Has any show ever changed more from its original conception than Family Matters? The sitcom ran for 9 seasons (1989-1997) and began as a family-based sitcom, more or less a working class Cosby Show. Halfway through the first season, Steve Urkel, the nerdy neighbor debuted and was a huge hit. The show increasingly used Steve until the show was mostly about him with the original Winslow family more or less just there for him to annoy each week. But the show slowly increased Urkel’s intelligence level until he was casually inventing time machines and cloning people. Here are ten episodes, listed in chronological order, that show how weird the show became.
“Robo-Nerd” Season 3, episode 7
They sure didn’t ease into big sci-fi ideas. In this episode, Steve Urkel invents a robot that looks like him. And he designed it with artificial intelligence so powerful that it falls for Laura Winslow, the object of Steve’s affections. It tries to set a trap for her so he can have it to himself but Steve shuts it down. Don’t worry, a later episode has Steve bring it back online to help the police fight crime. The subplot in Robo-Nerd is the much more grounded story of patriarch Carl Winslow trying to slow down the dating between his elderly mother and a new male friend she’s made. But by Robo-Nerd II, the subplot was a new shampoo making all the women in the house go bald. Normal problems we can all relate to.
“Dr. Urkel and Mr. Cool” Season 5, episode 8
The show rips off the Jerry Lewis movie The Nutty Professor pretty much verbatim. Urkel realizes that Laura will never like him for who he is so he decides to become a different person. He creates a potion that transforms him into smooth talking Stefan Urquelle. Stefan is a bit of a dick so when the potion wears off, Urkel only becomes him in EIGHT more episodes. The transformation machine also allowed Urkel to master the martial arts and turn into Bruce Lee Urkel about four times.
“Psycho Twins” Season 5, episode 18
Urkel again mixes a potion but this one is to make people fall asleep. He thinks it could help Carl Winslow’s work as a police officer. But the idiots decide to test it on people right away. They use it on some pro wrestlers called the Psycho Twins. With them passed out, Carl and Steve decide the wisest thing they can do is fight the match against WWF’s tag team The Bushwhackers. Oh, and the Bushwhackers tell Carl they hate cops. So far Urkel has exhibited genius-level intelligence for both robotics and chemistry.
“Little Big Guy” Season 7, episode 1
Urkel has built a transformation chamber but it goes haywire and shrinks him and Carl down to 2 inches tall. They have adventures avoiding rolling fruit and pet cats. So now he’s bending the laws of physics.
“Send in the Clone” Season 7, episode 24
Steve invents a cloning machine that creates an exact duplicate of whatever goes in. He creates a duplicate of himself which annoys everyone until Laura has the wildly unethical idea to permanently transform one of them into Stefan. So that happens and somehow Steve isn’t a billionaire despite what he can create.
“Paris Vacation” Season 8, episodes 1-3
Urkel creates the Urk-Pad which is a teleporter. It literally transports matter instantly and the Winslow family uses it to take a Paris vacation. Stefan goes too and stays in Paris to become a model. Who needs a birth certificate or a passport?
“Stevil” Season 8, episode 7
Not content to have Urkel invent sci-fi devices and potions, this episode has Urkel get a ventriloquist dummy that comes alive and tries to kill the Winslows. The writers were so bankrupt on ideas that they did the same story the following season but added an evil Carl dummy as well.
“Father Time” Season 8, episode 16
Steve flat out invents a time machine. He and Carl visit their past and Carl leaves himself advice on how to invest money. When they return to the present, Carl is the wealthiest man alive but estranged from his family. Instead of putting in the work to repair the relationships, they fix the timeline and stay poor.
“A Pirate’s Life for Me” Season 8, episode 24
Urkel again uses his timewatch with Carl but this time they go into the distant past and are captured by pirates and forced to walk the plank. They get away. But this was intended to be the series finale by ABC. They canceled the show after season 8 but CBS picked it up for one more year. But this is how the producers were prepared to end their family sitcom.
“Lost in Space” Season 9, episodes 21-22
Someone is finally aware that Urkel can build anything because NASA sends him into space to put one of his inventions in orbit (who cares which one it is?). Urkel messes things up and crashes into a satellite and other nonsense but NASA saves him and… that’s how they actually ended the show.