Mike Flaherty
January 23, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Not to get all dogmatic about it, but in retrospect, the seemingly simple, sugary premise of Family Affair (TV Land, weeknights at 8:30 p.m.) was in fact a genius bit of pop-cultural co-opting and button pushing. The 1966-1971 CBS sitcom starred Brian Keith as Bill Davis (that’s Uncle Bill to you), a well-heeled NYC architect/swinging bachelor who, upon the death of his brother and sister-in-law, finds himself playing daddy to teenage Cissy (Kathy Garver), and twin tots Jody (Johnny Whitaker) and Buffy (Anissa Jones). Inevitably, of course, Bill discovers that this responsibility, far from putting a damper on his freewheeling lifestyle, ultimately gives meaning to it. In the context of the ’60s’ almighty counterculture and TV’s newfound appreciation of alternative family arrangements, Affair was thus able to come off as enlightened and with-it while at the same time being heartwarmingly traditional, all the way down to its inclusion of a fastidious British butler (that would be Sebastian Cabot’s endearing Mr. French). Reality may have had the last laugh on the troubled ensemble, however, as Jones died of a drug overdose in 1976, and Keith committed suicide last June.

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