie could get gleefully vengeful or just plain mean if she felt betrayed. Even Blair is afraid of her.
Big Applesauce: Takes place in Peekskill, but NYC is frequently mentioned, most of their outings end up there and three of the main cast are from there.
Biker Babe: Jo, right down to the Samus Is a Girl moment when she pulls off her helmet to reveal that she is, in fact, a girl.
Boarding School: Eastland is a boarding school for girls, and the first half of the series takes place there.
Andy, the foster kid, and Pippa, the Australian exchange student.
Kelly, a latchkey thug living down the street, was a temporary Cousin Oliver. Played by Pamela Adlon, Marcy from Californication.
Credits Gag: Used on a few episodes later in the show's run; often for the wackier episodes. One prominent example is 3,2,1 (in which Blair and Jo are handcuffed together due to a dispute over a story on their college newscast) — as the credits roll we see someone attempting to saw the handcuff chain off.
In a weird sideways manner. The character "Natalie" was based on Mindy Cohn, who at the time was not an actress but a student at a school the producers visited for ideas and inspiration. She was invited to audition, and ended up cast essentially as herself.
George Clooney as George Burnett during the 1985 and part of 1986 seasons.
Molly Ringwald, during her one season stint (the first one; 1979-1980) played Molly Parker.
Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Jo reacts with hostility every time someone attempts to take pity on her due to her poor upbringing.
Downer Ending: The episode "Runaway." As Tootie ends her adventure safely when her friends come to pick her up, she leaves behind teen prostitute Kristie, who spent most of the episode trying to bring Tootie into the fold; it's implied that Kristie will later suffer at the hands of her pimp.
Dude Magnet: Natalie in particular tended to have a LOT of boyfriends during the show's run.
The Dutiful Son: Mrs. Garret's son Rayomnd, the stuffy accountant who buys her the building for Edna's Edibles. Complete with Prodigal brother, Alex, an unsuccessful musician who was always asking for money.
Early-Installment Weirdness: As noted above, the first season had a large ensemble cast of girls. The second season eliminated half of the girls, eliminated Mr. Bradley the headmaster, and added Nancy McKeon as Jo. There was also a lot less Fanservice than before (see that entry below).
The Eighties: Pretty much one of the definitive shows of the 1980's, so it's impossible to avoid 80's nostalgia and/or horror.
Once they opened up "Over Our Heads" boutique it was just an explosion of sheer 'Eightiesness'.
'80s Hair: And how. Started out okay, but we ended up with more poof than a Whitesnake concert. There were mullets. On women.
Fanservice: The first season was made at the height of the "Jiggle TV" era codified by then NBC president and CEO Fred Silverman during his previous tenure as president of ABC Entertainment, so the older girls ran around in skimpy shorts for large portions of every episode. When new producers Linda Marsh and Margie Peters arrived to do the second season Re Tool, they insisted on less exploitative wardrobes.
Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Blair's mother visits and tells Blair that she's pregnant but not going to go through with it, but Blair convinces her to keep the baby.
Averted in an earlier episode, where Natalie fabricates an article for the Eastland paper, saying that one of the students at Eastland had secretly had an abortion; she later finds out that such an event did in fact occur.
Green-Eyed Monster: Actually the name of an episode in which Tootie gets the part of Nellie Forbush in the school production of South Pacific, and Natalie is deeply jealous. Jo lampshades the trope by explaining what the Green-Eyed Monster does to a person.
Halloween Episode: In one, the girls begin to suspect that Mrs. Garett has been possessed by a murderous ghost who grinds up people into Bratwurst. It was all a prank by Natalie for her film class.
Happily Adopted: Natalie. She finds her birth mother in one of the earlier seasons, but still happily considers her adopted family her 'real' family.
Hero with an F in Good: Blair could come off as so condescending, it often hurt when she was trying to be genuinely nice.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: Blair and Jo are a textbook example, right down to having dialogue that could be effortlessly be used by a genuine old married couple.
Tootie and Natalie were this long before the show began, it just didn't cause as much conflict as Jo and Blair.
Intrepid Reporter: Natalie aspires to become a journalist. Many episodes feature her talking about her latest scoop.
Jo was this until her big scoop got her journalism teacher fired.
KidAnova: Blair, remaining boy crazy yet chaste into her twenties. Partially Enforced Trope due to Lisa Whelchel's Religious beliefs.
Lampshade Hanging: Done in a late season episode when Tootie digs up and shows off the rollerskates that were her trademark in the first season. It also occurs in the reunion movie when Natalie's fiancÚ expresses doubt that Mrs. Garrett can pull Thanksgiving dinner together:
Lolicon: Tootie is discovered by a famous fashion photographer who intends to make her into a supermodel. When they get to the photo shoot in New York, they discover that the "look" magazines want involves young girls in revealing clothes and lots of makeup. Mrs. Garret outright compares it to child pornography.
Especially when they meet another of the models, a girl named Rena who reveals to Mrs. Garrett, in confidence, that she is fourteen but has the photographer believing she's twelve.
Jonathan: [Tootie] may only have a few good years left! Even Rena's on her way out!
MAD: "The Yaks Of Life," in which "Mrs. Ferret" is such an insufferable buttinski that "Mo," "Tootise," "Blah" and "Nutalie" take revenge by introducing her to their respective fathers - Mick "Animal" Belker, George Jefferson, J.R. Ewing and Boss Hogg! ("How could I know that every obnoxious character on TV fathered kids like you to carry on the family tradition?")
Mood Whiplash: In "A Friend in Deed," Blair discovers her mom has been hiding her breast cancer. There's a tense scene where an emotionally drained Blair implies Tootie will tell the whole school about it; Tootie stands her ground and swears on their friendship that she'd never do such a thing. They hug. A second later, Jo, back from an obviously unsuccessful job interview at the motorcycle store, bursts into the room and starts tearing it apart looking for a clock and a fuse, followed by a desperate Natalie trying to stop her.
Mrs. Garrett (joking): What are you making, a bomb? (She laughs.)
Natalie: YES! YES!
Mrs. Garrett (horrified): WHAT?!
Jo: I'm gonna roll it through their front door, and then POW! BLOOEY-POW! Dead Kawasakis all over the street!
Also, anytime the episode ended on an emotional note only to cut the ending credits and the upbeat theme song. Probably the worst example is "Front Page", in which Jo accidentally ruins her professor career by publishing a story about him without the full facts and the audience is treated to the lyric "you better get 'em [the facts of life] right."
Occurs during rehearsals for the school production of "South Pacific":
Miss Downs: Now remember, Tootie, the man you love is missing in action. He may be wounded...he may be dead. And you've never told him how you feel. *beat* Hit it, Brenda!
The Movie: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris; The Facts of Life Down Under - both made for TV.
Mr. Fanservice: There really was no point to George's character other than to have a hot guy hanging around the set.
Jo and Blair's college dorm-mate, Guy, had a memorable scene wearing only a towel.
And let's not forget the strippers in "I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can."
Subverted in the case of Natalie's dating-service boyfriend Rex Winchester, whose good looks are totally cancelled out by his dweebie personality (including his own Catch Phrase, "It works for me!")
In "Sex Symbol," a boy spreads some lies about Natalie's promiscuity. At first, she's offended, but when the other girls laugh at the idea of her being a sex symbol, she decides to perpetuate them just to prove she's desirable.
Also inverted when Blair finds out her boyfriend Cliff works as a stripper to pay his way through medical school.
New Transfer Student: Pippa, who is from Australia. Also Alex, the princess of something-in-Europe. Miko was a temporary Japanese exchange student.
Non-Idle Rich: Blair likes to flaunt her privilege and her looks, often times bragging about how kept she is. She's actually an over-achiever who ends up becoming a lawyer.
Notable Original Music: When Andy enters the girls in a "sing with El Debarge" contest for Teen Scene magazine, they have to come up with a demo song. Tootie suggests they write their own material.
Tootie: How about: (singing while snapping her fingers)
We love you El Debarge, we think you're the greatest
We love Teen Scene, you're the greatest too.
We love this contest, we think it's fantastic
To sum it up, we love Teen Scene, El Debarge, and this contest, too.
Not Blood Siblings: Blair and her former stepsister (portrayed by Eve Plumb) are not actually related but treat each other as genuine siblings.
Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jo, Blair, and Natalie all hailed from New York City, but only Jo actually sounded like it (Lisa Whelchel had a Texas twang and Mindy Cohn had a California accent). Conversely, Kim Fields had a New York accent, but Tootie was supposed to be a D.C. native.
When a later episode attempted to give the Polniacseks an incredible financial windfall, Nancy Mckeon nearly quit over the idea that Jo would suddenly become rich. The writers decided to make it just a temporary situation, so that by the end of the episode everything was back to normal. (Though Jo insisted on keeping the fancy motorcycle helmet her dad bought her.)
All of the stories of Season 3 have the girls living together in one room and doing manual labor to pay off the damage done to the school van when the girls stole it to go have some beers at a bar. Despite their parents (except Jo who is a scholarship student) paying a lot of money in tuition, the girls must endure the problems associated with living in a poorly-maintained room where the heat doesn't always work and the plumbing is sometimes broken.
In fact, there were no fewer than six attempted spinoffs over the course of the show: beyond the aforementioned ones featuring Tootie's mixed-marriage aunt and uncle ("Brian and Sylvia") and Blair as a headmistress ("The Beginning of the End"), there was "The Academy" (about four military academy guys who were pretty much the girls' male alter egos), "Jo's Cousin" (which is self-explanatory), "Rumor Has It" (featuring Blair's law professor), and "Big Apple Blues" (in which Natalie joins up with a bunch of wacky twentysomethings trying to make it in New York City). Not a single one of these turned into a series.
Prince Charming: Blair's steady boyfriend Cliff is a modern version of this, but she ends up falling out of love with him for an unknown reason and calls the relationship off.
Promotion to Parent: Blair acts as a surrogate parent to her little sister, who is born when Blair is 20-something. Also acted as birth coach for her mother.
Put on a Bus: Season 8 ends with the two-parter "Out of Peekskill", in which Mrs. Garrett gets married and joins the Peace Corps to serve in Africa with her new husband.
The Quincy Punk: In "The Americanization of Miko," the writers demonstrated total ignorance about the Stray Cats. Based on the characters' dialogue—specifically, the adults' horror about this crazy new music and the girls' references to wild concerts wherein Brian Setzer evidently ate his guitar—the writers seemed to think the band put out earsplitting punk tunes rather than what really amounted to old-time rockabilly.
Also, when troublemaker Kelly enters the cast, she claims to be a member of the (fake) local gang the Lords of Discipline, who specialize in vandalizing Edna's Edibles and dress like the guys in the "Beat It" video.
In the episode "Let's Face the Music," Pippa joins an all-girl band. They call themselves "heavy metal," and are the farthest thing from it. The girls later fantasize about playing a fundraiser as the band, including weird wigs, key-tar, and studded leather. Still not heavy metal.
Religious Russian Roulette: Blair describes how this applies to her: she once prayed to God to stop her parents' divorce; He didn't, and she stopped believing in Him.
Remember the New Guy: Happens often—the show has a revolving door of relatives and former best friends who appear out of nowhere—but the most notable example is Blair's instant boyfriend, the starving med-school student Cliff. He is introduced in Season 5 having already endeared himself to everyone and having (apparently) received lots of free meals from Mrs. Garrett. Blair is still reeling from her stunned discovery that Cliff is working as a stripper to make ends meet while the audience is still trying to figure out whether they missed an episode.
In a nod to George Clooney, it's revealed that George the handyman left to pursue an acting career in Hollywood.
Jo's absence is explained by her not being to get leave from her job as a policewoman. Natalie comments, "Too bad, I haven't seen her in a lifetime!". Nancy McKeon was unable to join the cast for the movie as she was working on the LifetimeCop ShowThe Division.
Smoking Is Cool: Although several episodes had Aesops relating to smoking, Rich Bitch Blair can be seen puffing on a cigarette in the pilot episode, "The Girls School." By the time the show's first true episode aired, Blair was a non-smoker (reflecting real life, as Welchel was a non-smoker).
Stalker with a Crush: Roy has a crush on Jo, although this is a comedic version of the trope. Still creepy.
Stereotype Flip: The writers had planned to have Blair lose her virginity to boost ratings. Lisa Whelchel decided not to go along with it because she couldn't reconcile premarital sex with her religious beliefs. Mindy Cohn, on the other hand, thought it was about time one of these women in their twenties be allowed to have sex, so she volunteered Natalie to be given the story line in Blair's place. So it was Funny Fat Girl Natalie who lost her virginity first rather than the more conventionally attractive and ultra-popular Blair.
The Stool Pigeon: This was Tootie's primary function for the early seasons, and she retains it to a lesser extent as an adult. Combine her with Natalie and you get Gossipy Hens.
Visit by Divorced Dad: Jo has a couple of these after he's released from prison. Blair also has one or two.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Jo and Blair spend most of their time sniping at each other, but they are actually best friends and will jump to the other's defense in a heartbeat.
What Could Have Been: Despite the number of main characters being thinned between Seasons 1 and 2, production expressed interest in retaining Molly Ringwald as a regular. However, she left to pursue a movie career.
Written-In Infirmity: Nancy McKeon had broken her foot shooting the Made-for-TV MovieStrange Voices shortly before shooting for the final season began; thus resulting in her foot being in a cast for a few early episodes that season.