I watched a lot of TV as a kid—A LOT! In high school I once totaled my viewing hours to be 58 hours a week. And that was DURING the school year. More hours than a full time job.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, it was just my mom and I growing up. No dad or siblings. Not many friends. So, somewhere, in my head, I began to think of the people I saw on television as my family.
I had Grandpa Bob Barker. I had Cousin Chuck Gaidica (although I have heard he is an a-hole in real life. But, doesn’t every family have one?). Uncle Phil Donahue and Auntie Marlo Thomas. But, for the core family—mom, dad, sisters, and brothers—I wanted to be a Seaver.
I can remember watching Growing Pains at my Gramma’s house. My mom was taking evening adult education classes at Vo-Tech so that she could learn how to use a computer and go back to work for the first time in like 15 years. My Gramma was baby-sitting me. The class was on Tuesday nights. She let me watch Growing Pains and Who’s The Boss, although I knew she didn’t enjoy them.
I loved the screwball Seaver family. Jason Seaver, the kooky psychiatrist father. “Maggie” Margaret Katherine Seaver, the loving but flaky, journalist mother. “Mike” Michael Aaron Seaver, dim-witted, class clown, troublemaker, chick-magnet older brother. Carol Ann Seaver, genius but socially awkward middle child. “Ben” Benjamin Hubert Horatio Humphrey Seaver, adorably precocious little brother. The premise of the show was that Maggie went back to work while Jason stayed home with the kids. The show moved away from this and just became generally about a family growing up in the 80’s. Later, even switching the rolls between Maggie and Jason again as it became necessary.
JASON: Mike, you look like you’ve been in a fight.
MIKE: Oh, yeah.
JASON: Who with?
MIKE: My sixth period speech class.
JASON: You fought the whole class?!
MIKE: I don’t know. I was on the bottom of the pile. My fight is not important right now, neither is my suspension.
I could have slid right into the role of Carol. I wasn’t as smart, but just as responsible and nerdy. Except that may have been a problem. Because I had a huge crush on Kirk Cameron at the time. It probably would have been bad to want to make out with my brother. There is an episode where Ben sees a pretty girl while at a taping of the Cosby Show and that throws him into puberty. That is what Kirk Cameron did for me. I have to admit, he is adorable as Mike Seaver. But it never would have worked out. Kirk has gone all uber-religious in his old age. I am not down with that. I used to pretend that my Rainbow Brite doll, my Punky Brewster doll, and my Flower Patch Kid doll were the triplets I had with Kirk Cameron. Yes, it was that confusing time of life when you think about sex but still want to play with your dolls. That time of life when you play Barbies and they have sex with each other all the time and you realize maybe you shouldn’t be playing with Barbies anymore.
All this “what if”-ing to join their family gets really crazy when you consider that there was an episode where Ben dreamed that his family wasn’t his family, but a TV show where actors just played his family. It was an awesome episode. They backed up the cameras and you got to see the sets and the crew and the studio audience and, heck, even the cameras. Joanna Kerns was even dating a hunky Spanish guy. I loved that episode.
CAROL: Why are you screaming?
BEN: I don’t know! I’ve never been glued to a table before!
I guess some people would say they jumped the shark when they committed the TV sitcom cliché of adding a new kid when all the others are grown. Yep. I’m talking about Leonardo Dicraprio. A horrible skeezy actor that did not fit on my beloved show and I could not wait for them to write him out again. Ick. Ack. Yuck. Just the thought of him makes my skin crawl.
What other stars appeared on Growing Pains? How about a pre-90210 Jennie Garth (“Sticky, sticky. There’s my sticky boy.”). Pre-Full House Candace Cameron (ya, nepotism). Pre-Friends Matthew Perry (“Now you have a second chance!”). Pre-Thelma and Louise Brad Pitt. TWICE!
[Upon thinking they have found evidence that their dad is divorced and assuming he has other kids:]
BEN: Dad’s other wife cuts his hair while he plays with his other kids. So they couldn’t live far away. I bet right on this street. Maybe they come over here when we are at school. And wear our clothes. And play with our stuff. [screaming] That’s why my room gets so messed up!
Ben grew up on the show. I loved when he became a teenager and he would take mom or dad’s car. Without permission. And without a license. I thought Ben grew up quite hot. But then he was wearing glasses. GLASSES! ON TV! Who does that? Except one of my other favorite people, Chandler on Friends. Get contacts, people! No character wears classes on TV unless they play chess! And even then they are FAKE DORK GLASSES!
The executive producers of Growing Pains also worked on another one of my favorite TV shows, WKRP in Cincinnati. Gordon Jump (Mr. Carlson) even played Maggie’s father on Growing Pains. There is just something about the writing and the characters on Growing Pains that makes them more relatable to me than most other shows (Relatable, get it?). I yearn to live in their world. Sure, occasionally they got robbed or got a new sibling or have to move or get cancelled. But they are always there for each other. There is always another “Goofy Glue incident” or “challenging dual role”. Unless you are cancelled. But then there is always a TV movie. Or two. Or a DVD bonus feature.
Wow. This post became about family, puberty, growing up in the 80’s, celebrities before they were stars, my hate of Leonardo DiCaprio. But, that is what Growing Pains was for me.
*Please, oh please, DVD Gods. Make sure all the seasons of Growing Pains get released. Amen.*
Andrew Koenig (1968-2010)