“Awwww.” You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t let out such a satisfied, delighted response when the cheesy ’80s/’90s family sitcom Growing Pains comes up in casual conversation. Just look at the cast shot to the left here. It’s adorable. Makes you go “Aww,” right?
But what about Pains elicits such a response? Well, first off, there’s that infectious theme song with a dueting couple encouraging you to “show me that smile” and suggesting that all will be great “as long as we got each other.” That might be it, but there’s also the fact that Pains was the kind of show — dripping with family values and lessons learned, great big hair-dos and a heartthrob in Mike Seaver — that families sat around and watched together during those all-important, Reagan-and-post-Reagan, TGIF-fueled years. So, the reaction is mostly nostalgia, a yearning for bygone days. The Seaver clan wistfully falls into that tradition of family shows — along with other staples like Full House, Family Matters, Step by Step, and others — that goes down in history as “good, clean television.”
But why? How can Growing Pains still be so appealing, more than 20 years after its launch? Seeing as how we recently got the Seaver clan back together for our annual Reunions Issue — which is currently on stands and features cast reunions such as Aliens, Home Improvement, and more — we’ll leave it to Jason, Maggie, Mike, Carol, and Ben to explain the show’s “Aww” factor:
ALAN THICKE (Dr. Jason Seaver): “We were a good wish-fulfillment show. It was a functional, loving, amusing, somewhat relateable family that we all wish we could have been a part of. I’m often flattered when people ask me for parenting advice, to which I usually say, ‘It’s easier being a good parent when you have 11 writers following you around, telling you what to say.’ That was the idyllic kind of family environment and dynamic that our writers created for us, and it’s largely the kind of family that a lot of people aspire to.”
JOANNA KERNS (Maggie Malone Seaver): “Maybe it’s nostalgia for a different time. It was a different time. It was before all of these wars, before the craziness of the economy. You didn’t even deal with those things on TV. Everything could be wrapped up in 22 minutes. Everybody was safe, nobody got hurt, nobody died, and they all loved each other in the end. It’s just a different world on TV now. The really fabulous half hours that have come along, like Modern Family, in the end, they all love each other! You know? I think it makes you feel good. Every episode kind of gives it back to you so you’re not sitting there feeling sad.”
KIRK CAMERON (Mike Seaver): “People’s lives are so much more fractured and distracted because of all the different things we’ve got going on. You’ve got to keep up with things today that you didn’t have back then. When Growing Pains was on, there was a sense of family solidarity. There was a stability and still some rootedness in family values and things that people don’t experience as much today. It was an era where you had a lot of shows going on like that. I think there is something about watching people who lived in a different time and a different era, and in a different set of values, that is really appealing. I think people wanted to be a part of the Growing Pains family, just like people wanted to be a part of the Waltons, or Little House on the Prairie. It was like, ‘Man, I wish I could be part of that family.'”
TRACEY GOLD (Carol Seaver): “[Growing Pains] was on during a more innocent time, to sound cliché. I think it brings back a softer, gentler time. It was extremely relateable. You can take something from everyone’s experience on Growing Pains, whether you related to the parents or Mike or Carol or Ben, whatever they were going through. I know just from being in the show, I felt a warmth about it and a relatability when certain episodes would come up. It felt very real, and at the end there was always a takeaway, kind of a soft, gentle lesson learned.”
JEREMY MILLER (Ben Seaver): “These types of shows just aren’t made anymore, the type of family viewing that literally was made for the entire family. That doesn’t really exist. I think people look back at that very fondly, at a time when they could sit down with their brothers and sisters, mom, dad, everybody, and watch something together. I’d say it was about that and the chemistry between all of us. I think it always really, really came through. People for years told us how much we reminded them of their family.”
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky
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