By Ethan Alter | Indiewire July 26, 2014 at 12:55PM
It's rare for a single feature film to record a kid's aging process over a number years as Richard Linklater does in "Boyhood." But that's a standard practice on the small screen, where the lucky TV shows get to run for multiple seasons, with the cast visibly growing older (or, in some disturbing cases, not -- looking at you, Rob Lowe) with each passing year. Child actors and their onscreen alter egos in particular can undergo some startling metamorphoses in front of the camera, beginning the process as cherubic kids and ending up as surly, unpleasant young adults. Looking over the past three decades of primetime shows -- all of which lasted seven seasons or longer -- here are some of the most dramatic examples of what it looks like to grow up on television.
Played by: Tina
Show: "Family Ties"
Number of Seasons: 7; 1982-1989
Age Range: 9-16
Growth Arc: After a childhood spent as a rough-and-tumble tomboy, Jennifer joins the big-hair brigade (and starts crooning bouncy pop songs) as she enters her teen years just when the '80s are in full swing. One thing that doesn't change, though, is her deep desire not to be as Republican as her older brother or as vacuous as her older sister.
Most Representative First Season Episode: "I Know Jennifer's Boyfriend," when Jen commits the cardinal elementary school sin of buddying up to a dork and pays the ultimate price: teasing -- harsh, merciless teasing.
Most Representative Final Season Episode: "Rain Forests Keep Falling on My Head," in which her ex-hippie parents' tutelage results in Jennifer becoming a bit too much of an environmental activist.
Where She'd Be Now: Reuniting with her band, The Permanent Waves, to perform their hit cover of "Baby, I'm Back in Love Again" in front of rapturous audiences in Vegas—4 nights a week at the Bellagio. (Clip for embed: )
Played by: Keshia
Show: "The Cosby Show"
Number of Seasons: 8; 1984-1991
Age Range: 5-13
Growth Arc: Starting off as the awwww-worthy baby of the Huxtable clan, Rudy matures into a self-possessed, headstrong teenager who actually—gasp!—goes out on dates. With boys! She grew up so much, the show eventually had to contrive a way to add a new cute toddler to the ensemble later on, which is how we wound up with Raven-Symoné's Cousin Oliver-esque intruder, Olivia.
Most Representative First Season Episode: "Goodbye Mr. Fish," where the family has to figure out a way to address the touchy subject of the death of Rudy's scaly aquatic pet.
Most Representative Final Season Episode: "Rudy's Retreat." Feeling the weight of her 12 years, Rudy gets a bad case of the grumps, awakening to the bitter reality that the world just ain't fair.
Where She'd Be Now: Of all the Huxtable kids, Rudy seemed the most likely to follow in her parents' footsteps. Which means she's probably a doctor by day and a night court attorney come sundown.
Bud BundyPlayed by: David
Show: "Married... with Children"
Number of Seasons: 11; 1987-1997
Age Range: 13-24
Growth Arc: Bud's coming of age is probably best charted by his evolving hairstyle. In his first appearances in the late '80s, he's sporting a boy's bouffant that he allows to grow downwards into a mullet as the party hearty '90s approach. By the decade's midpoint, he's sporting that feathery "Friends" hair every wanna-be Matt LeBlanc walked around with, finishing up with a closer crop as that era -- and the show itself -- draws to a close. No matter the state of his locks, though, Bud remained the same good-natured creep.
Most Representative First Season Episode: "Married... Without Children," in which Bud stops bickering with older sister Kelly long enough for them to team up and throw a killer party at their neighbors' house.
Most Representative Final Season Episode: "Bud on the Side," where Bud's constant failures with the opposite sex leads him to try dating a member of the same sex.
Where He'd Be Now: Jail.
Played by: Mary-Kate
and Ashley Olsen
Show: "Full House"
Number of Seasons: 8; 1987-1995
Age Range: 9 months-8 years
Growth Arc: Michelle went from being the adorable infant, to the adorable toddler, to the adorable grade schooler and still managed to be one of the most nuanced, layered characters on the series. (That's only a slight exaggeration.)
Most Representative First Season Episode: "Daddy's Home," where Michelle shatters her father's self-esteem by calling Jesse and Joey "Da-Da" first.
Most Representative Final Season Episode: "I've Got a Secret," where Michelle becomes the first person in recorded history to get herself drummed out of her own secret club.
Where She'd Be Now: Adorable Alcatraz tour guide.
D.J. ConnerPlayed by: Michael
Number of Seasons: 9; 1988-1997
Age Range: 7-16
Growth Arc: Like most budding sensitive artistic types, D.J. is ridiculed and ignored as a tyke, but starts to inspire more respect later on in life when people actually get to see his talent, which happens to be directing
Most Representative First Season Episode: "Language Lessons," in which D.J. demonstrates his emerging artistry by ruining his sister Darlene's school project.
Most Representative Final Season Episode: "Hit the Road, Jack," where D.J. meets his one true love amongst the racks of a video store and she turns out to be none other than Wiener Dog herself, Heather Matarazzo. You just know he's watched "Welcome to the Dollhouse" about a hundred times.
Where He'd Be Now: Making a Kickstarter video to raise funds for his semi-autobiographical feature film debut, starring Aidy Bryant as Roseanne.
Jake HarperPlayed by: Angus
Show: "Two and a Half Men"
Number of Seasons: 10; 2003-2013*
Age Range: 9-18
Growth Arc: Along with his baby fat, Jake apparently loses brain cells as he ages, transforming over nine years from a pudgy, flatulent and somewhat savvy kid to a lean, mean and decidedly not-that-bright military recruit. He may be a fictional character, but the Army is still clearly in need of a better screening process.
Most Representative First Season Episode: "Hey, I Can Pee Outside in the Dark," where Jake's sudden surliness turns out to be the result of constipation.
Most Representative Final Season Episode: "Cows, Prepare to be Tipped," which finds Jake capping a night out at the Grand Canyon with his old man before shipping off to Japan by unleashing a fart that desecrates that national landmark.
Where He'd Be Now: Denouncing his family, growing a big, bristly beard and becoming an extremely conservative Christian. Wait.... that's actually what happened in real life.
(*The show will have lasted 12 seasons when it wraps up its run this May, but Jones was downgraded from a regular to recurring cast member at the start of Season 11 and then officially departed the series this past March -- calling himself a "paid hypocrite" in the bargain -- without ever appearing on camera.)
Sally DraperPlayed by: Kiernan
Show: "Mad Men"
Number of Seasons: 7; 2007-2015
Age Range: 5-16
Growth Arc: Originally the apple of her father's eye, Sally is starting to look and act an awful lot like her hated mother as she nears adulthood.
Most Representative First Season Episode: "Marriage of Figaro," where Don totally botches little Sally's sixth birthday party, but makes it up to her by buying a puppy. Also, she has her first encounter with a certain creepy kid next door who will go onto become a recurring presence in her life, not to mention an Internet meme.
Most Representative Final Season Episode: We've still got 7 episodes to go before the final season wraps up, but "Waterloo," in which Sally uses her charm to flirt with the older jock son of a family friend before locking lips with the younger geeky son shows off just how much she's grown.
Where She'd Be Now: On
a psychiatrist's couch, working through her multiple mommy and daddy issues.