"You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both, and then you have…The Facts of Life…The Facts of Life…"
Boy, they don't make ‘em like they used to.
80's sitcoms seem to exist in their own little world. The cheesy, yet catchy theme songs, the corny jokes, and let's not forget the very special episodes. You know the ones that dealt with hard hitting issues which are conveniently solved twenty minutes later and culminating in a heart-warming hug between characters.
One of those iconic sitcoms of the 1980's was "The Facts of Life," a spin-off of another popular show of the time, "Diff'rent Strokes." "Facts of Life" centered on Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett, originally the housekeeper for Phillip Drummond who adopted two orphaned boys from Harlem, played famously by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. After the first season, Mrs. Garrett departs for Eastland, an all-girls' prep school in upstate New York.
As with many other shows, "Facts of Life" was still trying to find its legs in its first season. The sitcom originally focused on an assortment of girls (including a pre-John Hughes Molly Ringwald) living in the dormitory with Mrs. Garrett as their house mother. The creators wisely decided to cut the cast down and keep the best characters for the second season. The girls that made the culling were the rich and slightly snobby Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), the nerdy and overweight Natalie (Mindy Cohn), and the youngest girl Tootie (Kim Fields), best remembered for her toothy, brace-filled grin. They were joined by Jo (Nancy McKeon), a tough tomboy who's more interested in cars and motorcycles than fashion or make-up.
Shout! Factory releases the show's fourth season on this 4-disc set. The episodes included are:
"Ain't Miss Beholden" – With her scholarship in danger of being cut, Jo runs herself ragged with numerous part-time jobs and refuses any help from Blair.
"The Source" – Natalie writes a controversial article about a schoolmate's abortion, but refuses to divulge her source to the headmaster.
"The Sounds of Silence" – Tootie neglects to seek medical attention for a hearing problem causing a disruption in her school work.
"The Oldest Living Graduate" – Eastland's oldest living graduate decides to leave her entire fortune to Jo.
"Different Drummer" – Blair takes a mentally handicapped boy under her wing, but finds it's a lot more complicated than she expected.
"Dearest Mommie" – An argument with her adoptive mother sends Natalie on a search for her biological parents.
"A Woman's Place" – Jo hits it off with a fellow mechanic until she gets a promotion over him.
"Daddy's Girl" – Blair is shocked to discover her father has been using her as a way to cheat on his taxes. This episode was co-written by Paul Haggis.
"The Big Fight" – A backdoor pilot for a spin-off set at an all-boys' school. Natalie is invited to Bates Academy to attend a boxing match.
"For the Asking" – Natalie boycotts the school's Sadie Hawkins dance due to its sexist nature.
"September Song" – Mrs. Garrett receives a marriage proposal from an older man.
"A Royal Pain" – The girls (with the exception of Blair) are wowed by the arrival of a royal princess until they discover she plans on running away.
"Magnificent Obsession" – Blair falls for a new boyfriend who treats her like dirt.
"Under Pressure" – When the girls learn that Mrs. Garrett is diagnosed with high blood pressure, they'll go to great lengths to protect her from stress.
"Teacher's Pet" – Jo can't believe that her favorite teacher has decided to leave Eastland.
"Let's Party" – The girls party with Tootie's brother until his drunken driving gets them into an accident.
"Best Sister: Part I" – Eve Plumb, best known as Jan Brady, guest-stars as Blair's sister, Meg, who has decided to become a nun.
"Best Sister: Part 2" – Jo decides to become a nun just like Blair's sister causing tensions to rise to the surface.
"Guess What's Coming to Dinner" – Mrs. Garrett's cooking instructor arrives from Paris and leaves his family, who speak no English, in her care.
"Who's on First?" – Tootie grows jealous when Natalie devotes all her time with a new boyfriend.
"Help From Home" – Jo's college dreams may be dashed when she finds the cost of tuition may be too much for her family to afford.
"Take My Finals, Please" – The girls pull an all-nighter to cram for finals.
"Graduation: Parts 1 & 2" – Graduation is a bittersweet time as Natalie and Tootie bid farewell to Jo and Blair who depart for college.
The video is presented in its original full screen aspect ratio. The show looks better than I expected, but the transfer is not without its faults. The picture is pretty clean though the colors are slightly washed out.
The audio is presented in Mono. The sound may be flat, but it's more than serviceable. All the dialogue comes in clearly.
Disc 1 features "The Facts of Life Goes to Paris," a made-for-TV movie with the cast spending their summer in the City of Light. Mrs. Garrett attends culinary school while the girls hope to have a memorable time at Eastland's sister school. They're disappointed to find it's actually an hour outside city and ruled by a strict headmistress. Our heroines make a run for it and split up for their own adventures. Natalie and Tootie sight see in Paris with a reclusive author, Blair searches for love, and Jo finds it while hitchhiking across the countryside.
On Disc 4, you'll find Know the Facts, a text-based, multiple choice quiz game.
"…and finally you're finding out the facts of life are all about you...."
"The Facts of Life" isn't complex fare. The show can be a little cornball and the special episodes are sometimes heavy handed. Still, it's old-fashioned entertainment and fans will definitely want to add these DVDs to their collections.