Monday, December 26, 2016

Remembering "The Facts of Life" Reunion Episode from Season 8

I shared about my love of the old "The Facts of Life" 80s sitcom several times in the past (here, here, here, and here). Honestly, it falls someone on my personal top ten list of favorite television shows.

Over the years, I have collected all of the early seasons of the program on DVD. Except for seasons 8-9, because you couldn't find those episodes on DVD. And then earlier this month, I was browsing on Amazon and noticed that these two elusive seasons are finally for sale and they were quickly added to my Christmas list.

Long story made short: My mother-in-law gave me a DVD collection of "The Facts of Life: Season Eight" for Christmas!

This is the season that wrote out Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Garrett and introduced us to the beloved sister that we'd never heard of before, Beverly Ann Stickle (played by Cloris Leachman). She eventually adopted series regular Andy Moffett (played by my teenage crush, Mackenzie Astin) and gave us a reason for this young boy to continually hang around the house.

I just watched one of the episodes from this particular season that stands out particularly well in my memory. It's titled "The Little Chill." It reunited the current cast with most of the girls (minus Molly, played by the famous Molly Ringwald) who were written out of the show following season one. The returning girls were Nancy (played by Felice Schacter), Cindy (played by Julie Anne Haddock), and Sue Ann (played by Julie Pierkarski).

Nancy was getting married and Tootie thought that an Eastland Reunion would be a great way to celebrate! Everyone was having a great time -- except for series regular Jo (played by Nancy McKeon), who joined the cast in season two and single-handedly replaced four series regulars! Jo felt like a fifth wheel throughout this episode (or was it a seventh wheel?). She didn't recognize any of their stories and ended up sulking by herself.

Which makes absolutely no sense to me! Let's travel back in time to clarify some continuity -- something that "The Facts of Life" did pretty well during it's first four years or so! Charlotte Rae received the lead role as Mrs. Garrett (following her popular run on "Diff'rent Strokes") and became the housemother in a dormitory at Eastland School, a private all-girls boarding school. Her girls included Blair (played by Lisa Whelchel), Nancy, Molly, Tootie (played by Kim Fields), Cindy, Natalie (played by Mindy Cohn), and Sue Ann. Mrs. Garrett had a good time with her girls and most of the episodes revolved around life lessons. It was a good show.

But the producers feared that there were too many characters for a traditional sitcom. So they picked their favorites from the first season (Blair, Natalie, and Tootie) and got rid of the rest (Cindy, Molly, Nancy, and Sue Ann). And then they introduced the outsider character -- tough (and poor) girl, Jo Polniaczek from the Bronx. The four main characters then got into trouble with the law and ended up working in the school's cafeteria -- under the supervision of school dietitian Mrs. Garrett!

The audience loved these changes and this new core cast of characters remained central to the series for most of the program's run -- long after the girls all graduated from Eastland and moved on to college and careers.

But Jo knew those first season cast-offs! All four girls (Cindy, Molly, Nancy, and Sue Ann) made recurring appearances throughout season two. And Nancy appeared more than once in season three. They interacted with Jo. They studied with Jo. They went on school trips with Jo. In other words, they certainly weren't strangers. Especially Nancy. So while it might be true that Blair, Natalie, and Tootie shared at least one year at Eastland School with the other girls that didn't include Jo, they also shared several other adventures as a group that included Jo.

I get that the the Season Eight producers of "The Facts of Life" were counting on this reunion episode to excite fans who weren't as continuity-driven as I am. And I guess they needed someone (besides Beverly Ann) to serve the role of the outside. But it's kind of annoying to watch.

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