"All in the Family / The Jeffersons" Live on ABC - May 22

Next Wednesday ABC will present two classic episodes of "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons" on live television. The casts will be new, but not a word of the scripts will be changed in order to show how these same topics are still relevant decades later.

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I'm really looking forward to this.

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“The use of the N-word by George was, or course, bleeped, which it wasn't in the original episode.”

I couldn’t help but think of George Carlin’s routine concerning “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.” Are there now eight? Probably fewer now, as some of the original seven do occasionally slip through, but “nigger” is definitely out. The actress who played Helen discussed the decision to use it but bleep in the aftershow. I certainly see both sides of the issue, but I’m not certain I agree with the decision. I’ve never been one for “whitewashing” (you should excuse the expression) past entertainment (comic strips, cartoons, etc.), but rather favor presenting it in an historical context.

On a similar note, I am reminded of Terry Moore’s explanation of his use of violence in his comics. Violence is a real and horrible thing, and his use of it, graphically depicted, is his protest against it. I think the same is true here. I personally refuse to use the phrase “the N-word” (although I certainly respect anyone else’s right to do so). People should be unconfortable using or saying the word "nigger"; no one is made uncomfortable using the phrase "the N-Word."

I thought that Woody Harrelson's Archie was a bit too harsh as he's an imposing figure. Carol O'Connor's brilliance was that while one hated Archie's views, attitude and putdowns, you couldn't fully hate the man. He was a bigot but, let's face it, we all grew up with people like that in our own families and neighborhoods. The character wouldn't be so beloved if he wasn't as nuanced as he was.

This is one of the reasons that I said that remaking a different episode would have been better. The Archie Bunker character had a mouth on him but he never used the N-word. I won't type the actual word. I can't imagine him undermining a fellow employee or attacking anyone. He liked his fellow employee Elmo, even though he referred to him as Black Elmo (as in the poorly-named Black Lightning and Black Goliath). My favorite episode was the one in which Archie and his son-in-law Mike got drunk and Archie talked about his father. He got his attitudes from his father and he so admired him that his father had to be right. The subtext was that on some level he knew he wasn't. This doesn't excuse his attitudes but understanding each other is a step towards making things better. Even though Caroll O'Conner and Woody Harrelson both were/are very much against racism, O'Conner was able to flesh out the character better. Of course, O'Conner had 304 episodes and Harrelson only had one. 

Philip Portelli said:

I thought that Woody Harrelson's Archie was a bit too harsh as he's an imposing figure. Carol O'Connor's brilliance was that while one hated Archie's views, attitude and putdowns, you couldn't fully hate the man. He was a bigot but, let's face it, we all grew up with people like that in our own families and neighborhoods. The character wouldn't be so beloved if he wasn't as nuanced as he was.

“The Archie Bunker character had a mouth on him but he never used the N-word.”

That is true. He did, however, use the words spic, wop and Hebe.

“Back then we wasn’t Mexican-Americans or Eye-talian-Americans…

"...we wuz all AMERICANS.

"After that, if a guy was a spic or a wop it wuz his own business.”

I watched the show last night. I probably can't evaluate it fairly because I have such a visceral dislike of All in the Family and Archie Bunker, but here goes ... 

If the intent was to show that this is timeless comedy, I think it didn't work. All in the Family is very much a product of a specific time, the time TV sitcoms turned away from goofy fantasies like Green Acres and I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched to stories about urban sophisticates, shows like Mary Tyler Moore and The Bob Newhart Show and That Girl.

In Archie Bunker, All in the Family gave us a man in a dead-end life afraid of being left behind as he realizes his White privilege isn't enough to keep him ahead of the pack. Witness his incredulity that the Jeffersons have a larger home -- as if there's something wrong about that.

Philip Portelli said:

I thought that Woody Harrelson's Archie was a bit too harsh as he's an imposing figure. Carol O'Connor's brilliance was that while one hated Archie's views, attitude and putdowns, you couldn't fully hate the man. He was a bigot but, let's face it, we all grew up with people like that in our own families and neighborhoods. The character wouldn't be so beloved if he wasn't as nuanced as he was.

Speak for yourself, friend. I can hate Archie's views, attitude and putdowns, and fully hate the man as well. I find nothing "beloved" about bigots. And I am not impressed that they may be "nuanced." 

As for Woody Harrelson's performance, he tried so hard to capture Carroll O'Connor that it came off like karaoke. Likewise Jamie Foxx as George Jefferson. Wanda Sykes as Louise Jefferson played it straight and it worked. Marisa Tomei as Edith? She seemed so giddy that she was participating in this event that she hardly remembered to act at all. 

The Jeffersons half was somewhat better, starting with that rousing, gospel-flavored performance of Jennifer Hudson singing the theme. But the script was pretty weak, particularly so for a night that was supposed to be showcasing the writing. Kerry Washington and Will Ferrell were the standouts as the Willises. I halfway thought it might have been better if Jackée Harry had played Louise instead of playing her friend Diane, but reconsidered; Jackée pretty much plays herself in everything she does. And at least Jamie Foxx remembered all of his lines in the second part. He fluffed a line in the All in the Family part and broke character trying to get back on track

They didn't identify these episodes on air, and some context would have helped. Wikipedia tells me the All in the Family episode was "Henry's Farewell" from Season 4 and The Jeffersons episode was the pilot, "A Friend in Need." That explains why Louise had so much agita over hiring a maid. It was a nice bit of stunt casting to have Marla Gibbs appear as Florence; didn't they announce beforehand that Justina Machado from the One Day at a Time revival was supposed to play the role?

I guess it was an interesting experiment, and I wouldn't mind too much if it was tried with some other show, something that's really timeless, like Barney Miller. Overall, I think it served to polish the Norman Lear legend, which I feel uneasy about. As somebody once said about the Beatles, it is entirely possible to be the best in your field and still be overrated. That applied to Norman Lear. Norman Lear is a celebrated producer, but there's a bitter tone to his shows, which are all full of people yelling insults at each other. I don't think that's something to celebrate. 

Archie Bunker was a prejudiced man as was George Jefferson but both were not hateful but they were angry. George fought for his success and reveled in his victory. Luckily he had Louise to rein him in.

Archie disliked Mike over his views. Remember Archie was a WWII vet, as was George. But what drove Archie crazy was that Mike was not working and brought nothing to the household that he was paying for. Indeed, in the first seasons, I'm not sure if Mike was looking for work.

Archie was supposed to represent a dying breed in both attitude and belief but I'm not sure that Mike was a better replacement.

I came back to this thread today to clarify something i posted last week, but no one called me on it over the holiday weekend so i'll let it stand.

"I can hate Archie's views, attitude and putdowns, and fully hate the man as well. I find nothing "beloved" about bigots."

That is exactly the same way Tracy feels about it. I have never found Archie Bunker to be a sympatetic character, but I do have nostalgic feelings for All in the Family. As I mentioned last week, we recorded quite a few episode during the Sundance marathon, but Tracy cannot bear to watch them specifically because of "beloved" Archie Bunker.

Philip Portelli said:

Carol O'Connor's brilliance was that while one hated Archie's views, attitude and putdowns, you couldn't fully hate the man. He was a bigot but, let's face it, we all grew up with people like that in our own families and neighborhoods. The character wouldn't be so beloved if he wasn't as nuanced as he was.

Richard Willis said:

 As always, Archie is portrayed as being on the wrong side.

For some, that's the key to making the show work -- you know or are even related to a guy like that, and love him enough to ignore/dismiss/compartmentalize/rationalize away those negative aspects of his character ... and on TV, he stands alone because he's always shown to be wrong.

When you're not on the receiving end of those views, attitude and putdowns, you can afford to do that. 

ClarkKent_DC said:

I guess it was an interesting experiment, and I wouldn't mind too much if it was tried with some other show, something that's really timeless, like Barney Miller

I may get my wish. From Vulture: "Good Times Ahead: ABC and Kimmel Will Re-create More Classic Sitcoms"

The plan is to do two more. They have not identified which shows the episodes to be recreated will be drawn from, but Jimmy Kimmel is keen on doing a Christmas episode. Norman Lear is involved with both, but the announcement leaves the question open as to whether the third one of these will necessarily be from a Lear property, and the article states, 

That doesn’t mean Lear won’t return as an exec producer, but practically speaking, Kimmel and ABC likely will want to explore shows not within the Lear universe. Not only would doing so offer more creative possibilities, but it would make sense financially: Lear’s shows are not owned by Disney, making them more expensive to license.

From what I gather, Barney Miller was filmed on ABC's lot and was aired on ABC stations. Sounds like a good bet. It'll be hard for me to buy different actors in the roles.

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