Monday, July 07, 2014

"Facts" Checking

You take the good, you take the bad,
you take them both and there you have
The Facts of Life, the Facts of Life!
Fun fact: a few years ago when Lisa Whelchel was on Survivor!, I got all nostalgic and what-not and put the 1980s-era TV series The Facts of Life on my Christmas list. I mean, come on! From 1979-1988, this show guided me on... well... the facts of life from age 9-18.

While I do recall watching some of the later episodes in syndication, those first season episodes where the boarding school featured a lineup of girls (and not just the 4 in trouble and assigned to Mrs. Garrett—Mrs. G for those of us in the know) were the ones that I longed to see. In that first season, even the theme song was different.
There's a place you've got to go for learning
all you want to know about the facts of life!
The facts of life!
(from season 1's theme song)
So I got my DVDs from Santa... and they sat on the shelf in their plastic wrapping ever since. But here lately, my Netflix queue is down to the scraps of shows that I don't really want to watch and the shows I do want to watch are in limbo (come on, season 6 of SOA! I really need you!), so why not watch a classic?
There's a time you got to go and show
You're growin' now you know about
The Facts of Life, the Facts of Life!
Plus, earlier this year, I went on a Gilmore Girls bender wherein I scoured local second-hand video stores and watched the whole damn series (even the crappy ones) in a matter of weeks. That made me miss my girls. I mean, don't get me wrong, I do love me some Rori & Lorelai (don't get me started on their theme song. Yes, they got Carole King but damn that song is a hot, overly-sweet mess) but I'm from a different era.
When the world never seems
to be livin up to your dreams
And suddenly you're finding out
the Facts of Life are all about you, you.
And what did I learn about FOL?
That's quite the ensemble!
  1. A lot of time in the first four or five episodes was spent introducing the girls of the cast. Literally—there were scenes when someone would visit the house (the boy delivering groceries, someone's mother, a National Guardsman during a flood), and they would do the run down: ... this is Tootie... and Molly... Sue Ann... and Blair... Nancy... Cindy... and Natalie! There's your sign that there's too many characters when you have to introduce them, repeatedly, to your viewers.
  2. The show handled some serious business: bullying, body image issues and sexual orientation—all in the first episode. Topics including divorce, gambling, cheating spouses, sex and dating, puberty, career choices, plagiarism and cheating, eating disorders and lying are all covered in the first season, and these topics are dealt with swiftly and in a matter-of-fact fashion that cause my kids to question whether or not they should be watching the shows.
  3. Not only did they handle serious business, they treated it like normal parts of life. Because sex? Normal part of life. People making mistakes? Normal part of life. Pretending these things don't happen doesn't mean they don't happen.
  4. Blair Warner, the bitchy, mean girl of the gang was actually pretty damn nice. She was a bit confused about relationships and treating people fairly, but she learned lessons and owned her mistakes and grew from them. She's like one of those over-indulged kids of today who act like general asshats, except that Blair was open to hearing about how to make herself better. I love that example.
  5. The people on the show were NORMAL. All different sizes, all different shapes—except unrealistically ultra-thin. Those girls are not represented because overall, they're not realistic. The girls on this show had varied interests that they were proud of. They had figures that they sometimes wished were tinier (as in episode 7, "Dieting") or more feminine (as in episode 1, "Rough Housing"), but it's understood that being a little self-conscious of your own self is normal and you need to learn to be accepting of yourself.
  6. Tootie wore rollerskates in that first season not because she was so sassy but rather because she was the youngest and the shortest, and the skates gave her the height to appear more as a peer to the other girls. Who knew?
Sorry, mulleted George Clooney.
You are no Edna Garrett.
And don't even get me started about the fashion. I was able to relive jelly jackets, shoe skates, pleated baggies, skin-tight, high-waisted jeans, shorts so short they looked like underpants, leg warmers, feathered hair and blue eye shadow... and I've got like 8 seasons left to watch (but really, the first 4 seasons are the ones I loved best.

After the show relocated from Eastland school, it suffered. Yes, even with (especially with) the addition of that scamp George Clooney and a few other characters including a boy child—this is how they fixed 80s-era sitcoms, by adding fresh child blood—and Cloris Leachman).

What do you remember about The Facts of Life?


  1. While the actual show was a decade past my TV-teen-watching years, I did enjoy Lisa's season on Survivor - I think her TV character would have fared better!

  2. I love this show so much. Their private school made a big impression on me. I'm sure it's one reason I put my kids in Catholic School. Basically, the FOL has cost me a lot of money. haha!! Great post, Mari. IRL Lisa Welchel twirled a baton. I loved to twirl. She was so pretty. I admired her a Nancy McKeown.