Jaleel White, We sorry.
Updated: Jan 12
The 90's were a beautiful time for family television and the sitcom. (Excluding that conniving Pat Sajak of course.) For me, it was the 30-minute segments that offered a glimpse into a family I hoped to have one day. They laughed often, loved each other, and faced every problem as a family unit. The TGIF line up was legendary and birthed some of the most iconic characters of the decade.
While the TGIF line-up dominated Friday nights, not every sitcom was built on cornball family values. Friends and Seinfeld were two of the biggest powerhouses of the decade and made millions without the wholesome shenanigans. Those long running shows cleaned house with awards too but that same respect was not widely distributed.
Family Matters, and specifically Jaleel White, deserve another applause.
1.Original Opportunity. Family Matters was a show consisting of an entirely black cast, something that was still uncommon at the time. Very few shows before it, offered the same diverse gravitas with a blue-collar family. The Jefferson's, The Banks', and The Huxtables were all wealthy black families. The juxtaposition of culture, economics, and race remained a frequent source of their comedy. This leaves the Winslow family, and their middle-class DNA, as an entertainment outlier. Family Matters did not lean into economic comedy the way The Jeffersons or The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air did.
2. Accidental Success. Jaleel White was never meant to be a series regular. White wore his dad's glasses to his audition and his mom encouraged the overtly nerdy look. Over the years he’s explained, in interviews, that he had been acting since he was a toddler and agreed to a one-episode appearance. After a frat in the audience cheered every time he was off screen, the studio signed him to the rest of the season. The big glasses, hiked-up pants, suspenders, and love of cheese became hallmarks of a 90's television icon.
I often wonder how Reginald VelJohnson felt when Urkle became the focal point of the series. Fortunately for me, Key and Peele did a bit on it:
Back to Jaleel White. He enhanced the show to a different level by creating a character that we can’t forget.
If the show was beloved in the 90's, why does it need more accolades?
3. Unappreciated Longevity. The series ran 9 seasons with over 200 episodes. Other shows that ran the same seasonal length are; Seinfeld, King of Queens, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Everybody Loves Raymond, Scrubs, Coach, The Love Boat and others. Each of which were nominated for numerous Golden Globes and/or Emmys.
Family Matters was nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy.
It was for Outstanding Visual Effects.
4. Did I Do That? My final reason is personal. During an open-house, my wife and I stumbled upon this picture on the owner's mantle. It immediately reminded me of all the quotable and impressionable persona that was Steve Urkel. A 90's icon that we will remember for life.
Turns out its a thing. Go to celebsonsandwiches.com for your own savory pic of any celebrity sitting on a sandwich.
I’m not here to argue or suspect why Family Matters and Jaleel White weren’t given the love they deserve. I’m sure White was happy with his Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. Instead, I’m calling for a celebration for their joint contribution to television history. Even though the show had many cast members, it was driven by White's performance. One that the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy cronies failed to recognize.
While I remain disappointed that more accolades weren’t given, I’m proud the show was a family favorite in
my house growing up. Success for this show was not expected. It was by happenstance that a frat cheered for Steve Urkel. The audience fell in love with the characters, and nine seasons later, it belongs cemented in the TGIF Hall of Fame.
Well done Jaleel White, thank you for voicing Sonic, and your cameo in Big Fat Liar. Please reprise your role in any capacity. We'd welcome it.
If you need more White in your life, checkout his podcast titled Ever After where he discusses the trials of child stardom with other former stars.