As an 80s baby, I grew up to reruns of many of the old shows from the 60s and 70s: The Monkees, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Good Times, MASH, Sanford and Son, just to name a few. The two shows that had the biggest impact on my childhood, among shows in that particular genre/style, have to be All in the Family and The Jeffersons.
Archie Bunker and George Jefferson. Two sides to a coin that was so prevalent in that era. Archie represented middle class white America that was prejudiced, but didn’t really seem to realize its own prejudice. It began to fight against the more liberal, and socially changing climate that was growing in the post Civil Rights era America.
Meanwhile, George Jefferson was the voice of black America that had fought through the Civil Rights era, and would no longer play the nice and safe, non-combative role that made white Americans feel “safe” with their black counterparts. George, with all of his bluster, loved his family and was very proud and wouldn’t let anyone make him feel anything less than how he saw himself. He also didn’t mind throwing his own slurs firmly, while looking everyone in the eye and letting them know that he was the man, and that was that.
While both could be so abrasive and difficult, they resonate with us, even to this day, as a ‘days gone by’ nod. Sure they’re not polite, but that’s okay. They’re assholes, but they’re our assholes.
On May 22nd, Jimmy Kimmel and original show creator Norman Lear brought a special to the ABC airwaves: Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons.I should say this now: I had no clue this was coming as I rarely ever take time out of my days or nights to watch network TV. I catch up on my network shows on Hulu, or the CW app, or I will catch up to them on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
I happened to be going to Hulu Saturday, May 25 to start my binge of A.P. Bio thanks to the previous article written by my hetero life-mate, Shane. I then saw the graphic for The Jeffersons and All in the Family with Woody Harrelson as Archie, the role originated by the late/great Carrol O’Connor, and Jamie Foxx as George Jefferson originally brought to life by the amazing Sherman Helmsley. For a split second I felt dread, and then I couldn’t resist. I clicked it and began.
Oh my God! OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD!
The special fully recreated one episode from each series. The All in the Family portion recreated the season 4 episode 6 episode titled ‘Henry’s Farewell’ which featured the Jefferson family. In this episode, George Jefferson’s younger brother Henry, played in this revival by the amazing Anthony Anderson, is moving out of his older brother’s house after succeeding in his own business. Archie (Harrelson) refuses to attend the party since George has never come to the Bunker house, so Archie won’t go to his. However, hijinks ensue and the Bunker’s end up hosting the party.
Harrelson channels the character of Archie like a boss, as he does with every role he plays. Marisa Tomei plays Edith Bunker and its amazing how she is able to throwback to her early acting days and play a ditsy character, which she hasn’t done in a long time. For those that are wondering ‘Hey Bryan! What did she play when she was ditsy?’ Go to Amazon Prime IMMEDIATELY and watch ‘A Different World’ right after you watch this special.
Elle Kemper has the passion that Sally Strothers brought to the Gloria Bunker-Stivic role, and man she is definitely a major crush! Ike Barinholtz, sadly, just doesn’t have that same pinache that Rob Reiner brought to the Mike Stivic role. He does well, but…he just doesn’t feel right.
Jamie Foxx steals this segment as he channels Sherman Helmsley almost cartoonishly, but that’s the way Sherman did it. It’s to the point that he forced everyone to break character and laugh at him, and he even ad-libbed and broke character and said “This is live! Don’t hurt me!” I should let you guys know that they reenacted the episodes as they appeared. They changed nothing. Original dialogue, sets, hell even Harrelson and Tomei sang ‘Those Were The Days’, the opening song for All In The Family.
We then went to The Jeffersons.
Oh My God. OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD Jennifer Hudson singing ‘Moving on Up’ the opening theme to The Jeffersons. Go to YouTube. Search ‘Jeffersons Theme’. Listen to the original. Then search Jennifer Hudson’s version. I was singing and clapping like I was a little kid again.
Wanda Sykes plays Louise Jefferson, George’s wife. She is a wonderful, amazing actress. Sadly she, like Barinholtz just doesn’t nail the character. She isn’t bad, not at all. She’s just not Louise. I would have wanted Wanda to be Florence, the sassy maid. That fits more of what I’m used to from Wanda.
I digress, I should stick with the formula that I established.
This episode is the pilot episode of The Jeffersons when George and Louise move into the “deluxe apartment in the sky”. The running joke is that Louise befriends another black woman in the building, Diane played by the legendary Jackee Harry. Diane thinks Louise is another maid because, at the time, black people were not regularly living in deluxe accommodations unless they were athletes or entertainers. When Diane finds out Louise is a tenant and not “the help” she abruptly exits the apartment, showing that there is a class separation that Louise cannot see because she’s always been poor. She’s not taking to George’s newfound fortune very well and attempts to keep him grounded.
Jamie Foxx, again, steals the show as George Jefferson. Enough said.
Now Will Farrell and Kerry Washington play series favorites Tom and Helen Willis, originally played by Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker, the mother of Lenny Kravitz and cousin of Al Roker. Now Tom and Helen were a big deal for their time because they were the first on screen interracial couple. This came six years after The Brady Bunch showed a husband and wife in bed together for the first time on television.
Farrell and Washington did not look like they fit together at all to me, and then they began talking. Slowly, but surely, they won me over. This entire special took me back in time, and I was a little kid cuddling with my Mother on the couch to watch these shows and just laugh. I felt pride in seeing a black business owner unafraid and showing people that he was ‘the man’. I loved seeing a WASP be cluelessly bigoted and miss how he’s the butt of the joke by being a bigot. Need another example, other than in this special? Find the episode where Sammy Davis Jr. Guest stars. Don’t know who he is? I can’t help you. Look him up.
As soon as I finished watching this show, I called my Mother and told her she needed to watch this. She texted me back after and said ‘It brought back so many memories’. An amazing experience that I suggest you try.
Now it may not be for everyone. There is some blatantly prejudiced views being spoken, but trust me. It’s okay. It’s always great to see a bigot put in their place. Just try it. If you don’t like it, go to the comments and tell me why. But please, just give it a try. Watch this and just enjoy a glimpse into the past. For those that are my generational peers, go back on this trip to our childhood and enjoy it.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Next article, I will be writing my review on the latest Netflix original sci fi film, Rim of the World.