I’m currently working as a caregiver at an assisted living facility. You can call it a “retirement home” if you’d like. I spend most of my time sitting down, watching somebody, and making sure they’re not getting into trouble. That makes it around 95% of the time I’m doing this, to be more specific. The other 5%, I’m feeding them.
Yeah, I’m practically idle. My clients are on the infirm side and aren’t exactly energetic, but it’s all good. In order to make the residents more comfortable and feel like they’re at home, we turn on our glorious 80-inch plasma-screen TV (man, these people really know where to put their money, I’m telling you) and run marathons of TV shows, either via YouTube or Hulu. Golden Girls? They have that. Full House? Oh, yeah. The Cosby Show? You betcha.
But no show, and I mean no show, has piqued my interest quite like Family Matters, otherwise known as “The Steve Urkel Show.” 😀
Family Matters is a family situational comedy (sitcom) that premiered in 1989, starring Reginald VelJohnson (you may know him as the on-duty cop from Die Hard) as the Dad. Initially, the idea was to have a blue-collar version of The Cosby Show showcasing a family, the Winslows, surviving each other’s crazy antics while learning valuable life lessons along the way.
The first 12 episodes of the show were decent, though I noticed the drama was actually stronger than the comedy. Some episodes had running gags that didn’t quite stick (the aunt’s terrible saxophone playing, for one thing). Although veteran VelJohnson carried the show with his experience and visual gags, the comedy for the most part just wasn’t there. It seemed the show was doomed to fade into obscurity as a bland rehash of the afore-mentioned Cosby Show.
Then, in episode 12 of the first season, all that changed. The Savior came from the Sky in Large Glasses and Suspenders.
Enter the Urkel.
Steve Urkel, played by the talented Jaleel White, made his debut as the clumsy, nerdy oddball that hits on Laura, the main character’s teenage daughter. Laura is looking for a date to the dance and her father tried to fix her up by calling his neighbor and arranging for Steve to take her. Although Laura eventually goes with another popular, handsome kid, Urkel takes the rejection in stride.
For the ensuing 9 seasons of Family Matters, Urkel became the new central character as the Winslow family took the proverbial back seat. With the addition of a super-geek, the show’s direction was radically altered to start including unique sci-fi elements (Urkel’s inventions would include a serum to make him “cool” and a machine that shrunk or enlarged certain items). It was no longer being compared to The Cosby Show. The show actually had its own thing going for it. It’s mind-boggling how the addition of one character could change the trajectory of a whole show. Especially a character that was supposed to show up in only one episode.
When Urkel made his first appearance, he must’ve left quite an impression on the show’s audience. I mean, the writers kept bringing him back. Question is: Why?
What made Steve Urkel such a compelling character? What caused the initial popular demand to make Urkel a permanent cast member? Off the top of my head, there are three personality traits that many have found inspiring:
Steve may have been a weird geek boy and perceived as a loser, but guess what, Hoss? He had more confidence than you will ever have. He did not let Laura’s rejections damage his self-perception. He never moped, sulked, or begged others to prop up his ego. This can be seen in his first appearance in the arcade of Episode 12, Season 1. Laura and her friend told him, to his face, how repulsive he was. Instead of letting his demeanor crumble after being rejected to the dance, he shrugged it off. He rationalized it by saying, “Eh, maybe some other time.” He carried on as he did before and was still the happy-go-lucky Steve. This brings me to Trait #2.
Staying True to Himself: Steve was on the receiving end of other people’s visible discomfort, cutting retorts, and rejection for a period of 9 years (9 Seasons). While he did create a serum to briefly turn him into the smooth Steve Urquelle, he ultimately kept his original personality intact. He did not bend to the whims of other people’s opinions. When other people disapprove of the way you carry yourself, they’re trying to change you. They’re trying to make you “normal.” They’re trying to change you because they’re not secure with who they are. They want to feel like they’re in control of something or someone. Someone like you.
Staying true to yourself, in spite of social pressure, is as Alpha as it gets. Steve Urkel wasn’t a football quarterback or millionaire businessman, but he sure as hell was an Alpha. Why? Because he stayed true to himself.
Persistence: Now, this is a tough virtue to extol. Let’s be honest: It’s persistence that gets people hit with sexual harassement claims. It’s persistence that gets people physically hurt. Sometimes, though, if you practice persistence the right way, it can turn rejection into gradual acceptance.
I am NOT advocating for using persistence in closed spaces so people can score a sexual encounter.
Persistence should be used in everyday, social/nonsexual situations. If someone is initially turned off by your mannerisms, maybe they need to get used to you first. We generally accept people we’re familiar and comfortable with. Over time they may actually start to appreciate and even enjoy your quirkiness.
One thing I’ve learned in recent years is you need to be persistent in order to maintain your friendships. If someone doesn’t respond to your attemps to initiate conversation, try again some other day. What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll block you? PFFFFFT!!!!
I knew someone back in high school who resembled Urkel in more ways than one. He had the tendency to to make self-deprecating jokes to the point where it was…well, off-putting. He was literally like a real-world sitcom character, no exaggeration. Even the girls openly talked about how freaky he was. Overtime, people (even the girls) started to accept him for who he was because of his persistence (although he still had trouble getting a date).
On the show, Steve was able to use persistence until he won Laura over in the last episode. Persistence comes from confidence. It’s confidence that scores the gals.
People at home during the 1990s watched Steve Urkel in awe, because he was an inspiration. Self-doubt and insecurity play a role in all of our lives. When a character is as popular as he was, it’s because we can relate to them. It’s because we secretly wish we were more like them.
And yes, we all wish we were like Steve Urkel, i.e. The Alpha Nerd.