TV Show Review: Different Strokes (1978-1986)

I’m going to do this review a little differently because I’ve been meaning to review this TV show for a while. This time I’m not listing my favorite episodes but discuss some of the plots, themes, and characters as it relates to a blended family. Different Strokes debuted in 1978 with two black children losing their mother. Willis Jackson (Todd Bridges) is the older brother to Arnold (Gary Coleman) and their mother used to be the housekeeper of Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain). Their mother’s dying wish was for Mr. Drummond to take her children under his wing. He does just that except he’s a businessman who lives in a New York City penthouse with his new housekeeper, Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) so this sets up the show perfectly as there is definitely growing pains in the beginning. The show never really reached the honeymoon status which I liked because it was realistic although there were moments where the family unit became tighter and closer in special bonding moments. It wasn’t mushy but showed a progression of familiarity over time. While Kimberly Drummond (Dana Plato) their sister, showed up in later scenes, she proved to be a good female role model to Arnold and Willis minus the episode of her bulimia.

Different Strokes writers did a great job showcasing the difficulties of navigating parenthood in a blended cultural and economic backgrounds. While the brothers enjoy the benefits of expensive cars, many gifts and good food, they wrestle with their judgments and guilt over leaving Harlem and their friends. Some of the best episodes are the differences between Mr. Drummond and his soon to be adopted sons whether it be culture, money, or race. The relationship between the brothers and their sister are some of the best ones too where the writers are not afraid to speak to gender inequality. The first three seasons were the best because the episodes centered around the four of them (Philip, Kimberly, Willis, and Arnold) and the last two seasons were my least favorite because the subject matter was recycled and due to the cast. Maggie McKinney (Dixie Carter) was replaced by Mary Ann Mobley and she didn’t have the same sass. The housekeepers also changed through the show. While I would’ve liked Ms. Garrett there all the time, she had to take care of the girls in The Facts of Life. All in all, I’d say this show is worthy to watch again because that is what I did.

I rate Different Strokes FOUR FINGERS at 90%

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