I didn’t mean to, really I didn’t. But here we are.
It all started when Three Way Theater (you know that hysterical podcast about pro wrestling movies and TV I host with Mike Paiva and Lumberjake) reviewed the pro wrestling episodes of TGIF classics including Family Matters, Boy Meets World, and Step by Step for TGITWT.
After watching the Season Five episode “The Beautiful Ladies of Wrestling” I was struck by just how weird Step by Step was. JT Lambert dropping a casual OJ Simpson reference blew my mind. I vividly remember watching SbyS as a child, but the random pop culture references and adult themes had me intrigued. I was prepared to never think of Step by Step again until Hulu automatically started playing the pilot episode after watching Ingrid Goes West (PS go watch Ingrid Goes West. It’s great!) earlier last week. Clearly this was a higher power telling me something, and had absolutely nothing to do with Hulu’s algorithms and recall memory for previously viewed series.
Curiously I watched “Pilot”, wondering if Step by Step was truly as weird as Season Five had teased.
After watching the pilot I began writing down note after note about the episodes, unable to stop the bat shit insanity that was on display. While Family Matters rightfully gets called out for being bonkers (Urkelbot, Myrtle Urkel, Stephan, jet packs, OUTER SPACE) I didn’t quite realize how much Step by Step followed in its footsteps.
A quick refresher for those who don’t remember what Step by Step is about, or never watched The Brady Bunch.
When two mismatched single parents (Patrick Duffy–Dallas and Suzanne Somers–Three’s Company) fall in love, marry and move in together with their six mismatched kids, they hope it’s only a matter of time until they all come to love their new life.
In the 1st episode Patrick Duffy & Suzanne Somers secretly get married in Jamaica.
Frank Lambert (Duffy) has left his young children home alone for a week. This is a fact. When he returns from his ‘random’ vacation he finds the kids without a drop of food living in a classic sitcom shithole™ with dishes piled comically high in the sink. His only daughter Al tries to get out of going to school, but Frank won’t be having any of that! *sitcom laughter* Um, Frank? What would have stopped her from skipping school the entire time you were chasing that pussy on the island? We then meet Carol (S0mers), who is all disheveled as she arrives late to work at her hair salon which is attached to her house. She’s a single mom with three kids of her own, but luckily her mom and sister are there to cover for her, and also there to take care of her children (?) while on vacation.
Frank shows up to the salon and it’s quickly revealed he and Carol secretly married in Jamaica after accidentally running into each other down there. Except it was no accident. Frank had been doting on Carol for three months, coming in for haircuts and one would assume casually flirting while unbuttoning his denim shirts as low as legally possible in the state of Washington. After finding out she was going on vacation he went to her travel agent and got the same exact trip Carol got, leaving his children to fend for themselves and
stalked her seduced her married her on a whim*.
*I can only believe that Frank’s premeditated plot was an elaborate ploy to get the Lambert’s out of their shitty house and into a giant mansion-like house, stocked with food, and a live-in nanny/step mother. At this point we don’t know what happened to Frank’s 1st wife, and I can only assume he murdered her and needed a change of scenery after coming home to the murder house every single night. This would be a plot of a Lifetime movie, but instead they turned it into a whimsical update of The Brady Bunch.
Typical sitcom shenanigans bring the secret marriage to light, and everyone moves into Carol’s house (including the pet pig!). Al’s saying she’s sick again, but Frank won’t have none of that! He bolts afraid that Carol will begin asking questions about his ex and her family medical history, but Carol believes Al’s really sick. Turns out she had appendicitis, and if she had gone to school SHE COULD HAVE DIED! *sitcom laugh*
Al asks for her mother, or rather the blonde bimbo, and we get our first serious music cue™ as Carol and Al bond over their new wacky situation.
And thus Step by Step was born and I was officially hooked. Watching the first episode I was struck by one weird thing though…
WHO THE FUCK IS THAT?
Turns out that is Jarrett Lennon, the original Mark Foster. Rumor has it that test audiences were confused over this Foster child (har har) having black hair while Suzanne Somers was a blonde. While absolutely true this apparently did not bother audiences for the character of Karen Foster, since Angela Watson is absolutely stunning and no one’s going to boot her off the show. Christopher Castille was then cast as the new Mark, but the first season still has Jarrett appearing in all the wide shots of the family trip to the amusement park.
My head cannon will continue to believe that Jarrett Lennon’s character was “accidentally” murdered by Frank Lambert at the amusement park, and the traumatized Lambert/Foster clan buried the incident deep within their psyche after The Incident. Carol Lambert, grief stricken muttering about the dream wide broken. It seemed like all was lost. What would be the future, could they pay the cost? She wondered, will there ever be…a second time around?
- The second fucking episode brings in STEVE URKEL!? Carol has no issues with this creepy teenager from Chicago jet packing into their backyard and spending the weekend with her young son doing ‘science projects’ after meeting him on the internet. 1991 was such an innocent time. After Al gets cucked by the boy she likes for the ‘Backwards Dance’ she ends up bringing Steve as her date. Again no issues with this odd older boy taking advantage of young Alicia Lambert? Huh, ok. SITCOMS! Anyway Al gets the confidence to tell the dude she liked to fuck off for rejecting her, and Steve asks her for a dance…. AND THEY DO THE URKEL? AND EVERYONE AT THE DANCE KNOWS HOW TO DO THE FUCKING MOVES? FUCK YOU SHOW!!!!!
- Cousin Cody (Sasha Mitchell) doesn’t show up until Episode 4, and you can just tell the producers are frothing at the mouth to get him into as many story lines as possible. And can you really blame them? Playing the character with a surfer boy/Bill & Ted vibe the hunky Sasha Mitchell knocks every one liner out of the park with casual charm. I’m honestly surprised Dana didn’t want to immediately fuck her cousin-in-law.
- That being said, they didn’t waste much time in showing off Mitchell’s extensive fighting skills, as “Just for Kicks” (Episode 8) featured a prolonged 7 minute fight sequence between Cody and a gang of THUGS™ after the street tough wanted to RAPE DANA. Despite being outnumbered Cody won the day, with a helpful assist from Uncle Frank and Patrick Duffy’s sick headbutt.
- Other Season One episodes see Frank HATE answering machines with a burning passion, the family getting stranded in the woods for a week, and a female bully wanting to beat the fuck out of Mark. It’s here in Episode 16 that Al saves Mark’s ass, and admits she cares about him as a brother. I THINK THEY’RE GONNA MAKE IT!
- Episode 17 sees JT and Cody donning drag to help Al’s all girl band. When Al’s bandmates all get sick, the manager of the Bowlarama DEMANDS that all girls play, because that’s what he paid for. The packed house at the Bowlarama nearly walk out when its revealed the Chicks With Attitude are BOYS WITH DICKS. Suzanne Somers saves the day when she starts singing oldies that everyone immediately knows how to play the music and knows all the lyrics. Everyone comes back in and starts dancing their hearts out! They did it! Why isn’t anyone bowling in this bowling alley!? They sang one song… and then celebrate.. uh. Gang? Play the rest of the fucking set before everyone leaves again!!!!
- Step by Step was designed for Patrick Duffy after Dallas ended its original run, as he was promised another series from Lorimar Television. You can clearly see the effort Duffy puts into playing Frank, performing a bunch of crazy stunts to get these wacky stories over. Between facing off with a bear, having a house fall on top of him, and dodging a moving wrecking ball Duffy was game for just about anything.
- The Season comes to a close as Frank and Carol nearly die in a plane crash, and I realize that Patrick Duffy’s buttons are disappearing more and more every episode. That man must always feel a draft.
- The final episode of the first season “Beauty Contest” sees Karen & Carol enter a Mother/Daughter beauty pageant for The Mallards (think the Elks only FUNNIER!!!!). Ivy (Peggy Rea) and Penny (Patrika Darbo) enter the contest as well, desperate for some screen time on a show with 8 main characters and a break out recurring star. I’m sure they’ll be fine.
- In the end Karen sees her own worth after her mother was propositioned by a sleazy judge and she herself was offered to prostitute herself for guaranteed victory. She decides it’s not worth winning if it means her dignity, but she might have thought about that before she and Carol tap danced around with Carol’s ass hanging out.
And that low key episode of Step by Step featuring sexual assault played for laughs ends their delightfully weird first season.
NEXT TIME ON STEP BY STEP WATCH BY WATCH: Patrika Darbo and Peggy Rea are not fine.
Screencaps courtesy of Hulu. All Seven (!!!!!) Seasons of Step by Step are available now for streaming at Hulu. I promise you this article was not sponsored by HULU. Watch along with me, won’t you?