“Show me that smile again…”
Growing Pains was one of the longest-running and most popular family sitcoms of the 1980’s. The basics were no different from those of most other family sitcoms—mom, dad, a few wisecracking kids—but something about it just worked. Plus, that non-threatening teen idol Kirk Cameron was kind of a dreamboat.
The show’s setup did offer a bit of an 80’s twist to the family sitcom formula: mom Maggie Seaver went back to work at a local newspaper, leaving her husband Jason to stay home to take care of their three kids. Jason had to balance a home-based psychology practice with raising three strong-willed children, who frequently needed a bit of psychological counseling themselves.
Mike, the eldest, was the troublemaker of the group. He was a major teen heartthrob of the eighties, and his angelic good looks and mischievous deeds made many a preteen’s heart swoon. Girl-crazy and homework-phobic, Mike spent a majority of his time scheming and mercilessly teasing his younger sister, Carol.
This second Seaver-spawn was a straight-A perfectionist who lacked social confidence. Suffering somewhat from a Jan Brady complex, Carol resented that as the middle child, she neither received the privileges of older brother, Mike, or the attention her parents showered younger brother, Ben.
The last of the bunch, Ben was a sweet, goofy kid who aspired to be like his big brother. He also dabbled in the ancient art of sitcom behavior known as blackmailing one’s older siblings to conceal incriminating information.
All three were loved and counseled by mom and dad. Jason, though professional, wasn’t above acting a little nutty himself. A bit corny with his jokes and sweater-vests, Jason was never afraid to show affection to any of his kids or to his wife. Maggie was a very good mom who seemed to have a special relationship with each of her children; she was protective of Ben, concerned for Mike and proud of Carol. Together, Jason and Maggie seemed like the ideal parents.
Also sharing the Seavers’ growing pains were a handful of supporting characters. In the early going, Mike’s best friend was Richard “Boner” Stabone, whose lack of good sense only got the boys into even more mischief. Later on, the Seavers formed a friendship with Coach Graham Lubbock, who eventually took his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children to a spin-off sitcom of their own, Just the Ten of Us. There were also several love interests for the older Seaver kids, but we’ll save them for a bit later.
As is the case with family sitcoms, Growing Pains allowed its fans to watch the Seavers grow and change. The most significant change was that, in the fourth season, the Seavers made room for one more with the birth of baby Chrissy. Somehow, baby Chrissy became four-year-old Chrissy over the summer hiatus, while everyone else aged at the normal rate.
Carol, once awkward and shy, eventually had two important boyfriends: dimwitted Bobby, and Sandy (Friends’ Matthew Perry), who died in a car crash. Carol eventually attended Columbia University after working at a publishing company, but Mike went through the biggest changes.
Originally an aspiring actor, Mike became more serious as he grew up and almost married Chrissy’s nanny, Julie Costello. Later he became involved with Kate (Kirk Cameron’s real-life wife Chelsea Noble) and worked as an inner-city teacher. In the last season, Mike realized that one of his students was homeless, and he invited that street-wise kid, Luke Browser (some guy named Leonardo DiCaprio), to move in with the Seavers. Meanwhile, Ben turned into a teenager, and by the end of the run, was just about the age Mike had been when the show premiered.
Tracey Gold, who played Carol, suffered from anorexia during the later seasons of the series, and was written out of the show while she dealt with her illness. She returned for the last episode of the series, in which the Seaver family moved from New York to Washington, D.C. for Maggie’s new job there.
Along with The Cosby Show and Family Ties, Growing Pains defined the 80’s family sitcom, and it has remained a fan favorite ever since. As proof of the show’s continued hold on their adoring public, The Growing Pains Movie scored a big ratings hit in late 2000, showing just how much we still care about the family Seaver.
USA / ABC – Warner Bros / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 24 September 1985 – 27 August 1992
Alan Thicke as Dr. Jason Seaver
Joanna Kerns as Margaret “Maggie” Katherine Seaver
Kirk Cameron as Michael “Mike” Aaron Seaver
Tracey Gold as Carol(ine) Anne Seaver
Jeremy Miller as Benjamin Seaver
Kirsten Dohring as Baby Chrissy Seaver (1988-90)
Kelsey Dohring as Baby Chrissy Seaver (1988-90)
Ashley Johnson as Christine “Chrissy” Seaver (1990-92)
Leonardo DiCaprio as Luke Brower (1991-92)
Chelsea Noble as Kate MacDonald (1989-92)
Andrew Koenig as Richard “Boner” Stabone (1985-89)
Bill Kirchenbauer as Coach Graham Lubbock (1987-88)
Julie McCullough as Julie Costello (1989-90)
Jane Powell as Irma Seaver (-Overmier) (1988-91)
Robert Rockwell as Wallis “Wally” Overmier (1988-91)