The Facts of Life

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The cast in Season Two. Clockwise from top right: Jo, Tootie, Mrs. Garrett, Natalie, and Blair.
You take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em both and there you have... The Facts of Life.
Opening theme

Long-running Sitcom and Teen Drama (1979-1988) about the heartwarming adventures of a group of female students. Initially they were students at a boarding school. In later seasons, they went to college and beyond, but kept living together under the watchful eye of Mrs. Garrett, formerly of Diff'rent Strokes (and, in later seasons, her Suspiciously Similar Substitute sister, played by Cloris Leachman).

During its first season, the show had a large ensemble of girls, including a very young Molly Ringwald. Starting with its second season, though, the show was retooled. The mob was thinned down to four "core" girls, and almost nothing was ever seen again of their schoolmates.

The central girls after the first season were:

The show aired long enough to use just about every Sitcom trope in existence, including Blair's Inspirationally Disadvantaged cousin Geri, who had cerebral palsy, and many Very Special Episodes. A reunion movie, featuring the entire cast except for Nancy McKeon's Jo, aired in 2001.


The Facts of Life is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in The Facts of Life include:
  • Absentee Actor: All the cast (except Kim Fields) at one time or another, most notably in "The First Time"—the script originally called for Blair to lose her virginity, but Lisa Whelchel refused to be involved on religious grounds (see Hollywood Atheist below). As a result—in addition to this being the only episode of the entire series in which Blair/Lisa doesn't appear—it was rewritten so that the Eastland girl to become a woman was Natalie.
  • Attempted Rape: Jo & Natalie.
  • Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other: Blair and Jo have many of these moments when they stop sniping. Blair nearly punches out a guy who assaulted Jo. Blair secretly helps Jo get a scholarship so that she can stay in school. Jo replaces a childhood toy of Blair's after it is ruined. Jo jumps to her defense after a disgruntled wife accuses Blair of sleeping with her husband. Blair skips a ski trip to spend Christmas with Jo, etc, etc.
  • Biker Babe: Jo, right down to the Samus Is a Girl moment when she pulls off her helmet to reveal that she is, in fact, a girl.
  • Boarding School: Eastland is a boarding school for girls, and the first half of the series takes place there.
  • The Cast Showoff: Lisa Whelchel seems to have been given opportunities to display her talents in everything from singing to ventriloquism.
  • Catch Phrase: Blair -- "I just had another one of my brilliant ideas!", "Turn Blue!"; Tootie -- "Oooh, they're in troou-ble!"
  • The Celebrity Lie
  • Celebrity Star: One example being Eve Plumb, formerly of The Brady Bunch. Also Zsa Zsa Gabor and 80s pop icon Stacy Q.
  • Chain Letter
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The other students and faculty from season one were never seen again.
    • Actually, while that's true for the faculty, the ousted girls continued on in recurring roles through the third season before being phased out. And then they, minus Molly Ringwald, who was famous by this point, made a guest appearance towards the end of the series.
  • Clip Show: Several of them.
  • Cousin Oliver: Andy, the foster kid, and Pippa, the Australian exchange student.
    • Kelly, a latchkey thug living down the street, was a temporary Cousin Oliver.
  • Date Rape Averted: Jo, who managed to fight her way out in the nick of time.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jo and Natalie.
  • Do-It-Yourself Theme Tune: Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) provided vocals for the Season 1 theme.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Jo reacts with hostility every time someone attempts to take pity on her due to her poor upbringing.
  • Dude Magnet: Natalie in particular tended to have a lot of boyfriends during the show's run. This was an interesting development, given that she was the least conventionally attractive girl of the core cast.
  • The Eighties: Pretty much one of the definitive shows of the 1980's, so it's impossible to avoid 80's nostalgia and/or horror.
  • Eighties Hair: And how. Started out okay, but we ended up with more poof than a Whitesnake concert. There were mullets. On women.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Temporary character Alex was a European princess.
  • Fan Service: The first season was made at the height of the "Jiggle TV" era codified by then NBC president and CEO Fred Silverman during his previous tenure as president of ABC Entertainment, so the older girls ran around in skimpy shorts for large portions of every episode. When new producers Linda Marsh and Margie Peters arrived to do the second season Retool, they insisted on less exploitative wardrobes.
  • Fat Girl: Natalie, the "happy Magic Marker."
    • By the later seasons, the other three girls had visibly gained so much weight that TV critics redubbed the show The Fats of Life.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Of course.
  • French Jerk: Chef Antoine from the Facts of Life Goes to Paris special; he makes a return appearance with his jerky family the following season.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Blair's mother visits and tells Blair that she's pregnant but not going to go through with it, but Blair convinces her to keep the baby.
    • Averted in an earlier episode, where Natalie fabricates an article for the Eastland paper, saying that one of the students at Eastland had secretly had an abortion; she later finds out that such an event did in fact occur.
  • Happily Adopted: Natalie. She finds her birth mother in one of the earlier seasons, but still happily considers her adopted family her "real" family.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Blair and Jo are a textbook example, right down to having dialogue that could be effortlessly be used by a genuine old married couple.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Blair is an atheist for most, if not all, of the series. Arguably ends when her sister is born.
    • Which becomes rather bizarre remembering Lisa Whelchel (actress playing Blair) is a devout Christian.
  • Inept Aptitude Test
  • Informed Judaism: Natalie. It only comes up once or twice.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Blair's cousin Geri, who has cerebral palsy.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Natalie aspires to become a journalist. Many episodes feature her talking about her latest scoop.
    • Jo was this until her big scoop got her journalism teacher fired.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Done in a late season episode when Tootie digs up and shows off the roller skates that were her trademark in the first season. It also occurs in the reunion movie when Natalie's fiance expresses doubt that Mrs. Garrett can pull Thanksgiving dinner together:

Natalie: Mrs. G. can do anything.
Tootie/Dorothy: Didn't you watch our show?

  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: A balloon resembling Goggle Red briefly appeared in the beginning of the episode "Reunion".
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Blair, whose snotty behavior tends to cover up her deep seated Parental Abandonment issues. She has few real friends outside of the main cast.
  • The Movie: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris; The Facts of Life Down Under—both made for TV.
  • New Transfer Student: Pippa, who is from Australia. Also Alex, the princess of something-in-Europe. Miko was a temporary Japanese exchange student.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Blair and her former stepsister (portrayed by Eve Plumb) are not actually related but treat each other as genuine siblings.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jo, Blair, and Natalie all hailed from New York City, but only Jo actually sounded like it (Lisa Whelchel had a Texas twang and Mindy Cohn had a California accent). Conversely, Kim Fields had a New York accent, but Tootie was supposed to be a D.C. native.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Joanne "Jo" Polniaczek, Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey.
  • Parental Substitute: Mrs. Garrett serves as this to most of the girls. Her sister Beverly Ann fills this role when Mrs. Garrett leaves the show, but to a lesser extent.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Much is made of Jo's poverty for most of the show.
    • When a later episode attempted to give the Polniacseks an incredible financial windfall, Nancy McKeon nearly quit over the idea that Jo would suddenly become rich. The writers decided to make it just a temporary situation, so that by the end of the episode everything was back to normal (though Jo insisted on keeping the fancy motorcycle helmet her dad bought her).
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: Several, including one featuring Tootie's aunt and uncle, and another at the end of the series setting up Blair as the new headmistress of the school. In addition, the show itself started as a Poorly-Disguised Pilot.
    • In fact, there were no fewer than six attempted Spin-Offs over the course of the show: beyond the aforementioned ones featuring Tootie's mixed-marriage aunt and uncle ("Brian and Sylvia") and Blair as a headmistress ("The Beginning of the End"), there was "The Academy" (about four military academy guys who were pretty much the girls' male alter egos), "Jo's Cousin" (which is self-explanatory), "Rumor Has It" (featuring Blair's law professor), and "Big Apple Blues" (in which Natalie joins up with a bunch of wacky twenty-somethings trying to make it in New York City). Not a single one of these turned into a series.
  • Pretty in Mink: Blair possesses about a zoo's worth of fur coats.
  • Prince Charming: Blair's steady boyfriend Cliff is a modern version of this, but she ends up falling out of love with him for an unknown reason and calls the relationship off.
  • Promotion to Parent: Blair acts as a surrogate parent to her little sister, who is born when Blair is 20-something. Also acted as birth coach for her mother.
  • The Quincy Punk: In "The Americanization of Miko", the writers demonstrated total ignorance about the Stray Cats. Based on the characters' dialogue—specifically, the adults' horror about this crazy new music and the girls' references to wild concerts wherein Brian Setzer evidently ate his guitar—the writers seemed to think the band put out earsplitting punk tunes rather than what really amounted to old-time rockabilly.
    • Also, when troublemaker Kelly enters the cast, she claims to be a member of the (fake) local gang the Lords of Discipline, who specialize in vandalizing Edna's Edibles and dress like the guys in the "Beat It" video.
  • Religious Russian Roulette
  • Reunion Show
  • Rich Bitch: Blair, although she's the rare Hidden Heart of Gold subtype.
  • The Rival: Blair and Jo are this to each other.
    • Also the ill-fated Cynthia character in "Breaking Point" is this to Blair; she's more intelligent, more attractive, more worldly, more popular, and more fluent in French.
  • Shoot the Money
  • Shout-Out: In a nod to George Clooney, the reunion movie stated that George the handyman left to pursue an acting career in Hollywood.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Although several episodes had Aesops relating to smoking, Rich Bitch Blair can be seen puffing on a cigarette in the pilot episode, "The Girls School". By the time the show's first true episode aired, Blair was a non-smoker (reflecting real life, as Welchel was a non-smoker).
  • Stalker with a Crush: Roy has a crush on Jo, although this is a comedic version of the trope. Still creepy.
  • The Stool Pigeon: This was Tootie's primary function for the early seasons, and she retains it to a lesser extent as an adult. Combine her with Natalie and you get Gossipy Hens.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Beverly Ann, who replaces Mrs. Garret as the girl's den mother/landlady.
  • Team Mom: Mrs. Garret.
  • Their First Time: One popular episode in a later season involved Natalie choosing to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time.
  • Token Minority: Tootie, who is drowning in a sea of white people. Also Natalie, who seems to be the only Jewish member of the show.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Jo and Blair.
  • Tomboyish Ponytail: Jo.
  • Troubled but Cute: Jo, in a Rare Female Example.
  • True Companions: The main cast is essentially this due to the fact that they seldom see their real families or have trouble at home.
  • Tsundere: Jo reacts with hostility every time she is accused of having a "sensitive side". This dies down in the last seasons.
  • Very Special Episode: A never ending supply of them, really.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: Jo has a couple of these after he's released from prison. Blair also has one or two.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Jo and Blair spend most of their time sniping at each other, but they are actually best friends and will jump to the others' defense in a heartbeat.
  • Zany Scheme: Well, it is a sitcom.