Tag Archives: George Jefferson

TV Review: Good Times

Good Times was a very popular African-American sitcom of CBS in the 1970s that carried the torch of the Black American television entertainment legacy from Sanford And Son and passed it to The Jeffersons.

Good Times, Maude‘s official spin-off, existed in the All In The Family comedy universe released and aired as the third major sitcom. It was also developed by Norman Lear and created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans (who played George Jefferson‘s son Lionel in All In The Family and The Jeffersons).

And this sitcom was the need of the hour because All In The Family focused on a white working-class family on the Bunkers and Maude focused on a white rich family of the Findlays centering around a woman who believed in feminism and liberalism. So, developing a black American story became mandatory and this happened through the creation of Florida Evan‘s character who became the maid at the Findlays in Maude.

In Maude, Florida’s husband gets a job in Chicago and moves to the new locality, a ghetto, a poor neighborhood in the city where the African-Americans reside in the majority and the crime rate along with the police brutality is high.

Good Times focuses on the poor black family of the Evans comprised of husband James (John Amos), wife Florida (Esther Rolle), and their teenage kids J.J. (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (BernNadette Stanis), and Michael (Ralph Carter). The episodes develop their characters based on social and economic issues of the family along with age growth and family bonding.

John Amos and Esther Rolle as Mr. and Mrs. Evans were like a universal binding; they were so fitting together and the onscreen chemistry and their collective performances really helped make this show better and better.

But then there was their eldest son, J.J. who was the real deal of humor and the main soul of a terrific comedy that balanced humor with strong issues. And when I say ‘real deal’, Jimmie Walker as J.J. was the real deal. Every sitcom has a character who keeps the sitcom wild and exciting like Edith Bunker in All In The Family, Dr. Arthur in Maude, and Florence in The Jeffersons; J.J., was that product of comic relief.

It will be a surprise if I tell you that from AITFverse and between four major successful sitcoms of the 1970s, Good Times was the weakest. And by weakest, I mean the bar the standard this comedy-verse has is very high enough to consider Good Times amongst the greats.

The reason I call this show the weakest of all four is that the makers of the show, after a very promising start, began to give J.J.’s character the center stage more often. As much as Good Times could have raised much severe social and economic issues and challenges a poor Black family was suffering, this consideration became secondary to J.J.’s buffoonish acts getting more time than usual and shouting his catchphrase ‘Dy-No-Mite’ almost every episode. Sometimes, I felt his being too silly became more important than his family always being on the brink of getting evicted.

Esther Rolle and John Amos both passed their public opinions about such dislikeness where the sitcom was going and that became quite visible when J.J.’s catchphrase was used pretty less straight from the fourth season. But with sharp criticism came consequences. John Amos was infamously fired and his character was killed from the fourth season after his creativity conflicts with the writers.

And as expected, firing John Amos turned out to be the worst decision, and his character was badly missed in the remaining half of the show. Although, the writers killed the character very smartly but the show never looked the same. One positivity from killing the character helped in maturing J.J.’s character as becoming the man of the family. But the writing was more centralized towards family matters that were not really something of significance the audience was waiting to watch like Wilona and Thelma’s everchanging boyfriends, Florida dating Carl from nowhere, etc.

From left, American actors Ralph Carter, Esther Rolle (1920 – 1998), John Amos, Jimmie Walker, and BernNadette Stanis gather in the kitchen in a scene from the television show ‘Good Times,’ Los Angeles, California, 1975. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Another minus was Michael Evans’ disappointing character development who was called the militant midget for his black activism in the first half of the show when he was hardly 12 or 13 but that passion met cold and Michael was more of a lover boy later. Even his screen minutes drastically got less with time. Season 5 was easily the worst of all the seasons with no Florida Evans.

Yes, there were many plusses as mentioned above and the one I must not forget to write is Janet Jackson‘s character of a teenage girl who suffered child abuse from her mentally unstable mother. It was one of the critical issues that were highlighted in the show and the character gets justice when Wilona became her guardian.

Besides all the issues Good Times gets messed up with, the show is still unforgettable with its comic writing and content. For those, who are willing to watch a black sitcom or a family sitcom, Good Times is the one that will give you more joy and excitement.

Here are my favorite episodes from the show:
Episodes:
01. S01E03 – Getting Up The Rent
02. S01E06 – Sex And The Evans Family
03. S01E12 – The Check Up
04. So2E01 – Florida Flips
05. S02E06 – Thelma’s Young Man
06. S02E12 – The Windfall
07. S02E15 – Florida Goes To School
08. S02E16 – The Nude
09. S02E19 – The Dinner Party
10. S03E01 – A Real Cool Job
11. S03E02 – The Family Gun
12. S03E08 – Michael’s Big Fall
13. S03E14 – Cousin Cleatus
14. S03E15 – The Family Tree
15. S03E16 – A Place To Die
16. S04E02 – The Big Move (2)
17. S04E08 – J.J.’s New Career (2)
18. S04E09 – Grandpa’s Visit
19. S04E17 – Willona’s Surprise
20. S04E19 – A Stormy Relationship
21. S04E24 – Love Has A Spot On His Lung (2)
22. S05E01 – The Evans Get Involved (1)
23. S05E02 – The Evans Get Involved (2)
24. S05E03 – The Evans Get Involved (3)
25. S05E04 – The Evans Get Involved (4)
26. S05E20 – Willona, The Other Woman
27. S05E22 – Willona’s New Job
28. S06E06 – Stomach Mumps
29. S06E07 – J.J. The Teacher
30. S06E13 – House Hunting
31. S06E15 – Florida’s Favorite Passenger (2)
32. S06E17 – Where Have All The Doctors Gone?
33. S06E20 – A Matter Of Mothers
34. S06E21 – The End Of The Rainbow
35. S06E22 – The Evans’ Dilemma

TV Review: The Jeffersons

The story of CBSThe Jeffersons came into existence from the other CBS show All In The Family which focused on the lives of the Bunkers in the working-class area of Queens. A few characters of the Jeffersons family were playing supporting roles and extended cameos as Bunker’s neighbors.

The Jeffersons was the third and last most significant spin-off of All In The Family. Maude and Maude’s own spin-off Good Times were already airing before.

Norman Lear, the creator and developer of this comedy universe, had no such plans to have a separate sitcom for Bunker’s neighbors. It was the members of the Black Panther Party who met Norman Lear in his office and raised the topic of black portrayals in these existing sitcoms that gave birth to the idea of separating the Jeffersons from the Bunkers and give a try. The outcome was groundbreaking and culturally significant in US television history.

All In The Family ran for 9 seasons but The Jeffersons ran for 11 seasons and became one of the longest-running American sitcoms ever. The decade of 70s was also a milestone for black television entertainment with The Jeffersons being one of the pillars of the black sitcom cementing the trend for many dozens of Black sitcoms to lead in the following decades; the others being Sanford And Son (1972) and Good Times (1974). Soul Train in music and Roots in history were the other accomplishments on television for Black entertainment that decade.

Coming back to the review of this sitcom, the Jeffersons move from Queens to Manhattan after the patriarch George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) meets initial success in the dry-cleaning business.

Moving to a new lavish apartment, new characters in the neighborhood makes this sitcom even more special. The most prominent was the Willises (Tom and Helen), an interracial couple who became friends of George’s wife Louise (Isabel Sanford) and headache for George; their daughter Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert) who becomes Lionel‘s (Mike Evans) girlfriend and later his wife, Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict) the British neighbor who works for the UN, and Florence (Marla Gibbs) the talkative house-maid who is always on George’s nerve.

George is fond of no one in the new neighborhood and is greedy about generating more money all the time. His verbal one-on-one with Florence in every episode is the highest point of any rib-tickling humor in the show and worth enjoying.

Actress Marla Gibbs (as maid Florence Johnston) and actor Sherman Hemsley (as her boss, George Jefferson), appear together in the “Mr. Piano Man” episode of The Jeffersons.

The Jeffersons was communally significant for the black Americans to present a portrayal of a struggler who gives a shot into making money and becomes a successful entrepreneur. There was no such story centering around a black American who is rich and successful on which a comedy can really stretch to many seasons, this sitcom achieved it.

With 253 episodes, The Jeffersons held the record for most episodes in any black sitcom for around 25 years until House Of Payne broke in its 8th season.

In my observation, I believe the humor of the sitcom began to decline from its 8th season. I felt Norman Lear was stretching to create new tv records. The new arcs in the story, by that time, were not really that interesting. But the biggest disappointment about the show was CBS canceling the show, not bothering to inform the lead actors about the news, and not giving the show its proper and deserving finale. It was an insult after 11 years of the legacy of the sitcom and the hard work of the actors, writers, and directors.

Lastly, The Jeffersons will always be remembered for being the greatest black sitcom any American network has ever produced. I want to personally thank Norman Lear for creating this entire universe and to the Black Panther Party. Had they not stepped into his office, The Jeffersons would have never happened.