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A proper white man adopts two street-wise black boys. Hilarity Ensues.
Diff'rent Strokes (1978-86) made a star of Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson, the younger of the two boys. Todd Bridges was his older brother Willis and Conrad Bain was the proper white man, Mr. Drummond. As one of NBC's few late-'70s hits, it quickly launched a spinoff in The Facts of Life the following year. First Lady Nancy Reagan made a guest appearance in a Very Special Episode about drug abuse, and ABC's Webster was a Follow the Leader rival. Ironically, Diff'rent Strokes itself actually moved to ABC when it got canceled by NBC. The theme was co-written and performed by Alan Thicke.
Unfortunately, this show is best remembered now both for its special episodes and the unhappy fates of its three leading kid actors (Coleman, Bridges, and Dana Plato, who played Mr. Drummond's daughter); it's such stories that the Former Child Star trope is built upon. Coleman's is parodied in the musical Avenue Q.
- An Aesop
- Attempted Rape: In a later season episode, Arnold and Kimberly accept a ride in a car from a stranger. He takes them back to his apartment and locks Arnold in another room while he takes Kimberly to his darkroom; their father and the police arrive Just in Time.
- Big Eater: Arnold, apparently.
- Big Fancy House: The posh penthouse where the Drummonds live.
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word
- Breakout Character: Arnold Jackson.
- Catch Phrase: "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?"
- Willis' habitual "Say what?" would qualify as well.
- Channel Hop: To ABC for the final season.
- Child-Hater: In The New Landlord, the new landlord decides to ban children from the building, meaning the Drummonds would be evicted.
Arnold: "Weren't you a kid once?"
- In "The Woman", a woman who Mr. Drummond wants to marry plans to send the kids away.
- Christmas Episode: Two of them; the first was also a Clip Show.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Aunt Sophia.
- Corporal Punishment: One episode centered around Mr. Drummond saying he'd have to spank Arnold for some misdeed. Willis argued that he should spank Arnold, because he's "family". And he does.
- The Couch
- Cousin Oliver: Sam.
- Crossover: With Knight Rider.
- Daddy's Girl: Kimberly.
- Deadpan Snarker: Arnold. The other characters have their moments too.
- Demoted to Extra: Willis in the last two seasons was dropped into the background since most of the storylines were focusing on Arnold and his new stepbrother Sam (Maggie's son).
- Dom Com
- Dueling Shows: ABC's Webster [1983-89], starring Emmanuel Lewis as the Gary Coleman equivalent. It even had its own Channel Hop to syndication for its final two years.
- The Eighties
- Follow the Leader: Webster
- Happily Adopted: Arnold and Willis, of course. Also Arnold's friend Dudley.
- Happily Married: Drummond and Maggie.
- Good Parents
- Knight of Cerebus: Bill the rapist in the two-parter "The Hitchhikers". He only makes three jokes before his true nature is revealed.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Willis can qualify.
- Jive Turkey: Though not too much.
- Mouthy Kid: Arnold. And to some extent, Willis.
"You're a lily-livered weak sister with no guts!"
- The Ghost: The Gooch, a bully at Arnold's school.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Arnold aged much slower than the rest of the cast. Coleman's kidney disorder meant that the actor never grew above 4' 8.
- The Other Darrin: Mary Ann Mobley replaced Dixie Carter as Maggie McKinney, the woman who marries Mr. Drummond in the show's seventh season, when Carter left to play Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women.
- Parent Ex Machina
- Poorly-Disguised Pilot: "The Girls' School", which bore The Facts of Life.
- Post-Robbery Trauma: A 1985 episode saw Arnold robbed at knifepoint, and tries (successfully, for awhile) to supress his deep trauma ... but Mr. Drummond senses otherwise and arranges for a schoolroom exercise to get Arnold's true feelings out in the open.
- Prenup Blowup: Drummond and Maggie.
- Put on a Bus: Mrs. Garrett, then Adelaide. They both came back for the Drummond and Maggie's wedding episode.
- Kimberly, via Real Life Writes the Plot. The actress, pregnant at the time, was not part of the regular cast in the last two seasons, only making occasional guest appearances.
- Rearrange the Song: In addition to the producers having to recast the role of Maggie McKinney after moving to ABC, Alan Thicke also had to record a new version of the show's theme song, because NBC owned the copyrights to the original.
- Replacement Goldfish: Literally. Arnold's beloved goldfish Abraham dies, so the family tries to hide it from him until they can get a replacement. When Arnold becomes suspicious, and happens to notice Mr. Drummond's will, he jumps to the wrong conclusion and thinks that Mr. Drummond is dying. Arnold notices that the new goldfish "isn't Abraham!"
- Running Gag: The "Big lug!" "Son of a gun!" exchanges every time Phil and Larry meet up. The kids even laughingly imitate it.
- Ruptured Appendix: The two-parter "Arnold's Operation" is all about having Arnold have his appendix removed before this trope happens. Unfortunately, it's complicated by him and his new friend running away when her racist father refuses to let his daughter share a hospital room with a black kid. Thankfully, he comes to his senses just in time for the family to bring the kids back to the hospital and get Arnold ready for his surgery.
- Smoking Is Cool: In "The Girls' School" episode, the character Blair (the snobby rich girl, played by Lisa Welchel) can be seen puffing on a cigarette; this character trait would be dropped (Welchel is a non-smoker) by the time The Facts of Life made it to series.
- Twisted around in a 1984 episode, where Arnold and his buddy, Dudley, experiment with smoking cigarettes. They get a graphic lesson when Dudley's father reveals he is a chronic smoker and needs a lung operation; the fade-to-black scene showed the man lighting up in the hallway, just after leaving the Drummonds' apartment.
- Spin-Off: The Facts of Life, which outlasted its parent show by two years, and had a year-longer run (nine seasons, vs. Strokes' eight).
- Spoiled Sweet: Kimberly.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Adelaide Brubaker for Edna Garrett, then Pearl Gallagher for Adelaide.
- Too Smart for Strangers: One of the more infamous examples.
- Very Special Episode: Most famously "The Bicycle Man" 2-parter.