The year was 1989, and the world was a different place. Families were different. Things were happening. Big things! Rob Lowe was spotted in a softcore porn video with an underage girl. Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on games. The Berlin Wall (and the Cold War with it) collapsed. Burma changed its name to Myanmar.
Still, some of us could only concentrate on one man: Reginald VelJohnson. After VelJohnson portrayed the loveable (yet dependable) Sergeant Al Powell in 1988's Die Hard, we were left clammoring for more. More VelJohnson in more cop roles!1 The demand was simple and our demands were met.
The powers that be gave us "The Big Guy" himself, Mr. Carl Winslow. Oh, and did he ever deliver!
Remembering Carl Winslow (1989-1998)
Carl Winslow is the patriarch of the Winslow family in the long-running television sitcom Family Matters. He's a nice guy, but he takes two things seriously: being a hardworking Chicago cop and being The Man of the House. When it's time to lay down the law, Carl has a way of pulling up his pants by the belt and adjusting them while he juts his chest out a bit, as if to say, "look out, world! I'm in charge!" He's married to Harriette, a strong, intelligent woman, and sometimes Carl's insistence on being the sole provider and lawmaker of the family causes hilarious marital strife! Harriette isn't afraid to give Carl some sass for getting a big head2 or teasing him for overeating when it comes to his favorite foods: fried chicken and donuts. (Two stereotypes in one!) Still, Carl loves Harriette very much, and they always work out their petty disputes in the end. Also, sometimes Carl kisses Harriette, and a dubbed audience makes "whooo!" sounds.
Carl has three children: Eddie, Laura, and Judy. He's very protective of them, though he's sometimes hard on them, too. (Especially Eddie, who once drove Carl's car through the living room wall! Oops!3) Regardless, Carl's intentions are pure in regards to his family, and he's always making sacrifices to make sure they're taken care of.
Wait a second! Did I say Carl has three children? Well, he might as well have four! Who could forget the unforgettable Steve Urkel? Steve is a common fixture around the Winslow household, always creating whacky inventions and trying to win the hand of his one true love, "Lady Laura," much to Carl's annoyance. In fact, some of the show's most creative break-through comedy comes from the interaction between these two dynamic characters, particularly the show's two most popular catch-phrases:
- When Steve is being particularly frustrating, Carl often says: "Go home, Steve!" or when he's really fired up, "Go home, Steve! Go home, go home, GO HOME!" The people in the laugh track always get a kick out of that one!
- Steve is clumsy, and his inventions generally fail. Whenever he destroys something, he always says, "Did I do that?" If Carl's around, he always follows it up with, "Yes, Steve, you did that."
Still, despite their differences, Carl often ends up acting as a father figure to Steve, and feels especially indebted to him for saving his life in Season 5, Episode 99.4 Later, in Season 6, Carl turns into an Urkel-like nerd after stepping into Steve's "transformation machine" to improve his vision, and gets a rewarding glimpse into what it feels like to be mocked and reviled for being a dork.5 In the long run, he helps Steve through a variety of challenges, such as learning to ride a bike and training to pass a swimming examination for physical education.
All Carl really wants is a quiet, happy life, but being a cop is no cakewalk. He's always trying to impress Commissioner Davenport (or later, Commissioner Geiss) in order to secure a promotion (which he is successful at twice in the show, leaving him a Captain in the end.) In the process, he finds himself in several tense situations, including diffusing a gang fight, discovering a bomb on a treadmill, and falling into a freezing pond.
In the end, Carl was never given a proper conclusion. After 9 seasons, the show had evolved into something quite different from the family-based comedy of its roots, and Carl got precious little action in the final episodes. Steve Urkel went into space, Eddie was shot in the chest (he survives), and Myrtle got a hilarious makeover, but somehow it all seemed hollow without Carl Winslow at the forefront.
1 This wasn't the first time VelJohnson played a cop role in a movie. 1984's Ghostbusters featured him as a jail guard, already prepping for his role in Die Hard by perfecting his one and only line: "Ghostbusters! Mayor wants to see you!" (Credit goes to ncc05 for the find.)
2 See Season 1, Episode 21, "Bowl Me Over," in which Carl gives a big speech about accepting defeat gracefully and proceeds to whine like a six-year-old when Hariette beats him in a bowling match. Talk about a gutterball attitude!
3 Season 2, Episode 26, "The Crash Course." Other instances of Eddie screwing up include being dragged into a football betting ring, buying stolen car goods, repeatedly convincing his sister to date men he's indebted to, dancing with his girlfriend until past curfew, developing an alcohol problem, and taking his father for granted.
4 "Saved by the Urkel"
5 Episode 122, "To Be or Not to Be (2)"