This is a program that was part of my TV staple diet as I grew up and even now, as an adult, Diff'rent Strokes still holds a special place in my heart. As a kid I was more into the family aspect of the program and, to be honest, I didn't really get how odd it was supposed to be for a white man to foster/adopt two little black boys. There didn't seem anything wrong with it as far as I was concerned because all I got as a kid was how loving and caring Mr Drummond was for keeping his promise to his dying housekeeper. As an adult, I'm fully aware of racism and of what that entails and I can now see that Diff'rent Strokes was a wonderful platform on which to hi-light such things, as well as hi-lighting the different lifestyles/upbringing of those who live in poverty and those in high society. For me, Diff'rent Strokes was a program which dealt with potentially explosive issues sensitively through comedy, as well as with an abundance of intelligent writing.
As a side note, I've heard tell that Conrad Bain has taken some stick concerning his portrayal of Mr Drummond. As a kid, and even now as an adult, I had/have nothing but admiration for his portrayal as the Family Patriarch. You can see and at times feel his affection for both Gary and Todd, (and visa-versa), and I think this, for me, played a huge part in the success of Diff'rent Strokes, though Gary and Todd's ultimate cuteness in the first Two Seasons of this program certainly aided that success a heck of a lot too ...as did the wonderful writing. Sure there were occasions when I cringed at Conrad (usually when there was dancing was involved and him trying to be hip when clapping along with some song - chuckle) but how many times did that happen? Nigh-on all of the time Conrad Bain was that convincing as a loving, caring Father that I often wished I too had a Father who was as unafraid to say 'he loved me' as Mr Drummond was with Kimberly, Arnold and Willis.
On that, when it comes to the family aspect of Diff'rent Strokes, my two favourite seasons are the first two, though the first season for me is, by the skin of its teeth, my ultimate favourite. The first season dealt with such an abundance of differing social issues ranging from strong, political ones to sensitive, personal ones. For instance, one of my favourite episodes in Season One was "Mother's Last Visit" where it plainly showed the difference between snobbery and bigotry – and, though both are ugly, there really is a world of difference between the two. In my opinion, 'Intent' is such an important part of understanding what is being said and done and that's what I think "Mother's Last Visit" hi-lighted so very well. Willis believing that Drummond's Mother's antics were all to do with racism and yet when it all came down to it, her briefly accepting the boys because she thought their father had been a member of the UN showed the audience that it was allllllll to do with snobbery and not at all to do with colour/race.
However, my ultimate favourite episodes of Season One were "The Social Worker" and "The Fight". In "The Social Worker" Conrad Bain broke my heart with his wonderful understated acting towards the end of the episode when Willis is being deliberately hurtful towards Mr Drummond and yet, despite all that, I still left this episode on such a wonderful high when, having sorted out the horrible misunderstanding which had occurred, the three of them hugged each other on the couch. "The Fight" was another favourite of mine because it showed two differing opinions concerning the handling of bullies in school and, as far as I was concerned, neither one was wrong, par se, but neither were right either because bullies are individuals and each one is possibly motivated by different reasons – Sadly we never got to know what motivated the Gooch, which was a shame because I think that would have helped more in trying to understand certain bullies and therefore in trying to handle them. However, Mr Drummond's advice to Arnold at the end was spot on and to this day I honestly think that that piece of advice is something I unconsciously took from Diff'rent Strokes and adopted into my own way of thinking.
But again it was an episode that pulled heavily on my heartstrings one way or another, (the tension between Drummond and Willis, the cuteness between Willis and Arnold and the uber cuteness between Drummond and Arnold), but ultimately it left me on such a high with the pillow fight at the end. Wonderful, wonderful stuff!!
There were others too, such as Prep School and The Trial and so forth. I even adored the Crossovers with Larry Alder and his kids, and wished there had been more of them, though, as an adult, I think that's because I wish Morgan and Mr Drummond could have got together. Oh well... :D
Aaaanyway, Diff'rent Strokes did have a lot to say comically, as well as politically, socially and personally, and most of the time it did get it spot on, however, every once in a blue moon it did leave a bit of a faux-pas along the way, such as in Season 3 the "Roots" episode. This was an episode that was a bit of a mish-mash thing for me, where you could see the point it was trying to make but, character wise, it did leave one huge faux-pas on show. ...It was when Arnold told Mr Drummond that as far as he (Arnold) was concerned he (Mr Drummond) was colourless. I know what Arnold meant, (Or at least I hope I do) and I do understand why Arnold believed that the whole issue was to do with colour – because Willis was mentioning black and white in nigh-on every sentence and they both (Willis and Arnold) had even divided those who resided at the Drummond household into colours – but because of that, for Mr Drummond not to have corrected Arnold when he defined him as being 'colourless' was a BIG faux-pas in my opinion.
But anyway, don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the episode as a whole, especially the last speech from the psychiatrist. From a character POV, I think Mr Drummond should have given Arnold that speech, but from an audience's POV, at least the message (that the colour of someone's skin doesn't define them but that who and what they are does) got out there one way or another :D
I know, I know, it's a comedy program, (and not only that a program made in 1978), and maybe I should have just laughed along with the audience at the time, but hey-ho, there you go :D
As a side note, this episode did also contain one of my favourite quotes as well, which was:
Kimberly: "Yeeah, you know, you didn't even eat your breakfast this morning"
Arnold: "That snap, crackle and pop stuff is white too"
Mr Drummond: "It is? ...Well maybe we can find a cereal that says diggit, get down and right on"
Aaanyhooo, all in all, of the Four Seasons I've seen thus far (I have seen the other seasons but only once and a looooong time ago) I thoroughly enjoy Diff'rent Strokes. A lot of the time it makes me laugh out loud and some of the time it has me misty-eyed, but on the whole it makes me wish for a world where ignorance/bigotry has been eradicated and that prejudice was something our ancestors knew all about but somehow got wise somewhere along the line.
For the Four Seasons of Diff'rent Strokes I've seen recently I'll give this program 9/10 because it was/is funny, sensitive and intelligently written. I also couldn't imagine anyone else playing the roles of Mr Drummond, Arnold and Willis. Truly top notch stuff that gave me such a lot when I was a kid and it still makes me laugh to this day :-)