For all the Miller-Boyett Lesson sitcoms I've seen, I have trouble thinking off the top of my head about any episodes of any of their shows that preached with sappy music against stealing. And once you give some serious thought about their show Step by Step, that makes a whole lot of sense. Step by Step is about a man with three children who marries a woman with three children, and their family combines and becomes one big family! That sound familiar? Yeah, it sounds to me like the story behind one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, The Brady Bunch.
Step by Step is actually more like The Brady Bunch with an edge - or at least as much of an edge as can be seen in any of Miller-Boyett's shows. I really can't make any comparisons; what I know of The Brady Bunch outside of its ubiquitous theme song came from old reruns of the show that aired in the after-school time blocks when I was in single-digit age numbers. I don't recall ever actually sitting still and watching a full episode of The Brady Bunch. To me, the only Brady bunch that ever meant anything is the New England Patriots, so I'm again taking it on word of god that the Brady family got along wondrously most of the time. In that respect, Step by Step is a bit more of an anti-Brady Bunch. The two groups of kids in the unified family hate each other's guts, don't get along, and revel in each other's humiliations when they're not actively partaking in said humiliations.
Step by Step stars a ton of bimbos. The background story of the show is that a bimbo named Frank Lambert (Patrick Duffy) is on vacation alone in Jamaica when he meets another bimbo by the name of Carol Foster (Suzanne Somers). Both just happen to be from the same small city of Port Washington, Wisconsin. They marry impulsively, without the knowledge of their kids. Then they go back to Port Washington, move their families in together, and are surprised that their kids aren't automatically on board with the whole shebang. Several of the kids are also bimbos - from the Foster side, there's Karen the aspiring and vain model, and the Lamberts have JT, a male bimbo, and Brendan, the generic kid with almost nothing to do. The Lamberts' cousin Cody is a California surfer-style bimbo who lives in his van just outside the household.
The families are your standard, everyday slobs and snobs. The refined, smart, family-oriented Fosters are the snobs. Leading the charge is the brilliant, high-achieving feminist Dana (Staci Keanan). Karen (Angela Watson) is the valley girl-type bimbo and middle child, and Mark (Christopher Castile) is the stereotypical 90's nerd prototype. Naturally, he's very bright with primary interests in computers and academics but no real life. Our slobs are anchored by JT (Brandon Call), an academically dumb jock without the body type. Following him is the all-American tomboy Alicia (Christine Lakin), who goes by the nickname Al. Then there's youngest child Brendan (Josh Byrne), a carefree child and otherwise blank page. In the first season, the Fosters had the edge with Carol's sister Penny (Patrika Darbo) and mother Ivy (Peggy Rea). They were written out after the first season and the Lamberts were given the extra man, Cody (Sasha Mitchell), who ran from the second season to the fifth and was the most popular character on the show during that time. Mitchell was forced off the show because he had to deal with his divorce, which included an investigation for domestic abuse which turned out to be unfounded. In season six, he was replaced by Jean-Luc Rieupeyroux (Bronson Pinchot), a beautician who works in Carol's beauty parlor. Word of god says he was out in the seventh - and final - season of the show. During the show's run, Frank and Carol had a child together named Lily in the fifth season. In season five, she was a baby played by Lauren and Kristina Meyerling. In seasons six and seven, she underwent the usual sitcom five-year aging process and was played by Emily Mae Young.
Being a Miller-Boyett show, Step by Step of course tried to deal with issues and teach Lessons. In a couple of instances, they did so in an effective way - JT starts out typically book dumb, but it's eventually revealed that he has dyslexia, and in one episode it's up to Cody to talk a friend out of suicide (an issue that hit close to home on a personal level with me, unfortunately) - but for the most part, the dark underbelly of the world is rabidly avoided by the production company again. It isn't quite as evasive as Full House was, but it's close, and in a couple of things Step by Step touches on that earlier Miller-Boyett shows avoided, the subjects are covered in the most half-assed manner imaginable. Date rape is covered in a few episodes, and most of them end with Cody showing up and physically beating up the attacker. One absurd episode has Frank and Cody saving the day by beating the living shit out of everyone in a biker bar. Another episode tries to hit the serious issue of high school teachers getting involved in sexual relationships with their students, which let's just say involves a lot more complexity than what Step by Step hacked up and probably wouldn't be resolved with such simplicity in real life.
Tons of episodes exist only within the canon of the show itself, and that's mostly because of the convoluted storyline. Think about it: If Frank and Carol had gone about their relationship in a manner more befitting of mature adults, they would have a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses as a couple, and once they began living together, their kids would be better prepared for each other and could have coped with all of their differences before they were suddenly thrown at a set of other kids who were probably complete strangers before their parents eloped. For a Lesson show about two families learning to get along, an awful lot of blame can be placed on the parents for their respective families' friction. A lot of the issues that get resolved over the course of the show only exist because Frank and Carol were morons. That kills a lot of the sense of realism that could otherwise be taken from the show.
Far too many episodes of Step by Step involve one side trying to humiliate the other. Even in episodes where the two of them team up to confront a larger issue, they won't stop barking at each other. At least the show doesn't make the mistake of favoring one set of kids over the other. The refined, sophisticated Foster family is frequently also shown to be vain and perfectionist, and the disorganized, sloppy Lambert family is also presented as freewheeling and big-hearted. I'd say the two of them are presented equally good and bad.
Even going beyond the stupidity and thoughtlessness of the two main characters, Step by Step gives us a lot of throwaway Lessons and episodes. There's one episode in which the family answering machine causes all kinds of communication problems among family members getting messages to the people who need to hear them for some reason. And this was in the 90's, when answering machines had become very common. There was another episode in which manly man Frank tried to do the manly thing and assemble a grill without using the instructions. In another episode, the Lamberts were confronted by the Fosters because the Fosters were churchgoers and the Lamberts weren't. Another episode is about Carol getting upset because Frank answered a question in one of those Cosmo quizes in a brutally honest way. There's a baseball episode and a Hawaii episode. There's an episode in which Frank loses his wedding ring. The mother of all bad episodes, though, has to be one in which Mark becomes addicted to video games and is sent to a support group. Unfortunately, I can't find the clip, which is a shame because you it really has to be seen to be believed.
Like other Miller-Boyett shows, Step by Step involves that fucking Full House music for Lessons, ages babies years at a time in between seasons, and throws away characters that fade into the background when it gets bored with them. Penny and Ivy were given the boot after the first season without explanation, and Brendan was thrown away to make room for Lily. Jean-Luc was given a sendoff after his only year on the show.
Again typical of Miller-Boyett, one character made the show worth watching, and in the case of Step by Step it was the perpetually lovable Cody. A big-hearted lug and cloudcuckoolander, Cody was the one thing that rescued Step by Step from absolute, irredeemable suckitude, and unlike Family Matters, Miller-Boyett managed to avoid making him the focus of the show. So when season six debuted and Cody was nowhere to be found and there was this oddball beautician named Jean-Luc, I remember my mother and sister - who were the real fans of the show in my family - looking with deadpan shock at each other. All three of us got involved in a short conversation about the future of Step by Step at that point and Cody's significance to it. We all agreed that Cody was the most memorable character on the show and that it wouldn't last long without him.
We were right, as it turned out. The Cody-less Step by Step didn't hold up, and it lasted only two more seasons. Cody's departure, however, was far from the only thing going against it. By the seventh season, the late 90's were in full swing, and the abundance of saccharine family Lesson shit had necessitated a revolution in TV Land. In the early 90's, a pair of comedians had teamed up to create a revolutionary sitcom in which two rules were followed: No Lessons, no hugging. The resultant show didn't have a real point, theme, or story; it was just about four friends in New York City whom things were happening to. The show, which was called Seinfeld, was dark and edgy and helped pave the way for more shows about adults. Sex, so carefully tippy-toed around in the Family Value shows of the 80's, was talked about very openly. In the newly open 90's, Miller-Boyett's sheltered families and picture-frame non-problems didn't stand a chance. Step by Step was the last hit for the production company, which produced Meego and Two of a Kind before going under in 1999. I do wish the best for Tom Miller and Rob Boyett, but growing up in the dark, cynical 90's, I think it's best for television that they're gone from it.