Going to school in the 1980s, one of my favorite television shows was The Facts of Life. I wanted to be a student at the Eastland School for Girls and I imagined that I would be great friends with Blair, Natalie, Tootie and Jo and that Mrs. Garrett would be the ultimate den mother.
So quite naturally, I was very excited to see the release of The Facts of Life – The Complete First & Second Seasons on DVD. The four-DVD set includes all 29 episodes from the first two seasons, as well as two featurettes: “Remembering The Facts of Life” and “After Facts.” Both of these documentaries are kind of interesting, if for no other reason than to see what the girls look like today. Those of you hoping to see Nancy McKeon (Jo) or Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) will be sorely disappointed, they are both not featured in the documentaries.
Watching the difference in the show between seasons one and two was very interesting. I had forgotten that season one had so many characters for a half-hour sitcom! There were definitely too many girls at that point and too many different storylines. However, it is neat to watch the first season and see a very young Molly Ringwald before she would become an 1980s brat-packer; Kim Fields on roller skates in every scene because producers felt she was otherwise too short to look 12; and non-actor Mindy Cohn trying not to crack herself up, as she delivered a quick one-liner as sassy Natalie Green.
The Facts of Life really hit its stride in the show’s second season, when producers pared the cast down to Mrs. Garrett, Blair, Natalie and Tootie (sans rollerskates), and brought in Nancy McKeon to play Brooklyn tough, Jo Polniaczek. Nancy’s character brought a much-needed dynamic to the show. Jo’s family didn’t have money, she had been kicked down by the world and wasn’t used to to the “perfect” insular world that Eastland had shown thus far in the series run.
Even though this was the early 1980s and television had a stricter set of guidelines in terms of what it could and couldn’t show in those days, The Facts of Life did a pretty good job of trying to deal with some important social issues of the time, including racism, sexual assault and physical disabilities. All while being a fun show to boot.