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‘The Facts of Life’ revisited

“The Facts of Life” is now on TV Land.facts-of-life

That means I can spend time with Mrs. Garrett, Blair, Tootie, Natalie and Jo every evening. Of course, thanks to previous runs on the USA Network and Nick at Nite, I have stayed in touch with them over the years. Still, it’s interesting to view the ladies and their exploits through middle-aged eyes.

For instance, when I was younger, I never noticed that Natalie could be a pure witch. It’s apparent in the way she reacts when Tootie wins the lead role in “South Pacific,” when her grandmother makes a surprise visit, and when one of her countless crushes doesn’t dote on her. She’s more of a brat than Blair.

Speaking of Blair, in spite of the spoiled little rich girl narrative, she’s the most level-headed of the girls. And even when the wings in her hair remind me of Sally Field’s “Flying Nun” headdress, she still looks like a Breck girl.

On the other hand, I want to grab a pair of scissors and cut Jo’s bangs. I don’t understand what happened. When she came to Eastland, she wore her long hair down her shoulders and kept her bangs under control. A couple seasons into the show, however, she pulled her hair back into a ponytail and kept it there for years. For a girl who allegedly didn’t care about her appearance, from the looks of those bangs, she spent some serious time with a curling iron.

Jo does get points for wearing a powdered blue sweat suit in the episode where the girls stay up all night studying. Although the girls fret so much about their finals that you’d think they were cramming for law school, that’s always been one of my favorite episodes. For all the talk about needing to study, they spend more time eating, arguing and (accidentally) sleeping than they do studying. And I’m still wondering if the girls reimbursed Mrs. Garrett for that 2 a.m. pizza delivery.

It pains me, though, to admit that another episode I used to enjoy – the one where Blair and Jo spend a weekend with their respective neighborhood friends – doesn’t hold up. When I was in elementary school, NBC aired “FOL” in syndication. If I happened to notice in the “TV Guide” that this particular episode was airing, I’d develop a mysterious stomachache so I could stay home and watch it. Taking in the episode now, I fail to understand what held my interest. It’s a half hour of Blair’s snooty friend talking smack about tuna salad and hired help and Jo’s obnoxious friend hassling immigrants and old people.

But my all-time favorite “FOL” episode – the one where Tootie becomes obsessed with Jermaine Jackson – has stood the test of time. This is hands-down the best of “FOL’s” very special episodes. I know, that’s saying a lot about a series that covered suicide, abortion, rape, and the death of Natalie’s dad. But the Jermaine Jackson episode remains the most thought-provoking for raising such questions as why is Tootie obsessed with Jermaine Jackson?

Somehow, I missed the episode’s original airing early in 1982 and didn’t catch it until a couple years later. I remember the sunny summer morning I watched it for the first time. And I remember asking then as I do now, “Jermaine? Jackson?”

I would be right there with Tootie if she had created a paper mache bust of Michael Jackson and forced the other members of the Eastland chapter of the Jermaine Jackson fan club to put their hands over their hearts and pledge their devotion to MJ. But Jermaine?

I don’t get it, and I think that represents part of the episode’s appeal. Well, that and Jo badgering Tootie to make scarves for a fair and Mrs. Garrett once again imparting the wisest words of wisdom this side of Yoda.

If you haven’t heard Tootie scream her head off about Jermaine Jackson, do yourself a favor and check it out. You also don’t want to miss the one where a pimp tries to lure Tootie into teenage prostitution or the one where Blair learns her beloved grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan or the one…

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