in Review, Shocktober

“Stevil” – Family Matters (1996)

Season 8, Episode 7
October 25th, 1996

I don’t care what anyone says, Urkel is fucking funny. I know a lot of people think he’s annoying or one note or that he turned Family Matters into the “Steve Urkel Show”. Yeah, right. My man Urk saved that show. If it wasn’t for Urkel I can’t imagine Family Matters being more than a fun fact, “Did you know the guy who played the cop in Die Hard also played a cop on a sitcom?”

The first season of Family Matters was a pretty typical sitcom. I’ve seen it often described as the “working-class answer to The Cosby Show”. Then came Steven Quincy Urkel. What was originally planned as a standalone guest spot in the fourth episode of season one quickly turned into a 90’s phenomenon. Urkel was only supposed to pop in an episode as a nerdy neighborhood kid who wanted to date Laura Winslow (Kelly Shanygne Williams) but the character was such a hit they kept working him into episodes.

By season two Urkel was a main cast member, seemingly finding every opportunity to come over and bug the Winslow family. Eventually he just kind of moved in I guess and the Winslows became the supporting cast to Urkel’s hijinks. Going into the episode I watched for this review I didn’t really know what to expect from the eighth season of Family Matters.

I’m aware the show got a reputation for relying on wacky gimmicks later on. Of course, the one that first comes to mind is whenever Urkel would Nutty Professor-style turn into his suave ladies man alter-ego “Stefan Urquelle”. Come on, that’s fucking funny. And there’s also the Key and Peele bit where Jordan Peele playing Reginald VelJohnson complains to a producer about how out of the control the show has become. “Last week, Steve used his transformation machine to turn Carl into a car and drive him around the Monaco Grand Prix!” So I imagine there must have been some pretty other crazy shit going down on the show.

What am I talking about? Could Family Matters get any weirder than the episode “Stevil”? We’re talking about an evil dummy who comes to life to kill the Winslow family. Can you imagine something like that on Full House? Hell no. But on the Urkel Show? Well, hidy hidy-hell yeah!

“Stevil” begins with Urkel lighting a jack-o-lantern and warning the audience that tonight’s episode will be very scary. He’s joined by two kids who I guess joined the family in later seasons. Their names are Richie (Bryton McClure) and 3J (Orlando Brown) and they tell Urkel it’s gonna be okay but then Urkel gets scared because the room is kinda dark. Oh, Urkel.

The show skips its classic theme/opening because “Stevil” is all about getting down to business. The Winslows are hanging out in their decked out living room when Urkel shows up with his ventriloquist dummy. He tells some jokes and everyone is like “You suck Urkel” cause no one ever likes it when Urkel does anything. Defeated, Urkel goes to his room because yeah, I guess he moved in at some point. He wishes the dummy could talk for some reason and then it gets hit by lightning. Classic.

The dummy comes to life in a combination of puppetry and a little person in a costume and I gotta say… I dig it. The puppet design is solid but I actually enjoy it most when Stevil the puppet is a little person. It’s creepy. Stevil tells Urkel they could go out and perform on the road together but first, he has to take out the Winslows. I’m not even going to try to understand how this plan makes sense. It really just exists so Stevil can play pranks on the Winslows.

And does he! Stevil hides in the chimney to try and lure over Eddie (Darius McCrary) which leads to my favorite joke. Eddie hears a voice from the chimney and says “Santa?” But when he walks over he gets sucked up! Laura gets jammed into a series of cabinets. It’s hard to explain but just go with it.

Reggie and 3J (who are dressed as Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman BTW—love it) ride their bikes in front of a green screen as Stevil drivers after them in a car? Alright. The matriarch of the family, Harriette (Jo Marie Payton), is turned into a jack-in-the-box and Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) is controlled like a life-size ventriloquist dummy by Stevil himself. It’s dumb. It’s all dumb. But it’s the best kind of dumb.

This episode goes all out and yes, of course, it all turns out to be a dream (which I usually hate) but in this case, I think it’s better if the Winslow family doesn’t exist in a world of magic. I’d rather it be a fun little thing that just happens on Halloween…. Which is why there is a Stevil II. And yes, I watched that too.

Stevil II: This Time He’s Not Alone (which is a weird title) is an episode in the following season where Urkel once again faces off against Stevil except Stevil is NOT ALONE. He’s working alongside an evil dummy version of Carl named “CARLSBAD” oh my god, that’s so good. The episode is pretty much the same as the first one.

The episode even opens with literally the exact same cold open of Urkel with the jack-o-lantern. After that we see most of the Winslow family heading out to participate in Halloween activities. Eddie is dressed as Don King and Reggie and EJ are the Men in Black. Damn, that brings me back. That costume was every during the Halloween of ’97.

Urkel being a scaredy-cat stays at home with Carl who goes to take a nap. Yep, you guessed it, this time it’s Carl’s nightmare. Stevil and Carlsbad appear to steal Urkel and Carl’s souls so they can… hitch a ride to Vegas and become entertainers? Sure. They then show off their skills in a scene that I can only describe as the greatest moment in television history.

Some other shit happens and Carl wakes up. Listen the important thing is that I shared that dance sequence, If there’s anything to take away from this entire review it’s that scene. Oh yeah, and we do get to see Stevil and Carlsbad perform on stage but it’s like as a terrible comedy duo. It sucks.

I had a blast watching these episodes. They are dumb, they are low brow, but damn it, they are festive. Say what you will about Urkel, but Jaleel White gives 110% in the role in every episode he does. What a blast of ‘90s nostalgia. Whoa, mama…. That’s an Urkel catchphrase. I realize that may not be clear considering its 2020.

“Did I do that?” He sure did.