I know that this may seem like a bold statement, but it is true. Well, to me it is. After reading this review, you will respect my opinion and see why I think this is the very best.
Diff'rent Strokes became an instant success in the late 1970s as it was dealing with racism and a multicultural family. Having taken inspiration for some episodes seen in Good Times, Diff'rent Strokes tackled these episodes with, sometimes, better results than in Good Times. The issue of racism was more complex in Diff'rent Strokes because there was whites involved too. Multicultural families are still somewhat rare today, so Diff'rent Stokes is a good thing to learn from in that respect.
Diff'rent Strokes is about highly successful businessman and widower, Phillip Drummond, (Conrad Bain) who adopts his late housekeeper's two black sons, Willis and Arnold Jackson (Todd Bridges, Gary Coleman) from Harlem. Together, them and Drummond's daughter, Kimberly (Dana Plato) live the lap of luxury in a penthouse on Park Avenue.
Conrad Bain is a real actor who has done more stage work and who just finished the sitcom, Maude. He does an amazing job playing a wonderful and loving father. You can tell that he truly loves his family. He may be just an actor, but I can feel him. He may be the breadwinner of a filthy rich family, but he is strict and firm with his children. He isn't like any rich father these days that spoils their kid rotten and raises ungrateful brats. If I had a different father, I would want Mr. Drummond. When I have kids, I will be patterning myself after my own dad and Mr. Drummond.
Gary Coleman quickly stole the show as the extremely cute and adorable one. His huge cheeks, big eyes, low height and wisecracks made him a huge success. Everybody wanted to see the lovable Arnold Jackson. His quote "Whatchu talking' 'bout...?" has become an immortal catchphrase that many people imitate without even knowing that Coleman started the it. He was so great, more episodes were being shifted towards him and he became the one that carried the show. In the later seasons, if there was not an episode about Arnold, then Arnold would be the sole opposite that character. As a kid, he was severely overworked, sometimes doing 12 hour work days. Plus there was regular school stuff on top of it. It was different for somebody else like Henry Winkler doing Happy Days, he was a full-grown man with a formal education. Coleman was just a child. He grew sick of the show and sick of his phrase. His parents and agent used up all his money and he had to sue them. Coleman never touched drugs or anything, but he developed anger issues and had to go to court at times. Poor guy. But Arnold still is the best TV kid of all time. He's cute, hilarious, smart, witty, even his serious bits are awesome. VH1 ranked Coleman the greatest child star of all time. I very much agree that he is.
Todd Bridges is a wonderful big brother figure. As great as Drummond is as a father, that is how Willis is as a brother. Willis is one of those popular, rebellious, girl-chasers that's been seen in many sitcoms, but Todd Bridges was one of the first to do so. He is awesome. Dana Plato is just as great as Willis, but is a more straight-laced, daddy's girl. But she still is a wonderful big sister. Late in the show, she became pregnant and was written off. Her and Todd both had many run- ins with the law and became huge drug-addicts. Both at rock-bottom, Plato committed suicide via drugs, but Todd was able to pull himself out and become normal again. Gary's, Todd's and Dana's miserable lives became known as the Diff'rent Strokes Curse. But that does not change how good they were on the show and how great their characters were.
Diff'rent Strokes also has a fair share of celebrity appearances. Charloote Rae is the first housekeeper in the show who leaves part way through season 2 to do The Facts of Life, taking place at Kimberly's school. Janet Jackson is reoccurring as Willis' steady girlfriend, Charlene. Due to her singing career taking off, was faded out. Mr. T appears in an episode and helps Arnold see within himself. That was cool. Designing Women's Dixie Carter plays Drummond's wife, Maggie in seasons 6 and 7, but left for Designing Women full time. Maggie's son, Sam (Danny Cooksey) was a fine addition, I think he was used to replace Gary Coleman's cuteness since he was growing up. Sam was good, but no Arnold. Cooksey has gone on to do movies and play in rock bands.
Because the family was multicultural, there was issues from all walks of life that are talked about. Some have been done in every family show, but Diff'rent Strokes shows no mercy in how they show them. Most shows are afraid to show the true dangers of drinking and other bad habits, not Diff'rent Strokes. Some episodes are so bad and were so controversial that Conrad Bain had to do brief intros giving a warning for parental discretion to be strongly advised. They are known as "very special episodes." Two part "specials" include subjects about molestation, dangers of hitchhiking, and kidnapping. Other shocking episodes include bulimia, epilepsy and drinking and driving. Most are meant to put scares into children and make them think twice, and good thing they do! Even adults may feel uneasy with these episodes. There's so many life-lessons learned on this show, and not all of them are shocking. Some are nice and funny.
Fine acting, wonderful characters, and episodes that have strong and lasting impacts are why I find this to be the best family show ever.
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