Diff’rent Strokes—Season 1

diffrent strokes season 1 dvd cover review episode guide
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Cheesy but enjoyable, comfort food

Loaded jokes and sappy sentimentality

diffrent strokes season 1 title card episode guide

Spend a day on Manhattan

When their mother dies, Willis Jackson (Todd Bridges) and his brother Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman) find themselves taken in by Park Avenue industrialist Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain).  Mr. Drummond is taking the kids from their home in Harlem and moving them to his penthouse where he lives with his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato) and their new maid Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae).  Life in Harlem and life on Park Avenue are different worlds, and Willis and Arnold are about to find out how the other half lives.

Diff’rent Strokes—Season 1 is a family situation comedy.  The series was produced by Norman Lear’s production company and aired on NBC on Fridays.  The first season contained a one hour retrospective episode on December 29, 1978 and a two part crossover with Hello, Larry which is generally packaged with Diff’rent Strokes.  It also contains a backdoor pilot for The Facts of Life.

diffrent strokes season 1 opening credits gary coleman conrad bain todd bridges

We’re moving on down…to the Upper East Side

I watched Diff’rent Strokes all the time and find it to be a “comfort food” type of sitcom.  The first season is a prime example of sitcoms from the period and has everything you’d expect from a show like this from adorable kids to “very special episodes”.  Diff’rent Strokes isn’t necessarily good, but it still is fun nostalgia.

The series is a complete sitcom cliché.  You have loaded dialogue that is just waiting for laughs and almost every episode starts with miscommunication and ends with everyone learning a lesson.  The season primarily circles around the adjustment of Arnold and Willis to their new home and living with a white family…and barely has any episodes where the joke of Mr. Drummond having Black children isn’t some punch line.  It is sappy and sentimental and few of the adults speak or act like adults throughout the series.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 17 willis privacy super arnold gary coleman

It’s Super Arnold’s world, and we just live in it.

What does shine is both Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges.  While the series seems to start out rather equally balanced (the first episode revolves around Willis’s attempts to fit in), it becomes increasingly obvious that Gary Coleman is the star.  From his quick witted delivery and “cute kid” look, Coleman was ripe for being a celebrity like a Fonzie or Kramer.  This is rather unfair to Bridges who has more nuance to his performances though both Bridges and Coleman are still very much child actors at this point in behavior and delivery.  Little is done with Dana Plato’s Kimberly this season and Charlotte Rae also is getting her wings before taking off to Facts of Life the next year.  Conrad Bain’s Mr. Drummond is the sappiest of them all with open minded behavior and when he does misread a situation, he “learns and evolves” in an unrealistic manner.

The show surprisingly goes to the classic sitcom retrospective only eight episodes in (and actually has scenes from “The Fight” which aired after the flashback episode).  It also has the crossover with McLean Stevenson’s M*A*S*H follow-up series Hello, Larry which also featured Kim Richards and Donna Wilkes…and if you add the other pilot for Facts of Life, you have a very busy first season for a freshman series.

diffrent strokes seaosn 1 episode 24 the girls school facts of life cast

I’d never leave my family…until I get a spin-off

Visually, Diff’rent Strokes is a very typical three camera sitcom shot on minimal sets.  The sets are of course set up by establishing shots, but this season hardly has anyone leaving the confines of the Park Avenue apartment (which is located at 900 Park Avenue on the corner of 79th Street).  It is also the type of show that casts and recasts actors for multiple roles like Jack Riley).

New viewers of Diff’rent Strokes might have probably sitting through the sappy and sugary series, but it is enjoyable to those who grew up with it.  It is with this knowledge that I can forgive people who love Full House or Family Matters because even though I can’t watch and enjoy them, they are childhood memories for others.  Like many TV series, Diff’rent Strokes is built upon kids and family settings…but kids grow up and Diff’rent Strokes still has a few years before they have to face that.

Diff’rent Strokes—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 1 movin in willis mr drummond todd bridges conrad bain

“Movin’ In”

1.1       Movin’ In Airdate:  11/03/78

Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman) and Willis Jackson (Todd Bridges) are moving out of their Harlem home and into a Park Avenue penthouse after the death of their mother.  Their mother’s former employer Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain) has agreed to take the boys and this means a new blended family with Phillip’s daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato) and their new maid Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae)…but Willis has some hesitations.

diffrent strokes the social worker ellen travolta

“The Social Worker”

1.2       The Social Worker Airdate:  11/10/78

A social worker (Ellen Travolta) has come to see how Willis and Arnold are adjusting to the Drummonds’ home, but when she suggests that the Willis and Arnold should be with a Black family, an overheard conversation leads to trouble.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 3 mothers last visit irene tedrow todd bridges gary coleman

“Mother’s Last Visit”

1.3       Mother’s Last Visit Airdate:  11/17/78

Mr. Drummond’s mother (Irene Tedrow) has come to visit…but Philip has forgotten to mention that Arnold and Willis exist.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 4 the prep school uniforms gary coleman todd bridges conrad bain

“The Prep School”

1.4       The Prep School Airdate:  11/24/78

Mr. Drummond wants Arnold and Willis to go to his former school Digby Prep but getting in could be harder than expected.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 5 the spanking mr drummond arnold conrad bain gary coleman

“The Spanking”

1.5       The Spanking Airdate:  12/01/78

When Arnold breaks Mr. Drummond’s rules about making a water bomb, he decides that Arnold needs a spanking…leading to Arnold running away.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 6 goodbye dolly homer paddington arnold gary coleman

“Goodbye, Dolly”

1.6       Goodbye, Dolly Airdate:  12/08/78

Arnold’s stuffed bear Homer is accidentally sold at a charity auction, and Willis, Kimberly, Mr. Drummond, and Mrs. Garrett try to get Homer back.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 7 the trial cast

“The Trial”

1.7       The Trial Airdate:  12/15/78

Arnold is pushing his luck with his behavior and could lose his chance at going to see a skateboarding competition.  When Arnold’s goldfish Abraham ends up in Mr. Drummond’s hot tub, Willis tells Mr. Drummond that Arnold can’t get a fair trial.

diffrent strokes seaosn 1 episode 8 retrospective part 1 kimberly mr drummond dana plato conrad bain

“Retrospective—Part 1”

1.8       Retrospective—Part 1 Airdate:  12/29/78

It’s Christmas, and Mr. Drummond is reminiscing about Willis and Arnold’s arrival at their home.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 9 retrospective part 2 cast

“Retrospective—Part 2”

1.9       Retrospective—Part 2 Airdate:  12/29/78

The family continues to recall how Willis and Arnold came into the Drummond home and how their lives changed.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 10 the fight arnold vs gooch gary coleman

“The Fight”

1.10     The Fight Airdate:  01/05/79

Willis finds Arnold being bullied by the Gooch and tells Arnold that he has to fight the Gooch for Mr. Drummond to respect him.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 11 the club meeting arnold willis todd bridges gary coleman

“The Club Meeting”

1.11     The Club Meeting Airdate:  01/12/79

Willis is missing his old friends and decides to invite them to see their new life on Park Avenue.  When the kids come up from Harlem, Mr. Drummond learns that Willis and Arnold have let their new wealth go to their head.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 12 the woman conrad bain elinor donahue

“The Woman”

1.12     The Woman Airdate:  01/19/79

Mr. Drummond has a new girlfriend named Diane Sloane (Elinor Donahue), and things are getting serious.  When Arnold, Willis, and Kimberly learn that Diane intends to send them off to boarding school, they set to sabotage the proposal.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 13 no time for arnold gary coleman

“No Time for Arnold”

1.13     No Time for Arnold Airdate:  01/26/79

Arnold finds no one is paying attention to him and decides to pretend to start wetting the bed for attention.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 14 the relative lawanda page gary coleman todd bridges

“The Relative”

1.14     The Relative Airdate:  02/02/79

Willis and Arnold’s mother’s cousin Myrtle Waters (LaWanda Page) stops by for a visit, but when she is “injured”, Willis and Arnold thinks that Myrtle is faking.

diffrent strokes barry diamond todd bridges

“The Tutor”

1.15     The Tutor Airdate:  02/09/79

Willis is receiving poor grades in school, and Mr. Drummond calls in a tutor.  When Danny Rose (Barry Diamond) arrives, he isn’t what Mr. Drummond hoped for, but Danny recognizes that there might be something wrong with Willis.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 16 the new landlord charles sutton jack riley

“The New Landlord”

1.16     The New Landlord Airdate:  02/16/79

The Drummonds’ building has been purchased, and Mr. Drummond learns that the new landlord Charles Sutton (Jack Riley) intends to evict them for having children in the building.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 17 willis privacy todd bridges gary coleman

“Willis’ Privacy”

1.17     Willis’ Privacy Airdate:  02/23/79

Willis is tired of Arnold being in his way and sharing a room with him.  When Willis considers moving back to Harlem, Arnold worries that he’s leaving for good.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 18 mrs garretts crisis charlotte rae hung over

“Mrs. Garrett’s Crisis”

1.18     Mrs. Garrett’s Crisis Airdate:  03/02/79

Mrs. Garrett questions her life after a night out with friends and decides she has to quit to find her own direction.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 19 the job willis arnold gary coleman todd bridges

“The Job”

1.19     The Job Airdate:  03/16/79

Willis wants a new pair of disco roller skates and gets a new job, but when he gets fired on the first day, he worries he’s failed.

different strokes season 1 episode 20 the trip part 1 hello larry mclean stevenson conrad bain

“The Trip—Part 1”

1.20     The Trip—Part 1 Airdate:  03/30/79

Mr. Drummond learns that his old friend Larry Alder (McLean Stevenson) is part of a radio station in Portland which his company just bought…but he learns that he might have to fire him as they automate the station.  Arnold fears flying for the first time.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 21 the trip part 2 hello larry mclean steenson kim richards gary coleman jeff bridges

“The Trip—Part 2”

1.21     The Trip—Part 2 Airdate:  03/30/79

Larry learns that he could lose his job at station due to automation and it is up to Ruthie (Kim Richards), Diane (Donna Wilkes), Arnold, Willis, and Kimberly to save the station and Mr. Drummond and Larry’s friendship.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 22 getting involved line up

“Getting Involved”

1.22     Getting Involved Airdate:  04/06/79

Arnold witnesses a robbery with his telescope, but Mr. Drummond refuses to let him get involved when Arnold receives a threat.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 23 willis birthday cast

“Willis’ Birthday”

1.23     Willis’ Birthday Airdate:  04/13/79

Willis is celebrating his first birthday with the Drummonds but wants to have a birthday party in Harlem.  Mr. Drummond questions going to the party due to its location.

diffrent strokes season 1 episode 24 the girls school facts of life charlotte rae

“The Girls School”

1.24     The Girls School Airdate:  05/04/79

Kimberly’s housemother at Eastland has quit and Mrs. Garrett is needed to help prepare clothes for the play.  When she discovers Nancy (Felice Schachter) might have to drop out because her father has lost his job, Mrs. Garrett tries to find a way to keep her there.

Related Links:

Diff’rent Strokes—Season 2 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Diff’rent Strokes—Season 3 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Diff’rent Strokes—Season 4 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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