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Series / Step by Step

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"Step by step, day by day!
A fresh start-over, a different hand to play!
The deeper we fall, the stronger we stay
And we'll be better... the second time around!
'''Second Time Around", sung by Jesse Frederick

Step by Step is one of the many TGIF comedies on ABC that aired from 1991 to 1998. Although at least partially designed as a vehicle for young actress Staci Keanan (and carrying along with her even younger costar Christopher Castile from their previous series Going Places), star billing for the show went to Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers as the parents Frank Lambert and Carol Foster. These two played a couple who, Brady Bunch-style, marry and merge their two households. In an intentional subversion of The Brady Bunch, however, their respective children know and dislike each other already, and forging a single happy family unit out of the conflicts so engendered drove many of the show's earlier plots. Even so, like its spiritual predecessor this Dom Com employed just about every trope in the book.

The Foster side included the smart/sarcastic girl Dana, the flighty girl Karen and the nerdy kid Mark, with the Lambert side including the hip Book Dumb J.T., the tomboy Al(icia) and hyperactive Brendan. Frank's goofy adult nephew Cody lived in his van in their driveway, and would otherwise pop in regularly. A few years into the show Frank and Carol had their own child, Lilly (rapidly aged in her second season, of course).

The show lasted seven years and was popular enough during the time, but hasn't had any lasting influence due to limited post-series Syndication.

This show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Bid: The episode "What's Wrong with this Picture?" climaxes with a nude portrait of Dana at a charity auction and Carol desperately bidding on it while Frank desperately tries to stop her. First she raises her own bid, then he accidentally raises it again while attempting to protest.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Both Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers have had lines relating to their former TV series (Dallas and Three's Company, respectively) in various episodes.
    • When Don Knotts guest stars in a Christmas Episode, he plays a deputy sheriff.
    • Likewise, in the season 2 episode, "The Boss", in which Dana gets a job as an assistant manager at a diner while Karen and J.T. also get jobs there as waitstaff and Cody gets a job there as a disc jockey, the diner owner and manager, Joe Passarelli, is played by Al Molinaro, a.k.a., Al Delvecchio on Happy Days.
    • In one episode, Cody walks into a bar fight and proceeds to annihilate all comers, a reference to Sasha Mitchell's role in the Kickboxer sequels as well as the actor's martial arts abilities.
    • This isn't the only time that Patrick Duffy (Frank) and Sasha Mitchell (Cody) portrayed uncle and nephew; the first time was on Dallas.
  • Amateur Film-Making Plot: One episode has Cody decide to make a film, enlisting the kids as the stars. Given that he tried to start filming before he'd written the script, the result is unsurprisingly bad, though not actually shown to the audience.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents:
    • Carol, especially in Al's eyes early in the series. At one point in one of the first episodes, Al tearfully announces she's running away because she can't cope with her mother's overbearing behavior. This is quickly subverted, however, as she sees that Carol will fill a much-needed mother role – one left behind when Al's biological mother ran off, never to be seen again – quite well
    • Later on in the series after Mark becomes a teenager, he begins to see Carol as embarrassing, going far enough to ask Frank to ban her from his basketball games. This of course leads into Carol disguising herself so she can go anyway, and getting caught of course, leading to a heart-to-heart between mother and son.
    • Frank, especially in Dana's eyes. Frank bumbles his way to playing Papa Wolf or otherwise being a father, and it causes no end of grief or embarrassment for Dana. However, she eventually realizes that Frank is a good man with a good heart, is an excellent provider and is willing to stand up for and stand by her.
  • And the Adventure Continues: At the end of "YoYo's Wedding".
    Dana: And so the nightmare continues.
  • And Starring: A variation. Suzanne Somers gets her own separate "Starring" billing right after Patrick Duffy.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: How Frank gets his brother, Richard, in "Great Expectations" to actually listen to what Cody wants instead of telling him what he wants.
    Richard: Look, Frank, I know you're just tryin' to help, but I think I know more about my son than you do.
    Frank: Then tell me: why would he rather live in my driveway than your house?
  • Attempted Rape: At least five episodes, where each of the teen-aged girls in the series are targeted (Dana, Karen and Al):
    • In 1993, Dana was once a near-victim of date rape when her boyfriend came over (unannounced) to talk to her and hopefully make out. Earlier in the show, her stepfather Frank had made a buffoonish attempt to check up on them when they drove up to Make-Out Point (after Cody warns that the boy is trouble), and gotten Dana very angry. The boy shows up unannounced one day, hoping to get Dana into her room so they could have sex, then tries to advance on her when she says no; Frank shows up just in time to kick the boy out ... and Dana breaks down in tears in Frank's arms.
    • A 1994 episode saw Dana once again get backed into a corner, this time a well-dressed man at a Chicago bus station. Earlier in the episode, Cody had annoyed Dana with a dream he had about her being attacked by a man in the suit, then got her angry at him after he intruded on her college interview (Cody tried to beat the college dean up, thinking he was the assailant). However, Cody is unable to shake his seemingly silly vibes and shows up at the bus station in time to run off Dana's would-be attacker.
    • In 1994, Cody takes Karen to a college frat party, where Karen strikes up a quick friendship with a cute guy. When the two are alone, he tries to advance on her, and she has to rely on Cody and the other brothers to run the would-be rapist off.
    • A year later, Dana and Karen take Al to another college party, where the 15-year-old Lambert girl meets a cute guy that takes her back to his room to talk ... and kiss. When things go too far, Al objects and the boy presses on, it looks like she's about to be raped, until Dana and Karen show up. The boy runs off after being told Al's real age (she had earlier said she was 18). The sisters get their revenge by throwing his furniture out the window, and loudly revealing that the boy likes underage girls.
    • In 1997, Al is nearly raped again when her date unexpectedly reclines the seat of his car (a customized seat) and suddenly lays on top of her; she fights him off easily, but the real challenge is living down a new, unwanted reputation after the boy claims that the two went "all the way." Karen at first refuses to defend Al (Karen also had her eye on the boy, and is jealous of what she thinks is Al's newfound popularity), but later decides she has an obligation to get to the truth when a humiliated Al tearfully threatens to run home from school and never come out of her room ... while conscious.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The Lamberts and Fosters are at each others throats for most of the series, but they do start recognizing each other as family. J.T. even admits that his rivalry with Dana was something of a Vitriolic Best Buds nature, and they would look out for each other.
  • Bash Brothers: Dana tried meeting an editor for a job at a bar, and Cody follows knowing the bar is in a bad neighborhood. When she gets harassed a Bar Brawl ensues, and Cody handles himself well until they all try rushing him. That's when Frank comes to the rescue, and together they clear out the bar.
  • Bested at Bowling: Carol and Jean-Luc beat an overly macho Frank and his pal, Moose. Complete with Frank and his construction associate forced to dance in Fairy costumes as per the terms of the wager. Had he won, Carol and Jean-Luc would have had to serve as their wait staff on Poker Night.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn : Beautiful Karen, Brainy Dana, and Brawny Al.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Cody is such a friendly, goofy guy, but he also knows kickboxing... very well.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Cody is this to J.T., and sometimes Mark.
  • Blended Family Drama: The premise — parents Frank and Carol marry...but their respective children know and dislike each other right off the bat. The show is about them learning to get along.
  • Blind Date: In one episode, Al goes on a date with a pizza guy named Drew because she likes the sound of his voice, only to find he's very overweight, and very bitter, which results in the two of them arguing before the date is even over and storming off. He later comes back to her place and apologizes, admitting that Al was much nicer than he gave her credit for, but had been burned by so many people, he couldn't get over that. They agree to give it a second try and head out to the movies.
  • Book Dumb: J.T. and his friend Rich are not very good at academics.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Karen tends to obsess about boys and clothes and be self-centered. Former tomboy Al in later seasons often acts like Karen in a Those Two Girls duo.
  • The Bride with a Past
  • Broken Aesop: In the episodes Pulling Together and The Un-natural Cody's status as The Ace is highlighted at the expense of completely derailing the respective episode's morals. Specifically, the former episode has him single-handedly win the "Family Games" at the expense of an intended lesson about family bonding.note  The latter example is even worse, as it results in Cody inadvertently winning a "Battle of the Sexes" bet for J.T. despite the younger cousin's blatant sexism at the start of the episode. (And by inadvertently, we mean he completely forgot that he even entered the bet and wrongfully declared a draw when everyone else fell asleep.)
  • Bully Hunter: In an instance that shows the kids actually starting to bond as a family, Al stands up for Mark when he's being picked on by a bully named Max. (Turns out that's short for "Maxine"!)
  • Bumbling Dad: Frank, although he did display competence on occasion. This was a major reason why Dana had a great dislike for her step-family, especially in the early years.
  • The Bus Came Back: Sasha Mitchell had some legal troubles relating to supposed spouse abuse. Once it was cleared up (apparently he was protecting his children from his wife), he returned for one episode in the last season - "We're in the Money." Interestingly, his absence wasn't almost ignored until his return and they explained he went traveling the world looking for the best hamburger ever.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • J.T. tends to be mocked and humiliated more than everyone else.
    • Mark is pushed around a lot by his stepsiblings in early years.
    • Dana and Karen have a few moments of humiliations, sometimes involving Slapstick.
    • Frank sometimes is the butt of the jokes as a Bumbling Dad.
  • Caffeine Failure: The children of the two rival houses have a bet to see who can stay up for the longest period of time. At one point, Karen is about to crack, and Dana pushes her to keep going and drink more and more coffee ('Coffee is our friend!'), even as its effectiveness is diminishing.
  • The Cast Show Off: Cody was a skilled martial artist because Sasha Mitchell was (who starred in a few Kickboxer sequels) and got to demonstrate it in several episodes:
    • Teaching Mark in a way to stand up to the class star (a la The Karate Kid). While Mark (who loses) gains his classmate's respect, Mark's teacher continues to shoot off his mouth, belittle Mark and even physically shove Cody. Cody suggests an exhibition match where he proceeds to knock the guy all around the mat.
    • Another time, beating up an entire bar while protecting Dana.
    • In the episode where he had the wild dream, running off a would-be rapist trying to corner Dana at a bus station. Although Cody misses completely and puts his foot through a vending machine, it is enough to scare the creep off.
  • Catchphrase: "Dude!"
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome - An amazing four instances, which is rare even for silly TV shows:
    • Ivy and Penny Baker, Carol's mother (Peggy Rea) and sister (Patrika Darbo) who were also her work partners vanished without a trace after the first season (also killing midway through a Stalker with a Crush plot, as Carol's sister was obviously jealous of her pretty sister and wanted Frank for herself thus she always creeped him out by constant flirts, which Carol either ignored or never noticed). One explanation for why the characters were dropped was that the two characters failed to catch on with viewers.
    • Brendan Lambert, Frank's youngest son played by Josh Byrne, departed after the sixth season. Early in the series, he was presented as a carefree but chubby boy and did get a few storylines (one involving Minnesota Twins great Harmon Killebrew), but eventually, he was relegated to a glorified extra and — after baby sister Lily was age-advanced to speaking age — was eventually dropped altogether. (Although his absence is never explained, Frank and Carol acknowledge they still have seven children.)
    • At the end of the fifth season, Jake "Flash" Gordon (Jeff Juday), a goofy employee of Frank's, came to live with the family. The character was intended to be a replacement for Cody. Season six rolled along, but there was never any mention of Flash.
  • Control Freak: Carol and Dana.
  • Costumer
  • Cousin Oliver: Lilly, the new child added in later seasons. Also, Cody might have been intended as a subversion of this trope, in the sense of "What if Oliver had been on the show from the beginning?" In any case, it worked.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Opening credits rather than closing, but the opening for the last season makes it seem like the entire cast took turns in a photo booth.
  • Crossover: With fellow ABC program Family Matters, with Steve Urkel (in his jetpack) crashing into their backyard tablenote . Not surprising, of course, since both programs were packaged by Miller-Boyett Productions, and ran in back-to-back timeslots.
  • Cute Bruiser: Al was very strong as a little girl.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Cody, thanks to his kickboxing skills.
  • Crying Wolf: In the first episode, Al says she doesn't want to go to school because her stomach hurts, but Frank is skeptical on account of multiple past claims that never panned out. Carol does believe Al and gets her to a doctor, learning her appendix is about to burst. Frank is horrified that he didn't listen.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dana is the queen of this trope, with Al as a close second.
  • Demoted to Extra: Brendan before totally disappearing in season 7. Mark too, to a lesser extent.
  • The Ditz: Karen is very ditzy in a Valley Girl way. There is also Cody who is prone to Comically Missing the Point.
  • Driven to Suicide: In "The Ice Cream Man Cometh," Cody's best friend George is in mourning over his recently deceased wife, goes skydiving and intends not to pull the parachute cord. Cody manages to talk him down. An earlier episode has Frank and Carol end up as suicide hostages after their pilot learns his wife intends to leave him for his boss. Frank manages to change his mind by relating that his own wife left him on even worse terms.
  • Drop-In Character: Cody. Technically, he lives at the same address, but he lives in his van.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Cody sometimes did have good advice, to a point where that in itself became a Running Gag and at one point Lampshaded by J.T.
  • Dumbass Teenage Son: J.T. is a teenager slacker who is very Book Dumb.
  • Expository Theme Tune: While the lyrics of the song are non-specific enough to double as a Thematic Theme Tune, they ask if a second marriage can go better than the first, and if a blended family can survive. It's even called "The Second Time Around." The theme song also works in a meta sense, as if to declare that the show is challenging itself to improve upon the perceived flaws of The Brady Bunch.
  • Fan Disillusionment: The perception was that youngest boy Brendan was a glorified extra, but he did get a few storylines of his own. One of the best was "Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio," where Cody and Brendan go to a baseball game to see Brendan's favorite player, Kenny Barton. When Brendan tries to get an autograph from Barton after the game, the egotistical player is rude and tells him to go away (if he can't pay the $50 autograph fee). Brendan is crushed, but Harmon Killebrew (the ex-Minnesota Twins great) overhears the whole thing and is outraged at Barton's behavior; after setting Barton straight, Killebrew comforts Brendan and gives him everything he asks for at no charge.
  • First-Name Basis: All of the Lambert/Foster children exclusively refer to their respective step-parent by their first name, as in "Mom and Frank" or "Dad and Carol" rather than "Mom and Dad". This lasts across all seven seasons of the show, and not once does either parent ever attempt to correct this habit.
  • Follow in My Footsteps: In "Great Expectations," Cody's dad insists he come work for him in real estate. Cody would rather keep working for Frank's construction company, but he needs help turning his dad down.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling:
    • This dynamic could be seen with both Karen and Dana and JT and Dana.
    • To a degree, the Lamberts can be considered the foolish siblings to the Fosters' responsible.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Out of the four daughters, we have the naive one (Lilly, The Baby of the Bunch), the tomboy (Al), the pretty one (Karen), and the smart, mature oldest sister (Dana).
  • Game of Nerds: A season 1 episode has Mark unexpectedly prove himself as much an expert on baseball as anything else. , and the following season he joins Al's baseball team just before the championship game and scores a home run. Subverted in later seasons, where Mark takes interest first in martial arts and then basketball.
  • Geeky Turn-On:
    • A Slap-Slap-Kiss trivia challenge between the geeky kid and his girl friend turned into a makeout session.
    • J.T. falling for Wrench Wench Sam.
  • The Generic Guy: Brendan, the youngest of Frank's kids. Aside from being chubby, he was a non-entity and didn't have anything interesting about him. He got a pretty bad case of a certain TV illness and vanished.
  • Genius Ditz: Cody. He scored higher on an IQ test than the highly intelligent Dana, which caused her no small amount of distress.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry:
    • Averted with Dana and Karen as they usually get along but played straight in the episode "Sister Act".
    • Karen and Al also have moments of this.
    • One could see Carol and her sister as this in regards to popularity and Frank, only for Carol to possess the looks and the brains.
  • Hands Go Down: The kids in "YoYo's Wedding".
    Reverend: If anyone objects to this union, speak now or forever hold their peace.
    (The kids raise their hands up)
    Frank: (not even looking) Put them down.
    (The kids put them down)
  • Hidden Depths: Cody's biker friend, Slasher, looks the type, but he's also Happily Married, a graduate of Harvard Law, has an interest in interior design, and has enough pull at the local bank to get Cody a sizable loan.
  • High-School Rejects
  • Hired for Their Looks: J.T. hires a beautiful model as a housekeeper despite the fact that she's terrible at it. She eventually quits when she realizes this fact. In another episode, Frank does the same with a gorgeous female construction worker—who's actually excellent at her job. It's still clear that this trope applies and that her competency is just a lucky bonus.
  • Hollywood Genetics: Karen is brunette while all the other Fosters are blond. Al is blonde while all the other Lamberts are brunets. It probably has something to do with their unseen Disappeared Dad and Missing Mom.
  • Hollywood Law: J.T. and Cody are tricked into signing away the rights to their show. They are replaced by two similar guys and get absolutely nothing from it. This would not hold up in court; any contract requires consideration, meaning that both parties have to get something out of the deal, or a judge calls bullshit.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In "One Truck, al Dente", unable to take the pain in her mouth from having her wisdom teeth pulled out, Dana took the pain medication, which she's sensitive to. As a result, she becomes so mellowed like Cody, and acting like him. Even Cody is annoyed by her as she won't stop bugging him.
    Cody: Ever since she started taking that pain medication, she's been like space cadet city! I mean how many times can a person say "dude" in one sentence? (sees what JT and Al did to Frank's car) Dude!
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: The main driver of the third season episode "Bad Girls," where a desperate-for-friends Al falls into a bad group of girls. She eventually learns that true friendships require time to develop.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: Carol went to high school in The '60s, and in one episode she and an old friend plan to look through their yearbook and laugh at their "Age of Aquarius" fashion sense.
  • Jerk Jock:
    • J.T., to a degree. His favorite target of abuse is his stepsister Dana, whom he considers ugly. He does get a Pet the Dog moment when he comforts Dana after a boy she liked ditches her.
    • Completely averted with Cody, who's even more jockish than J.T., but is very easygoing and friendly.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • J.T., as detailed above.
    • Al. She's hot-tempered, rude, and rebellious - but she does have a moral center. Although she continues to be self-assured in later episodes, the negative aspects were toned down somewhat in later seasons.
    • Dana. She can be extremely rude, especially to Cody and J.T., but in the end she cares about her family. She was even instrumental in getting J.T. back together with Sam. She was also the one who figured out that J.T. was dyslexic and brought it to their parents' attention so he could be diagnosed and get help.
  • Just One More Level!: In one episode, Mark becomes addicted to video games. It's so bad that he has to attend group therapy sessions.
  • Karma Houdini: JT and Cody were once tricked into signing over the right to their TV show to a network. But as they had legally signed a contract, there was nothing they could do about it. And to make the whole thing even worse, they were even unable to get any money from the deal!
  • Kids Rock: The theme song.
  • Kissing Cousins: Well, stepcousins, but Cody still has a huge crush on Dana, much to her chagrin.
  • The Load: J.T. often played this role, since he was very book-dumb, as well as having little common sense or people skills. However, he did not endanger his family as much as Karen did when he did stupid things- hence he is only the Load and not the Millstone.
  • Little Miss Badass: Al, especially in the earlier seasons.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Al in early seasons was a young girl and very snarky.
  • Lives in a Van: Cody lives in a van in the family's driveway.
  • Long-Runners: In reruns on ABC Family (from 2001-2010), becoming one of that cable channel's longest-running rerun packages in its history. The show — which flopped in terrestrial syndication — ran sometimes as many as four episodes a day (in two separate one-hour blocks) during its height, and also had multiple weekend airings and "pinch hitter" status (to fill programming gaps, mostly when a movie ran short). The run finally began winding down in the fall of 2009, and the show's contract with ABC Family finally ended in March 2010.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Karen. Extremely popular, vain, shallow, ditzy and only interested in fashion and boys but ultimately very likeable and very sweet.
  • The Meaning of Life: Subverted. J.T, Dana, Karen, and Cody try to see who can go without sleep the longest. Somehow, Cody becomes smarter as a result and has several epiphanies. At the end of the episode, J.T, Dana, and Karen all finally pass out and Cody suddenly realizes the meaning of life. He's about to state it when he passes out too.
  • Missing Mom / Disappeared Dad: The explanation for why Frank and Carol were previously single. Frank Lambert's wife had recently left him and her children (J.T., Al and Brendan), disappearing and having no apparent contact with any of them. Carol Foster's first husband had died about two years earlier, leaving behind the couple's three children (Dana, Karen and Mark).
  • The Millstone: Karen seems to fill this role often.
    • In one episode of the first season in which the family had gone camping, Karen says she had found a rock that would make a perfect "pedicure stand". Too bad that rock had been holding the truck they had all ridden to the campsite in place- and it ended up falling into the water.
    • In another episode when the family gets an answering machine, Karen only listens to the first message of two (that was for her) before leaving immediately. The second message is for Frank- telling him to not come to a site, that it would be demolished instead. Frank could have gotten injured- or worse- had he not gotten out of time. If the message had been relayed, this would not have happened.
  • My Beloved Smother: Carol starts to become a mild version of this trope to Mark when he starts getting older, which annoys and embarrasses him as he wants to be more independent. It does come in handy on occasion, like when he couldn't say no to his friends even though he wanted to and she came to his rescue by refusing to let him.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Sibling version. In Season 6's "It Didn't Happen One Night," Karen never used the s-word, but in getting the truth about Al's date with a cute guy named Kyle into the open, she made it clear that Al was neither "easy" nor sleeping around with all the guys. Had Karen refused … it would likely have been Frank who would have enforced the original "My Girl Is Not A Slut" wording of the trope … if he would have found out in time to save Al.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between:
    • Out of the Fosters, the inoffensive, nerdy Mark is nice, the sarcastic Dana is mean, and the vain, ditzy Karen is in-between.
    • Out of the girls, Karen is nice (despite being a Valley Girl stereotype, she's the least bitchy of the three), Dana is mean (always snippy, sarcastic, and arrogant), and Al is in-between, at least after she softens up (in early seasons she's not nicer than Dana).
  • Noir Episode: "The Case of the Missing Diary" is framed as Cody working on a creative writing assignment. He casts himself as Detective Sam Spud looking for the eponymous diary belonging to singer Kitty Meow (Karen). Among the possible culprits are a mob boss (Frank), a sultry singer (Carol), Kitty's bandmates (Dana and Al), and a club's Giftedly Bad stand-up comic (J.T.).
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Karen, who was in high school for six of the show's seven seasons. She mentions being a senior in season four, two years later she's still there. The season seven premiere finally shows her going to college.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: After Mark gets busted for a Toilet Paper Prank because he was tempted by a bad girl, he'd much rather talk to Frank about all this than Carol. Frank admits he can relate to this situation, having experience with how hormones can make a teenage boy do very stupid things.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Mark and a couple of his friends (one of whom is the fat kid from Kindergarten Cop, which co-starred Sarah Rose Karr, who would later play Christopher Castile's on-screen younger sister in Beethoven) settle down in the garage to watch a pornographic video called The Naughty Nurses - and Frank and Carol return home from a car trip early.
    • In the pilot, Frank accidentally blurted out that he and Carol were already married.'
  • Opposites Attract: Dana started dating J.T.'s friend Rich (played by Jason Marsden), who was not all that different from J.T. himself. They even mention the trope name when they discuss why they got together.
    • Frank and Carol. Frank is a laid-back, sports loving man while Carol is a high-strung, more cultured woman.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • On one episode Dana goes to one of the toughest bars in town against her stepfather's orders and gets in trouble. Whereupon Frank and Cody, come to rescue her jointly beat up every ruffian there in a Bar Brawl and take her home.
    • Cody again in the episode where he and J.T. take Karen to a party at their frat house. Although Cody had earlier scoffed at Dana's suspicion that the frat brothers would try to take advantage of Karen, he is not pleased when Karen declines an offer of sex and is immediately taunted by all the boys for being a "virgin." The physically larger Cody confronts Karen's tormentor and indignantly demands: "What's wrong with being a virgin? I'm a virgin!"
    • Frank plays this several times with both stepdaughter Dana and biological daughter Al; he rarely does this with Karen, as Cody usually has aided her when boys would try to take advantage of her. With Dana, usually Frank's efforts to make sure Dana isn't being mistreated end in comical failure (usually due to his bumbling or taking Cody up on some stupid idea); however, by the episode's end, Frank plays things straight, and it always comes as the boy reveals his true colors. In Al's case, a sneaky advertiser had videotaped her in a beach scene, telling her and the girls that they were taping a suntan lotion commercial but instead it is for a 1-900 sex hotline; Frank is outraged and, during his visit with the producer, hangs him from a tall-story window and threatens to drop him unless he confesses and pulls the commercial off the air.
    • Even Carol has her Mama Bear moment (and lampshaded the trope in the bargain).
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Twice over in "Aloha, Part 2" for Carol when Dana gets a marriage proposal. Carol forbids it because she's just 17, but Dana says that's how old she was the first time she got married. Changing subjects, Carol balks at marrying some random guy during a weeklong tropical vacation and expecting such a relationship to work.
    Carol: What kind of marriage would that be?!
    Dana: Yours and Frank's!
  • Parental Substitute: George the ice cream man and his wife were this for Cody, who says his own parents were never around much during his childhood.
  • Pick Up Babes With Babes: J.T. is excited when he finds out that his baby sister Lily is a chick magnet. He lies that he's widowed and pretends to be smoking a pipe. One of the girls he picks up gets invited to the Lamberts' place. The girl sees Dana's photo and assumes it's a picture of his deceased wife, when in reality Dana is his very much alive step-sister with whom he doesn't get along. Hilarity ensues.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Rich in season 6.
  • Put on a Bus: Cody disappeared late into Season 5, initially without explanation. (As stated above, actor Sasha Mitchell was accused of domestic abuse - though this turned out to be unfounded. As Disney had purchased ABC around the same time, it was felt that it would create bad publicity for their family friendly image if Mitchell remained on the show.) Season 6's "Bonjour Jean-Luc" would later explain that he had gotten a job in Russia. (Of course, while the first episode of the season to be produced, it was the last one to be aired - thus prompting some confusion.)
  • Raised by Dudes: Alicia aka Al. On the other hand, Mark is Raised By Gals.
  • Reclining Venus: In "What's Wrong with this Picture?", Dana volunteers to pose for a painting by Jayne McNeil, a famous feminist abstract artist who's even more arrogant than she is. Jayne then asks her to pose nude, and Dana agrees, thinking that since it's an abstract painting she won't be recognizable. Upon arriving with her entire family to the charity auction where the painting will be auctioned off, Jayne informs her that she's decided to switch from her usual abstract style to photorealism. When the painting is unveiled it clearly depicts Dana reclining on a sofa fully nude, partially obscured by Frank's head, the auctioneer, and then the podium.
  • Rejection Affection: Dana is the continuous subject of the unwanted attentions of her stepfather's nephew Cody.
  • "Risky Business" Dance: Done by Mark when the family leaves him alone for a few hours.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Frank, in the Season 7 episode "Phoney Business," after finding out a television commercial producer tricked Al into starring in a phone sex hotline commercial. In addition to threatening to throw him from a high-story window, he rips apart the office looking for the master video of the commercial and threatens to tell his boss unless the commercial is pulled at once; earlier, he threatened to beat Rich to within an inch of his life after finding out he knew what was going on, and also implies to J.T. that he also has harsh punishment coming.
  • Ruptured Appendix: The very first episode has an appendix scare happen with Al. She says her stomach hurts before school but her father Frank, believing she doesn't want to go (in part because she's pretended to be sick to skip school before), doesn't believe her. Her new stepmother Carol does and takes her to the hospital, where she's discovered to have appendicitis. The scare is the start of bringing the newly blended families together.
  • Screaming Birth: Carol turns into a maniac while she's in labor with Lily, though this is mostly because of her stubborn insistence on natural childbirth and ends when she accepts an epidural.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Al, big time, overlapping with Girliness Upgrade and She's All Grown Up.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Dana and Rich, much to J.T.'s horror.
    Dana: God, why am I wasting my time on you? You're noting but a drooling, illiterate, imbecile!
    Rich: Hey, it's better than being a stuck up, man-hitting, know-it-all.
    Dana: Oh yeah? Here's an idea: why don't you go down to the railroad tracks and hop a train back to munchkin land?
    Rich: Oh yeah well, I got a better idea: why don't I find a tutor who isn't a member of the Lorena Bobbitt fanclub?
    Dana: Oh yeah, that's pretty good for someone with the IQ of a potato.
    Rich: Better than having the sex appeal of a potato.
    Dana: Ugh, you make me sick!
    Rich: You make me sicker!
    Dana: I hate you!
    Rich: ... are you as hot as I am?
    Dana: ...hotter! (passionate kiss ensues)
  • The Snark Knight: Dana.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Lily aged from an infant to a walking, talking preschooler in between seasons.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: When Dana submits her first college paper, her professor, noting her Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and emphasis of form and style over substance, refers to it as "Supercilious Crap."
  • Stalker with a Crush: The entire series is set up by Frank being this. Specifically, after Frank learned (presumably during a appointment at her salon) that Carol would be taking a vacation, he proceeded to collect all of her trip information from her travel agent, and then purchased both the same flight and hotel, with the explicit intention of courting her. Needless to say, whatever Frank did afterward was enough to talk Carol into a shotgun marriage. But it gets worse: when Carol starts second guessing her decision on the grounds that theirs may be only a physical attraction, Frank's response is to confess his actions to Carol's face. Even more disturbing is that Carol takes this as a genuinely romantic gesture which removes both her own doubts and Frank's token "guilt". Frank then plots to fabricate a normal relationship in hopes of hiding the affair from their children, which Carol quickly and happily agrees to! The final kicker: Frank then outright asks Carol how long people date before they engage/marry, confirming a complete lack of understanding regarding how stable/healthy relationships actually work. Yeah, Real nice catch there, Carol.
  • Stereotype Flip: This show flips the stereotypes of the Brainy Brunette and the Dumb Blonde. Dana and Mark have light blonde hair and they are the smartest people in the family, Carol is blonde and a capable, competent mother (though a bit flighty and neurotic at times), Al has dark blonde hair and is very quick-witted. All the brunette characters — Karen, JT, Cody, Rich, and even Brendan (as implied once in season 6) — are Book Dumb or ditzy and generally not very smart.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: In a Christmas Episode, Frank and Carol realize they missed some items for the kids, so Frank suggests going to a toy store he's been doing some remodeling work for, grabbing the desired items, and leaving money in the register. When Carol points out that's breaking and entering, Frank feels "entering with intent to purchase" is more appropriate. Later, after they've been arrested, Frank makes his one phone call to the house and explains to Cody the entire situation. Cody immediately sums it up as "entering with intent to purchase" (which Frank feels vindicated by, much to Carol's irritation).
  • Straw Feminist: Dana became one quite a few times. (Several times, she recruited Karen and Al to join with her.) This was basically her schtick. One time she tried to get a full-blown feminist group going, but it was derailed by Cody's hotness. Dana was, however, portrayed more sympathetically than other examples of this type, and even came out on top on some occasions. She does start to mellow out when she begins dating J.T.'s friend, Rich.
  • Surfer Dude: Cody.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After Sasha Mitchell's legal difficulties mentioned above, Cody was dropped from the show late into Season 5. Filling the void in these remaining episodes was the very Cody-like Flash, a hyperactive adult who worked at Frank's construction company. He was dropped in-between seasons. (Presumably, his sole purpose was to take Cody's role in scripts/stories developed before the change.) Season 6 gave us another Cody substitute with Bronson Pinchot as Jean-Luc, Carol's new French Wacky Guy business partner. He only lasted the season (though unlike Flash, got a goodbye episode).
  • Teen Genius: Mark.
  • Television Geography:
    • The show is supposed to take place in Port Washington, Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee, but the lack of accents and local flavor (beyond a few mentions of landmarks and a couple of copies of the Ozaukee Press here and there) suggests otherwise. Although the accents were a whole lot more accurate here than they were in ABC's last pair of sitcoms to take place in Metro Milwaukee, and in real life, the "Wiscaaansin" accent isn't all that pronounced until you go further north in the state. However, they did know that Port Washington High School's mascot is the Pirates and had school letter jackets for the appropriate characters with the true logo.
    • The opening does, however, hilariously suggest Port Washington has a theme park, complete with roller coaster. The closest coaster that could even be applicable is about two hours away in Gurnee, Illinois (also not on an obvious ocean coastline, mind, and not even close enough to Lake Michigan to count); the park was actually Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA (with the parking lot covered up by the CGI ocean).note 
    • Surprisingly averted by the quick glance of the population sign: the numbers are accurate as of the 1990 US Census.
  • Temporary Substitute: At the end of the fifth season of Step by Step, the actor who played Cody was unavailable to shoot the two-part Disney World episode—quite a loss, since the episode revolved largely around Cody's effort to go on every ride in the park in record time. Instead, a new character named Flash (apparently Uncle Frank's employee) shows up unannounced and proceeds to do everything Cody was intended to do, making him the effective star of the show for these two episodes. He made one last appearance in the season finale which actually had him moving into the Foster/Lambert household, setting him up as a full-fledged Suspiciously Similar Substitute, before being scrapped in favor of Bronson Pinchot as zany Frenchman Jean-Luc and Jason Marsden as J.T.'s friend Rich as new regulars. Cody was explained as having boarded a bus for Russia, but he would return for a final season episode.
  • "Test Your Strength" Game: The intro theme is set in an amusement park where the whole new family is enjoying their time together. J.T. tries hand in "test your strength game" and he reaches the top score "WIN".
  • Thematic Theme Tune
  • Toilet Paper Prank: In a Halloween Episode, the nerdy Mark gets caught doing this by a police officer and brought home to his parents to face the music. When he comments he'd rather go to jail, the officer replies that's exactly why they bring the kids home instead.
  • Tomboyish Name: Taught An Aesop once with "Sam", the best mechanic in town, and one of the girls (the tomboy) was named "Al" (short for Alicia). Then there was the episode with "Max"....
  • Totally Radical: Cody, dude!
  • Town Girls: Karen is the Femme, Al is the Butch and Dana is Neither.
  • Training Montage: Happens when Cody is trying to train Mark in martial arts. Cody even begins playing "Gonna Fly Now" in an attempt to motivate him. It works.
  • Tsundere: Dana (Type A), especially towards Rich.
  • Very Special Episode:
    • An unusually subtle one happened when J.T. finds out he has dyslexia. It was basically one scene of drama (as he realizes his trouble in reading) and the remainder making some mild Gallows Humor on the subject.
      J.T.: It's confirmed. I have dyslexia.
      Carol: Thank God! I knew you couldn't be that stupid!
    • There's one in which someone offered weed to Al. She doesn't seem so reluctant about smoking it, but rejects the joint anyway at the end.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: A recurring theme on the show. For starters....
    • Dana and J.T.
    • Al and Karen.
    • In general, the two halves of the family seemed to hate each other at first.
  • Wacky Guy: Cody, then Jean-Luc.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Al gets dumped in "The Dance" and is depressed about it, especially when others try and fail to comfort her. When Steve Urkel chimes in, Al says she is sick of getting advice from people who have never been dumped before. Given his own unique history, Steve does a prolonged Aside Glance before asking, "Are you kidding?"