Follow TV Tropes


Series / Growing Pains

Go To

"As long as we got each other, we got the world spinning right in our hands, baby rain or shine, all the time, we've got each other, sharing the laughter and love."

Growing Pains is a Dom Com which ran on ABC from 1985 to 1992.

Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns are Jason and Maggie Seaver, a Happily Married couple living on Long Island with their three children: mischievous teenager Mike, brainy Carol, and precocious Ben. Maggie has decided to return to her pre-motherhood career as a journalist, and Jason has moved his psychiatric practice into the family home.

Early focus on the parents shifted quickly as Kirk Cameron's Mike became the face of the series.

Behind-the-scenes turmoil shaped the series' later years. In early seasons, Mike and Ben had often teased Carol for being overweight, which was cited as a factor when Carol's portrayer, Tracey Gold, left the show to get treatment for anorexia. Another source of controversy emerged when Kirk Cameron became a born-again Christian. He started requesting script changes to eliminate risqué content, and insisted that fellow cast member Julie McCullough, who played the family's nanny (and Mike's fiancee), Julie, be fired due to her past appearances in Playboy. In 1991, executive producers Dan Guntzelman, Mike Sullivan, and Steve Marshall quit after Cameron telephoned Bob Iger, who was then president of ABC Entertainment, and accused them of being "pornographers". The show was cancelled the following year.


Growing Pains was also notable for its use of both Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome and Cousin Oliver to combat the aging of the series regulars. Jeremy Miller, who played Ben, outgrew the role of precocious child, but didn't seem able to replace now-adult Kirk Cameron as a teen heartthrob. Chrissy, the baby the Seavers had in 1988, went from infant to school-age over the summer of 1990. In the show's last season, Mike went into teaching and brought orphaned teen Luke (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) home for the Seavers to adopt.

The series spawned one Spin-Off, Just the Ten of Us, launched by Poorly Disguised Pilot.


This series provides examples of:

  • 30 Minutes, or It's Free!: In the episode "The Home Show," the Seavers are having to set up a party at the last minute, because Jason used an old calendar to set the date. When a pizza is accidentally delivered to their house instead of the neighbors, Jason starts to tell the delivery guy his mistake, until Mike reminds him they need the food for the party. Jason thinks for a second then says, "We ordered five pizzas, not one, and that was 31 minutes ago, so they're free."
  • '80s Hair: Look at the women in the picture on top of this page. Yeah. And between's Kirk Cameron's perm and Alan Thicke's not-quite mullet the first couple of seasons, it's safe to say the guys weren't immune either.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Not the Seavers. When Luke joins the family, Jason thinks he's drunk the alcohol from the wine cabinet. Turns out he dumped it down the sink because his alcoholic stepfather used to beat him after his mother died, which is why he ran away from home.
  • All Just a Dream: Episodes "This is Your Life" (season 3, episode 10) and "Meet the Seavers" (season 6, episode 21).
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: A likely reason for Mike's poor scholastic habits in the early seasons, and the focus of several episodes. The petulant episode focusing on Mike's inability to study is probably Season 3's "Nasty Habits," where he mightily struggles to focus on writing a term paper for his composition class, one the high school senior needs to help him stay on track to graduate on time.
  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: In a Halloween episode, Mike claims he had met a beautiful teen-aged ghost named Kara, who had died 17 years earlier in a car accident. An in-joke in the episode is that, along the way, Mike and Kara stop at a roadside bar, where a talent show — featuring all of the guests dressed as dead celebrities — is taking place. Of course, Mike's making up the entire tale.
  • The B Grade: Played in an interesting way. Carol makes out with her boyfriend instead of reading a book assigned for English class. She takes a pop quiz the next day and still gets an "A". The anguish begins after Mike looks over her test and points out she used a lot of big, intellectual sounding words and essentially confused the teacher into giving her an "A".
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Several extreme examples. One of which involved actual drawing on the TV screen. Also averted (or perhaps completely turned on its head) by actually showing a fourth wall in the "Meet the Seavers" episode.
  • Breakout Character: Mike Seaver became the fan favorite early on similar to Alex from Family Ties.
  • Bowdlerise: When aired on ABC Family.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Usually played straight, although occasionally subverted by Mike.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: In one episode, Mike prepared cheat notes on the soles of his shoes for an important test. However when doing the test, Mike found that he was able to do the test honestly since he legitimately knew the answers. However, Mike's notes are discovered at the end and the teacher logically assumes he used them to cheat and it takes the rest of the episode for Mike to convince his parents and teacher of the truth. Both to allow him to prove that he knows the material and for his parents and teacher to drive home the point that preparing to cheat is wrong in itself, Mike retakes the test, on top of the desks, barefoot and his underwear to make sure he is using no unauthorized materials.
    • In another episode, this philosophy is subverted. Ben has the opportunity to cheat on a test, but does not; he ends up getting a bad grade, and is scolded by his parents. His friends do cheat, get excellent grades, and are rewarded by their parents. Ben's father is forced to concede that, in reality, cheaters prosper and win very often (saying that "in some cases, they even win the White House", an obvious reference to Watergate), although he does say that being honest can be far more rewarding in the long run.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The family gets a dog in a Christmas episode, but then he's never seen again.
  • Clip Show: At least one every season, including the series finale.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In one episode, Carol becomes popular when she reveals to her soap opera-obsessed roommated that her brother is on a soap opera. When other members of her roommate's soap opera fan club think she might be lying, she tells them she knows who shot Mike's character (because Mike had been practicing the line over-and-over around her). Carol brings them to the studio, right after Mike left the show. Due to leaving before the filming of that episode, the producer decides "There is no Mike Seaver, just air!" They then look at that episodes script to prove she was right about the episodes killer, only for the script to change who the killer was (due to it being leaked in a soap opera newsletter).
  • Couch Gag: Starting in the fourth season, the show taped several different versions of the shot in the main title where the family goes into the house. Whoever was the last to go into the house would usually be the focus of that week's episode.
    • A variation was used in the final season. The previous year, the theme song was revamped as an acapella version. Fans did not approve, so while retaining the opening titles of the previous season (with Leo DiCaprio added in), the familiar BJ Thomas/Jennifer Warnes version of the theme returned, last used in 1988. However, for somber episodes, as well as the series finale, the acapella theme was used.
    • Also, special openings and closing themes were used for special episodes (the Hawaii and Halloween episodes, for example).
    • The episode where Maggie goes into labor, the opening sequence comes to halt at the final scene.
      Maggie: Hold on here! (clutches her belly as the theme music stops) Oh! This is it!
  • Cousin Oliver: Both Chrissy and Luke. Yes, that's right, Leonardo DiCaprio's first big break was as the Cousin Oliver brought in for the last season of Growing Pains.
  • Deconstruction: While most of the series had the sort of plots one would expect from an 80's sitcom, many an episode took those plots and did a 180 on them, most notably the Drunk Driver episode described below.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Played for Laughs in one episode. It's Chrissy's first day of school, and teenaged Ben warns her about doing things that will make her unpopular, like sitting in the front of the class and eating green Jello. Except the rules for teenagers are different from those of little kids, and, in following Ben's rules, Chrissy finds herself ostracized. Made worse when a series of circumstances force Ben to do the very things he warned Chrissy against; when he complains of this, Chrissy accuses him of lying to her.
  • Drunk Driver: Carol's boyfriend Sandy (Matthew Perry) was in an accident while driving drunk. Viewers were bracing for the climatic Aesop (Sandy would recover, lesson learned, let's move on)... until Sandy bit it.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-universe in "Second Chance" (the drunk driving episode), when Carol initially refuses to believe that Mike had gotten a phone call saying that Sandy had died from his injuries. In previous episodes where Sandy was featured, Mike (and Ben) had made cruel jokes about Sandy, and in "Second Chance" they were relentlessly taunting Carol when he was late (without explanation) for their date ... until they got a phone call saying Sandy had been in an accident. So when Carol (and Jason and Maggie) are told the news, Carol screams at Mike, tells him he just pulled off his worst joke ever and begins to tell him she never wants to speak to him again ... but a somber, clearly shaken Mike presses on with the details and it is clear that he is telling the truth.
  • Fan Disillusionment: Ben catches his favorite rock star, played by Brad Pitt, cheating on his wife.
  • Fired Teacher: Coach Graham T. Lubbock, in the backdoor pilot to Just the Ten of Us.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Season 5's "Teach Me," set five months after Sandy's death, where Jason's parents make a well-intentioned attempt to set Carol up with a new boyfriend. The date itself seems to be your typical Bad Date ... until Jason and Maggie see clear signs about how Carol is behaving. At home, Carol breaks down and admits she is still in grief and shock over Sandy's death and that her accepting her grandparents' offer to date was a way to mask her denial.
  • Gainax Ending: "Happy Halloween" ends with Carol dating the Grim Reaper.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Maggie walks into the living room and asks, "It's the second Saturday of the month. Do you know what that means?" Ben replies, "You're gonna be cranky?" Maggie declares that "It's chore day!", but Ben was probably referring to something else. . .
  • Halloween Episode: Season 6's "Happy Halloween" two-parter. When a thunderstorm hits on Halloween night and trashes their plans, the Seavers stay in to tell ghost stories, including a Invasion of the Body Snatchers spoof and a Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts tale.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Boner. At the time, it was just a nickname, but now at days the word is more associated with a penis erection.
  • Heh Heh, You Said "X": A negative example in one episode:
    Maggie: [After Mike and Jason get into an argument] That's it! I'm not going to stand here and watch you two butt heads!
    Mike: You hear what she just called us?
  • House Husband: Subverted. Jason is the stay-at-home parent, but he runs his psychiatric practice out of a home office.
  • Morton's Fork: In one episode, Jason tells Mike that if he tells the truth about something he did, he'll be severely punished. And if he lies, Jason will find out the truth, and then he'll severely punish Mike. Lampshaded when Mike says he doesn't see any advantage in telling the truth, until Jason gives him a death glare, at which point he says it's obviously clear to him.
  • No Periods, Period: Aside from the possible "crap" example above, never mentioned, despite two grown women in the house. (Chrissy was too young have started).
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Maggie's father is unbelievably rude and nasty to Jason, despite Jason being the kind of son-in-law one would pick out of a catalogue (a doctor, well-off, etc). It appears he's still angry at the two for running off and eloping, but given how long ago that was and that the two are clearly happy together, he just comes off like a jerk. It's especially bad given that Maggie's mother, while The Ditz, adores Jason, and Maggie and Jason's mother get along fine.
  • One Crazy Night: One episode starts out as a supply run for a class project and turns into a night on the town chasing girls.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Gordon Jump's fresh off the boat Irish accent as Maggie's father has to be heard to believed.
  • Parents as People: Ben has a literal realization of this after Mike and Carol inform him what's really happening when Jason and Maggie stay in bed late on Saturday mornings. Mike himself has a similar realization in the same episode after witnessing Jason flirting with an attractive woman at the gym.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Zigzagged in the episode "Jason Flirts, Maggie Hurts". Mike and Carol are pretty matter-of-fact about what Jason and Maggie are doing on their late Saturday mornings. Ben is more stunned than disgusted and eventually accepts it to the point of cheering Jason when he mentions, "Your mother and I are heading to bed."
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: For Just the Ten of Us. Coach Lubbock, the central character of Just the Ten of Us, was an established recurring character on the show, although his domestic life — a rather large family, with another baby on the way — was not seen or even alluded to until the episode which was used to spawn the spinoff.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Carol. She returned.
    • Also Boner, who was shipped off to join the Marines in the fourth season.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Mike's character saw drastic changes in the last few seasons because of Kirk Cameron's religious conversion.
  • Reunion Show: Two of them, which don't quite match up.
  • Revenge of the Nerd: Gender flipped; Mike asks out a hot girl, only to discover he used to tease her for being "Bucktooth Becky".
  • Scantron Picture: Mike scores high on an IQ test after drawing a picture of a tree on the answer sheet.
  • School Play: Mike plays George in Our Town.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Essentially the focus of the episode where Carol is nominated for homecoming queen. Even big brother Mike reluctantly admits that she's pretty.
  • Shout-Out: In the finale, Jason comments that if they move to Washington, D.C., he might get to meet Joan Lunden. Word of God stated that this line was specifically included because at the time, tabloids were speculating that Alan Thicke and Joan Lunden were romantically involved.
  • Side Bet: When Mike graduates from high school, Carol finds a note in her purse reminding her of an ancient bet they made as children that he would never graduate. Cue a Flash Back to the conversation.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Chrissy.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: In Name Only. Ben insists on naming his new baby sister Chris, after an old man he befriended in the hospital.
  • Sorry That I'm Dying: Show Within a Show-style.
  • Spin-Off: Just the Ten of Us.
  • Teachers out of School: "Ben and Mike's Excellent Adventure" has Mike, Ben and Eddie in a car when they see Principal Dewitt coming out of a store. Mike and Eddie duck out of sight before Ben points out "You guys graduated two years ago!" They pop back up.
    Principal Dewitt: Well, well, well. Seaver. Zeff. How wonderful it is not to see you two anymore.
  • Tempting Fate: In "Happy Halloween", Jason and Maggie were about to take Chrissy trick-or-treating when they noticed a storm coming. Chrissy assures them it's only a little storm, then a lightning bolt hit a tree right next to them.
  • Truncated Theme Tune: If you hear B.J. Thomas and his partner at the time harmonizing on "Don't waste another minute on your crying", odds are good it's from the syndicated package. More noticeable with Jennifer Warnes than with Dusty Springfield.
  • Unexpected Positive:
    • Maggie is doing a series of news reports about regular medical checkups, and thus undergoes all the usual tests. This is how she discovers she's pregnant.
    • In another episode, Jason allows a pediatrician to examine him to show a teenage boy it's no big deal. This is how his hernia is discovered.
  • Unperson: In-Universe example: In one episode, Mike needs to leave the set of a soap opera he's on shortly before the filming of an important episode involving his character. The producer decides "there is no Mike Seaver, just air!"


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: