A spin-off from "Diff'rent Strokes" (the first episode has a guest appearance from the Drummonds) and incredibly popular on its own during its run, "Facts of Life" had an impressive run that lasted from 1979-1988. The series saw Edna Garrett (Charlotte Ray) becoming the housemother at a popular boarding school, watching over the girls and teaching them those facts about life. Just about every episode had the girls facing a serious subject (drugs, dieting, sex, acceptance, friendship and adoption are just some of the subjects the show tackled over the years) and trying to overcome their issues before the credits rolled.
Although the series had quite a few speaking parts in the first season, the producers smartly narrowed the focus for the second season, where the main characters are the ones that audiences would follow for years - rich girl Blair (Lisa Whelchel), gossipy Tootie (Kim Fields), funny Natalie (Mindy Cohn) and the newcomer, bad girl Jo (Nancy McKeon). As different as the girls were - in attitude, outlook, background and more - they quickly find that they can rely on one another through both the good times and bad as they learn, well...you know.
By the time the fourth season had rolled around, the show may have been largely the same at the core, but had gotten enough of a following together that the network aired a 2-hour special, "The Facts of Life Goes to Paris", which saw the girls head overseas with Mrs. Garrett. The TV movie was a fun way to expand the horizons of the characters (who weren't that far from going out in the world themselves), not to mention the show's. Tootie, Blair, Jo and Natalie all go to Paris to attend a summer school that ends up being an hour outside of Paris and more regimented than they'd planned. Meanwhile, Mrs. Garrett ventures to Paris to attend a cooking school that is less than wonderful.
Eventually the girls make their way into Paris and separate from the school group. Blair focuses all her attention on shopping and finding romance, while Natalie and Tootie meet an author and help him out of his writing slump. In one of the nicer stories, Jo gets sidetracked on her way to a race when she meets a young man and ends up finding romance. With a few mishaps and triumphs for the group, the movie does a nice job giving everyone a unique experience in Paris. While not quite as lively as the episodes, it definitely stands on its own and is enjoyable to watch, with some moving moments along the way.
Season four raises new issues and advances the storylines forward, especially Jo and Blair who make their way towards graduation. The episodes "Take My Finals, Please" and "Graduation: Part 1" and "Graduation: Part 2" do a great job bringing Jo and Blair's time as students at Eastland to a close. Also Tootie and Natalie must come to terms with the changes as Blair and Jo prepare to move on.
Other standout episodes include "For The Asking", where the girls must ask a boy to the Sadie Hawkins dance. The only problem is Natalie doesn't think the boy she likes will go and decides it's best not to go at at all. In "A Woman's Place", Jo gets promoted over her boyfriend which causes tension between the two. Another fun episode is "A Royal Pain", where a princess named Alexandra arrives at Eastland, which Natalie and Tootie find exciting until Tootie realizes Alexandra is going to try and run away. In the two part episode "Best Sister", Blair's sister Meg (guest star, Eve Plumb "The Brady Bunch") comes to let everyone know that she's decided to become a nun. Jo goes off to Yale to visit her boyfriend and have a "college weekend", but when the car breaks down she returns to Eastland and Meg says she can give her a ride to Yale. Meg and Jo end up spending time together which leads Jo to consider becoming a nun as well, much to Blair's dismay.
By season four, "The Facts of Life" certainly had established itself and the characters and writing continues to be conventional, but entertaining and enjoyable. As the series does gear up for change with Jo and Blair graduating, it does so in an entertaining and endearing way. With some heavier episodes and some lighter ones, this is another fine season of the series.
Season Four Episodes:
Ain't Miss Beholden
Jo refuses to accept aid from Blair's family foundation for her school tuition when her scholarship is cut.
Natalie may get thrown out of school if she does not reveal her source for an article about abortion.
The Sound of Silence
Tootie refuses to get help for hearing loss until she is in an accident as a result of the denial.
The Oldest Living Graduate
After Jo interviews Eastland's oldest living graduate, she changes her mind about donating to the school.
Blair tutors a mentally handicap student.
Natalie has the opportunity to meet her biological mother.
A Woman's Place
Jo gets promoted over her workplace boyfriend, Doug.
Blair is heartbroken when an IRS audit reveals her dad has been using her as a way to get out of paying income tax.
One of the cadets from the military academy asks Natalie to attend his boxing match.
For the Asking
Natalie refuses to go to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance when she doesn't think she can get the guy she wants.
Mrs. Garrett receives a marriage proposal from her jogging partner, who the girls think is too old for her.
A Royal Pain
A precocious girl claiming to be royalty enrolls at Eastland.
Blair finds herself obsessed with her new, extremely demanding boyfriend.
The girls try to protect Mrs. Garrett from stress when she is diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Jo is angered when she learns her favorite teacher is leaving, supposedly for more money.
When Tootie's brother Marshall comes to visit, his reckless drinking and driving gets the girls in an accident.
Best Sister: Part I
Blair's "sister" Meg surprises the girls and informs them that she is becoming a nun.
Best Sister: Part II
Jo's decision to become a nun like Blair's "sister" causes conflict between her and Blair.
Guess What's Coming to Dinner?
Mrs. Garret's cooking instructor from Paris visits Eastland and leaves his family, who only speak French, for Mrs. Garrett to entertain.
Who's On First
Natalie begins spending all her time with her new boyfriend and excludes Tootie.
Help from Home
Jo struggles with her acceptance to college knowing it will be impossible for her family to afford.
Take My Finals, Please
The girls spend the night cramming for final exams together for the very last time.
Graduation: Part 1
Jo and Blair get ready to leave for college, while Natalie and Tootie worry there won't be enough time to say goodbye.
Jo and Blair graduate from Eastland Academy. Natalie and Tootie try to adjust.
VIDEO: "Facts of Life" is presented by Shout Factory Entertainment in 1.33:1 full-frame, the show's original aspect ratio. Considering the age of the series, "Facts of Life" looks surprisingly decent. Sharpness and detail aren't remarkable, but the picture at least looks mostly crisp, with only the occasional touch of softness.
A few minor instances of wear and some slight shimmering appeared on occasion, but the presentation otherwise looked clean and clear. Colors looked natural and nicely saturated, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The show is offered here in basic mono audio, but the sound does come across well, with no distortion or other issues. The popular theme song sounds just fine, coming across crisply and clearly.
"Know The Facts: Trivia Game" - A fun trivia game with fifteen questions about the first four seasons of the series. When you answer the question, you learn some fun facts about the series. Worth a look for fans.
Final Thoughts: By season four, "The Facts of Life" certainly had established itself and the characters and writing continues to shine. As the series does gear up for change with Jo and Blair graduating, it does so in an entertaining and endearing way.