There is a fine line that exists between an audience’s willing suspension of disbelief and insulting the audience’s intelligence. No show has ever challenged that line more often or more brazenly than Family Matters. On occasion, Family Matters even traverses so far over the line and into the realm of the absurd that the line becomes a distant horizon behind it. The episode “Life of the Party,” originally airing on February 8, 1991, is such an episode. In “Life of the Party,” the writers flout the show’s limited credibility to such gratuitous ends that it is a wonder the audience did not revolt. Worse yet, ABC’s TGIF line up extended this farce just seven months later in the Step by Step episode, “The Dance.”
This reviewer is, of course, referring to the song “Do the Urkel.” The song first appears in “Life of the Party” when Urkel decides to liven up a friend's gathering by performing a dance that he has concocted. At the party, Urkel provides a signal to his four-toothed friend Harvey Garvey who begins playing a tape. As the song begins, Urkel performs his dance “the Urkel” and supplies the lead vocals to the song. The lyrics consist primarily of a set of instructions on how to Do the Urkel. Though hardly worth repeating, the instructions include ludicrous commands such as “Now point your fingers up to the sky; and talk through your nose way up high” and “Spin and dip and jump and cavort; and finish it off with a laugh and snort.” Shamefully, most of the party is soon performing the dance perfectly in unison with Urkel, a feat this reviewer finds truly dubious. Even more stupefying, the track contains backing vocals imploring the revelers to “Do it, do it, do the Urkel . . . .”
Notably, the remainder of the episode provides no balance to this rather fanciful spectacle. Instead, Willie, jealous of the attention Urkel receives upon Doing the Urkel, decides to spike Urkel’s punch. An extremely inebriated Urkel then falls off the roof, only to somehow control his booze-addled mind long enough to grasp a ledge before plummeting to his death. Rachel then tightropes across a clothesline to save him. It is preposterous beyond description.
More to the point, however, the scene in which the party-goers “Do the Urkel” requires the audience to accept a number of far-fetched assumptions. First, we must accept that Urkel has created and choreographed a dance based on his own wacky persona. Second, he apparently recorded an instrumental track, complete with backing vocals, that allows him to provide the lead vocals during live performances of his dance. Third, the audience must accept that Harvey Garvey had the tape handy in case Urkel decided to perform his dance. Finally, we must consent to the idea that either everyone at the party knew how to Do the Urkel and had practiced the routine or that the party was able to spontaneously anticipate Urkel’s instructions.
Despite stretching the bounds of reason, it is theoretically possible that Urkel had the song recorded, Harvey Garvey brought the tape with him and played it at the party, and his schoolmates had learned and practiced Doing the Urkel on previous occasions. The events of Step by Step’s “The Dance,” however, are beyond the pail. In “The Dance,” Urkel crash lands his jet pack (a ridiculous premise in its own right) into the Lambert’s backyard while visiting his science fair partner, Mark. While in Port Washington, he ends up attending a school dance with Al. At the dance, Urkel decides to inject some energy into the affair. He, therefore, turns to the DJ and tells him to “play a fast one.” The DJ responds by playing the “Do the Urkel” song while Urkel provides the instructional lead vocals. Soon, all in attendance are “Doing the Urkel.” Realizing that this description may seem exaggerated, this reviewer includes the following exhibit as proof:
Insultingly, in addition to the assumptions required in “Life of the Party,” the audience must accept that a DJ in Port Washington, Wisconsin – a city over 100 miles from Urkel’s native Chicago – owns a recording of “Do the Urkel” and played the song simply upon a request for a “fast one.” The DJ does not seem to recognize Urkel, so it seems we are to accept this stroke of luck as a mere coincidence. Furthermore, the DJ apparently owns the copy of “Do the Urkel” that lacks the lead vocals just in case Steve Urkel shows up in Port Washington and wants to provide the lead vocals himself. Finally, the audience must allow that the entire crowd at a Port Washington middle school dance is familiar enough with “the Urkel” to perform a well choreographed rendition. Shockingly, even Frank and Carol Lambert, who are chaperoning the dance, are seemingly nonplussed by the miraculous incident they witness.
The only way to reconcile “The Dance” is if the audience accepts the postmodern metafictional premise that in this fictionalized version of youth culture, Urkel has gained notoriety that extends beyond what is depicted in Family Matters. If the audience accepts this hypothesis, Jaleel White/Steve Urkel’s appearance on the American Comedy Awards in 1991, where he Does the Urkel with the late, great Bea Arthur (shown in grainy footage below), could perhaps be seen as an event that the fictionalized Port Washington may have witnessed and emulated.
This series of assumptions, however, is simply a bridge too far. This reviewer simply will not accept that “Doing the Urkel,” as portrayed in these episodes, is conceivable.