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Norman Lear's "All In The Family" is the best, TV's greatest sitcom,
and the greatest show in the sixty year history of television. This
show beats out "I Love Lucy", "The Honeymooners", "Father Knows Best",
"Burns and Allen", "The Cosby Show", and yes, "Seinfeld". And those are
only the sitcoms that take a back seat to "All In The Family".
"All In The Family" was a groundbreaking sitcom, an original, that brought to the forefront many of the problems in society in the 1970's, most of which still exist today. Ageism, racism, sexism, nuclear disarmament, Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, and even homophobia were deeply examined in this groundbreaking sitcom, as television was no longer relegated to the good old days of perfect nuclear family television. i.e. "Father Knows Best", "Make Room For Daddy","The Donna Reed Show" and yes, "The Brady Bunch".
Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) is a hard working, lower middle class average Joe, with a loud mouth and silly bigoted views. Many people label Archie as a racist, but he didn't really meet the profile of a true racist. He would never join the KKK, although in a later episode his foolishness nearly got him unwillingly initiated into the group.
Archie is not a true racist because he doesn't have a mean streak. Yes he'll make fun of blacks, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, Hungarians, and gays, but they're always guests in his little home on 704 Hauser Street in Flushing, Queens.
Archie doesn't hate, he fears. He has just enough financial resources to support "the dingbat", his slow witted but honest and kind wife Edith, his "little goil", spunky and feminist daughter Gloria, and "the meathead", his educated, rabble rousing and ultra liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic.
Mike "The meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner) is highly educated but doesn't often use good common sense, or social smarts. Archie supports him with food, shelter, and entertainment, pays his way through college, lets him have sex with his daughter Gloria up in their bedroom, and even bails "the meathead" out of trouble a few times. And all Meathead does is chastise Archie for his vices (ultra-right wing and racist views), never commends him for his virtues (the fact that "Meathead couldn't survive if Archie didn't work to support him.) He starts so many silly arguments with Archie like the "Star Spangled Banner" and even uses Archie's telephone to call the Fair Housing Commision to get Archie into trouble for circulating a petition to keep blacks and Puerto Ricans out of the neighborhood.
Archie's wife Edith (Jean Stapleton) with her "straight from the dingbat" comment of "I don't think you should go where angels fear to tread", meaning to mind your own business. Meathead should mind his own business. Yes, Archie shouldn't be circulating a petition to keep undesirables out of the neighborhood, nor should he bad mouth blacks, Puerto Ricans, Asians, Jews, etc. But that doesn't make it educated college boy's business to interfere with Archie's. If Mike would assert himself more intelligently with Archie instead of all of these silly arguments, there would be less tension in the Bunker household. But unfortunately, "All In The Family" then wouldn't have been the great situation comedy that it was.
If you have to pick the smartest person in the Bunker household, your first pick would probably be Mike "Meathead" Stivic or his wife and Archie's daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), because they are the most worldly and racially tolerant. However the true brain of the Bunker household is really Edith. She likes people and she knows how to get along with everyone. No one but occasionally Archie gets angry with Edith, because she is tolerant, kind, honest, and considerate. However, sometimes she's too honest and this drives Archie batty.
There is a self-defense technique called jujitsu in which you throw people in the way they are already headed. Edith unconsciously uses this technique against Archie. He'll make some wild racial slur to get the CBS studio audience balling with laughter, and then Edith will top him with some dingbatty punchline. Normally she's slow witted but often she gets the better word on Archie.
For example: Archie: "In my day there was nothing, I mean nothing until the wedding night." Edith: "Even Then." Archie: "You have the nerve, Michael Stivic Meathead, to write a letter to the president about your rash!" Edith: "Maybe he knows a good skin man." Then there was the episode when Archie's niece Linda was dating Lionel, his black neighbor and friend. Edith is frantically trying to hide the portrait of Linda and Lionel together. Edith out dingbats herself. Archie sees the picture and goes ballistic.
One of the funniest episodes was "Edith's Problem" when she's going through menopause, is flipping out and turns on Archie. She orders him to "Stifle", like he's told her to do hundreds of times.
I have one more thing to add about "All In The Family". I have worked in many warehouse/ loading dock jobs like Archie does. And from this great sitcom, I never heard the terms, "pallet", "pallet jack", "skinny", "skid", or "conveyor belt". What I mean is that even even on this great show, work is like non-existent. That is the problem with television. I would have liked to learn more about Archie's work, not just his blatantly outspoken, bigoted personality.
However, "All in the Family" had very few flaws, was somewhat educational, and had wall-to-wall laughter. I encourage everyone, especially a new generation who wasn't born until after the 1970's, to buy these great DVD sets of "All In The Family" seasons one through four. Carroll O' Connor as Archie Bunker was a one-of-a kind talent. "All In The Family" now shown on TV Land was the best program ever put on television.
Now I know why they call TV shows 'programming'. Archie Bunker, whose picture is next to the word straw man in the dictionary, espouses the traditional, conservative world view held by the vast majority of America's working and middle class. He is also an ignorant, inarticulate, inconsiderate, buffoon. Whenever Archie gets into a heated political discussion with 'Meathead' or whomever, he cannot make any kind of coherent argument based on facts, logic, or history. He just states the conservative position in his stumbling phraseology, his college educated and urbane son-in-law retorts with high-sounding rhetoric and then Archie resorts to childish name calling and bullying. The intended effect of course, is for the unsuspecting audience to associate Archie's ill-mannered buffoonery with conservatism and then to believe that anyone who has conservative values is likewise an uneducated, bigoted, fool who can't back up what he believes. Archie Bunker is as damaging to conservatism as Bu$h and Rush Windbag. (Who are about as conservative as the Clintoons and frankenKerry.) This show is called 'edgy' and 'groundbreaking' when all its social commentary is actually 100% politically correct, totally in line with the Elitist mindset.
Norman Lear obviously conceived of and intended "All In The Family" to be an
ongoing left wing condemnation of America's problems as he perceived them,
the list is pretty standard liberal rhetoric: Racism, sexism, classism,
Imperialism, blah blah blah. The problem he ran into at the time was that
Archie, designed to be a mean spirited bigot, instantly became a working
class hero to millions of people. He was the "lovable bigot" as he so often
was and still is referred to. As the series fades and becomes dated, the
suberbly nuanced acting of Caroll O'Connor continues on and cements the
character of Archie as a real human being--with both flaws and virtues.
If one watches the show over time, and I can still remember when it first began, one realizes that Archie is a lot more than just some cardboard bigot. The character dropped out of high school to support his family after his father died. His family grew up poor during the depression, not much hope and not much opportunity. He labors with his hands all week at a loading dock and sees the world changing around him, and hears society accusing him of being the villain because he loves his country and believes in family and God. He's comically set in his ways--one should always put the toilet paper so the paper hangs away from the wall rather than toward it; one absolutely must put both socks on before putting shoes on--almost a moral imperative. And he loves his wife and daughter, provides a stable home, never got divorced and ultimately managed to buy a little business of his own and prosper. He was ignorant, yes, but not evil.
Compare that to Mike, perpetually in school, hopelessly egotistical, highly educated yet lacking in common sense. He sponges off of Archie all the while attacking him and the things he believes. Remember the scene where he needlessly rankles Archie by declaring that the "Star Spangled Banner" is a "stupid song" because one word "yet" covers two musical notes and hence is pronounced "ye-et". This is what college and graduate school get him? Mike ultimately gets a divorce from Gloria who has to care for her child alone, becomes a radical university professor and participates in Nuclear power protests in the nude--an altogether nauseating character.
The series portrays a clash of values, characters and generations, made even more interesting since the younger generation coming after Stivic's ended up idolizing conservative Ronald Reagan and creating a new entrepeneurial economy. Even liberalism seems to have repudiated peacenik Stivic, with a left leaning President embracing dictatorships and bombing countries on a regular basis.
All In The Family as a whole is dated--it is an interesting look at the mentality of the 1970's. The only thing that remains fresh are the characters rather than the issues they argue about. And comparing the complexities of the characters, Archie's qualities, despite all his faults, are a good deal better than his egotistical and self serving daughter and son-in-law.
In dedication to watching the best TV shows ever made, over the last few months, I have watched every single All in the Family ever made. It ran from 1971-79. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful this show is, but I'll try. It's contemporary, even now. It put a face on hatred, bigotry, ignorance, and it squashed it with humor. It gave a voice to a generation through Mike and Gloria. It was ground-breaking and innovative. They NAILED the laughter through tears emotion, repeatedly. There is nothing like it on television today. Jean Stapleton died last year, in June. She won Emmys and Golden Globes for her portrayal of Edith. Seriously fine actor. Through her character they were able to address women's rights, rape, the subservience of the "housewife", and uncover the fact that while she may be a "dingbat", she was altruistic and endlessly loving. There was so much yelling! Archie yelled at Mike, and Mike never backed down. Gloria yelled at Mike and Archie and the best yelling ever was when Edith lost her composure and yelled at anyone. Through arguments and lough-out-loud comedy they addressed race, religion, politics, war, sex, the economy, and very current events of the time. Can you imagine? A 2014 Mike Stivic (Meathead) would be picketing against Monsanto, mainstream media corruption and the One Percent. Hell, in 1971 they had an episode in which Mike and Gloria are campaigning for politician Claire Packer, who comes to the house and talks with Archie. After declaring he didn't want to hear about her "progressive pinko welfare ideas... giving welfare to families who couldn't be related to him for 'complexionary' reasons..." (huck, huck) Claire responds by asking if he was related to any of the executives at Lockheed, because they are receiving the largest amounts of welfare. Government subsidy. Welfare to the rich. Does this sound familiar? I would love to see that on TV today. Thought provoking and meaningful. Arguably one of the most important television shows of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The BEST. That is what ALL IN THE FAMILY (premiering in 1971) is.
Accept no substitutes! I think there is this myth that the first of
anything by definition can't be the best, because anything can be
improved upon. This may apply in some arenas, like technology, but not
art. And AITF is art! In the same way that I feel that "The Maltese
Falcon" is the first great example of film noir (and still to this day,
best) and "Psycho" is the first great example of the slasher film (and
still to this day, best), I feel that AITF is the first great example
of the modern television show, and still to this day...BEST! 21st
century TV viewers can have their "Sopranos" and their "The Wire" and
their "Breaking Bad". I take AITF over all of them! Modern TV in the
21st century is close being a "one-trick pony". A show can be a drama
OR a comedy, but not both. Just because a show has "realistic" elements
like violence, profanity, and sex, doesn't make it groundbreaking.
AITF ushered in the modern age of television. What AITF does that many modern shows fail to do is to both have realism AND entertainment value! For a show that premiered over 40 years ago, one can still watch AITF today and be flooded by varying emotions: laughter, sadness, contemplation, thought. I proclaim the TV show "Cheers" as the greatest COMEDY of all time, not the greatest SHOW of all time. I'm calling AITF the greatest SHOW of all time. Huge distinction, because AITF was not just a comedy, it was an EXPERIENCE, much like my best film of all time, "2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY" was an experience. AITF did not fit into just one genre. Not just a comedy. Not just drama. You can't pigeonhole this show into just one thing. That's the beauty of it.
Even though I had been born when AITF premiered in the early 70s, I was a bit too young to appreciate it. It took repeated viewing and the absorption of all TV that I've seen over the last couple of decades to come to the conclusion that it really all started with this show.
AITF starred what I consider to be the GREATEST TV character of all time, Archie Bunker (played to perfection by the late, great Carroll O'Connor). Archie was an amazing protagonist-antagonist that I still don't think has ever been equaled. He was a proclaimed Christian, a bigot, and of the old school. He didn't like change or the way the world was going in the early 70s, equal rights for women and affirmative action. He was essentially a sounding board for conservatism. The ultimate irony is that, in real life, O'Connor was a forward-thinking liberal, the antithesis of Archie. It had to be somewhat difficult for him to portray a person who was the opposite of him in many ways. O'Connor was awarded FOUR Emmys for this role. Not enough if you ask me! But to counter Archie's conservativism, he was also a military veteran, and a hard-working family man who loved his wife and daughter and tolerated his opposing son-in-law.
These other 3 vital characters were his sweet, daffy wife Edith Baines Bunker (awesomely played by the late Emmy-winning Jean Stapleton), his beautiful, effervescent daughter Gloria Bunker Stivic (wonderfully played by Sally Struthers), and his smart, liberal, Atheist son-in-law Michael Stivic (superbly performed by Emmy-nominee Rob Reiner, who we all know now for his directorial efforts).
The group dynamic of these main 4 characters is sublime, all of them being in perfect synergy in their scenes. Many times other recurring or guest characters would share scenes with the main 4 and the entire ensemble would nail dialogue-heavy, drawn out scenes, and keep the viewer fully engaged. Ensemble shows now don't even enjoy this kind of interaction, with ensemble scenes being saved for big reveals or moments, with quick editing and snarky dialogue in the guise of real interaction. AITF scenes seemed real.
AITF, of course, would pair off, and for me, the best pair was Archie-Mike. The constant back-and-forth bickering between these 2 men is awe-inspiring. Every important topic was pretty much covered in their arguments: religion, politics, war, sex, the economy. And a few not-so-important ones, too! I think Archie and Mike actually learned a lot from each other over the years, as in the later seasons, you could see Archie begrudgingly beginning to accept change and Mike seeing a few things from Archie's POV as he had to start raising a family in a tough economy.
Archie-Edith had a great dynamic, too. Initially Archie's figurative punching bag, Edith came into her own, as she proved to be more free-thinking and open-minded than her husband. To counter Archie's close-minded views, Edith would constantly rail into these long-winded anecdotes that always would get under his skin. I think she sneakily did this to shut him up most of the time! Although not as forefront as the Bunkers' marital woes, Mike-Gloria had their share of great interactions over the years, mainly a battle of the sexes, but also arguing about Archie.
AITF, through incredible writing and brilliant acting, had this ability to relay to the viewer extended character interactions that would be the set up ONE huge laugh at the end, but also to yield various laughs on the way to the big one! Mike and Gloria left after the 7th season, but the show still survived and was very good in it's 8th season with the introduction of a new character, Edith's niece Stephanie (well-played by Danielle Brisebois) and still had thought-provoking, wonderful stories. The show made it to a 9th and final season being called "Archie Bunker's Place". But, for me, as long as Archie Bunker is involved, it's ALL IN THE FAMILY!
It's easy (and impressive) to see why this sit com was so revolutionary
for its time. Prior to "All in the Family", issues like racism,
feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam war were rarely touched in network
dramas, much less comedy. TV was a place where the real issues and
problems that effected real people didn't seem to exist. And when these
things were addressed, it was with such kit gloves that it rendered it
And in creating a main character who was a paradoxically lovable if terribly foolish and arrogant bigot, creator Norman Lear crossed into dicey, politically incorrect territory that was shocking at the time.
It was also helped by that fact that both Caroll O'Connor as the bigoted working class Archie and Jean Stapleton as his ever optimistic, good hearted, sadly subservient and not very bright wife managed to turn these potential cartoons into very human characters, simultaneously absurd, but still real enough that they reminded you of those relatives you inevitably cringed through Thanksgiving with, and somehow loved despite themselves. (ala my own grandfather's seemingly endless "that colored boy can sure play ball" refrain).
On the other hand, the series has dated as time has moved on. In the days before serialized series, the 'lessons', often about complex social issues, still had to be summed up in a brief 24 minutes of story time. Also, the supporting and guest actors didn't always rise to the level of O'Connor and Stapleton, so that they did indeed become cartoon. And elements do get repetitive quickly, especially in this era of 'binge watching' multiple episodes in a single sitting. For example, the pretty generic and predictable political arguments between right- wing Archie and his left-wing son in law (Rob Reiner) do get old by the 3rd or 4th one in a sitting.
To those who grew up more recently, it may be hard to grasp why this show was such a huge deal. And for those of us who grew up watching it, time has somewhat dulled it's punch. But there's no question that this one show changed TV and American popular culture forever, and deserves it's reputation based on that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After hearing the recent passing of Jean Stapleton, really a great TV
show. Despite being politically incorrect. The show seemed to be taboo.
As despite being a jerk, Archie Bunker the bigoted and conservative politically correct title character, did have a soul. Despite at times mistreating his family, in particular his sweet natured but dim-witted wife Edith, played by Stapleton.
The late Caroll O Connell for the record, was in real life a liberal. But made Archie the guy who was a jerk, but had a soul. As Archie and Edith have a child Gloria(Sally Struthers), who is like her mom and her husband, and future filmmaker Rob Reiner as Michael aka Meathead, the liberal hippie husband of Gloria.
As Bunker and Michael butted heads over their beliefs and politics. Despite CBS taking a risk, in the end, it paid off big time. Really a great show that will open your eyes. RIP Jean and Caroll!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This television show changed everything on TV after it. It broke so many grounds. It was one of the first sitcoms to deal with prejudice, politics, war, and was the first television show to feature the sound of a flushing toilet. The main character, Archie Bunker, is an old-fashioned bigot who represents the working man in America. His wife, Edith Bunker, represents the old-fashioned house wife in the 1950's. Archie an Edith's daughter Gloria and her husband Micheal live with the Bunkers in a suburb of New York City. The Show took on so many controversial topics of the time such as the Vietnam War and Watergate. It could always find humor in everyday suburban life. It was mostly dealing with the old-fashioned way of life (Archie), being confronted by the easy-going hippie lifestyle (Micheal) during the 1970's. All the humor is in Archie and Micheal's feuds and bickering due to the twos different beliefs. This sitcom is one of the best.
This series was the series which led to even more code breaking shows
later. In fact, it led to Maude as a spin off which went on to
considerable success in defending the women's movement. This one, broke
a lot of long standing taboos in family sit-com comedy.
"They way Glenn Miller Played" from the theme song Those Were The Days for All In the Family inspired the theme song for the animated series Family Guy now on FOX.
This is the first series to do bathroom humor (& led to Roseanne getting even more raunchy later on). This show took racism & portrayed it more accurately the the mainstream media has since. In this series, a white Catholic family accepted all races into their lives when they encountered them. The mainstream media still can not do that today.
Caroll O'Conner really found his lifetime role in this show. He had done quite a few films prior to this, even some TV (notably a great guest shot on the Wild Wild West comes to mind). This show highlighted all his talents.
Maureen Stapleton was already a great live theater actress when she came here. In this show, she proved why she was also a great TV actress. She brings a perfect realism to Caroll's Archie.
Thanks to these two talents, Sally Struthers & Rob Reiner developed their careers on this show. They learned their craft from the veterans, though Rob went more into directing & producing, while Sally never seemed to duplicate her success here.
What is a shame is that this show illustrates how well a real family can deal with difficult issues. It has not been done better since.
There was nothing like All in the Family before it debuted in 1971 on television and honestly nothing like it has been able to duplicate the excellent casting, writing, and directing. This show was a phenomenon in the 1970s and it's affect on popular culture is still with us today. We all know about "All in the Family" with the beloved Carroll O'Connor as bigoted Archie Bunker, his dingbat wife Edith played by the wonderful Jean Stapleton, his daughter played by Sally Struthers, and his son-in-law played by actor turned director Rob Reiner. The show had guest appearances by Oscar winning actress Estelle Parsons, Betty Garrett, Philip Carey, Isabel Sanford, Sherman Helmsley, Beatrice Arthur, etc. This show spawned off "The Jeffersons" which was equally famous in it's own right and lasted just as long. Beatrice Arthur's character Maude became her own show and her maid played by the beloved Esther Rolle would star in her own sitcom, Good Times, which was famous as Maude as well. All in the Family had it's problems but I think the cast and characters truly loved and respected each other. Norman Lear gave birth to a phenomenon which remains untouched to this day. Archie Bunker may have had his prejudices at least in language and attitude but not so much in behavior. No different than most men of his time. In some ways, he reminds us a little of our fathers. Archie Bunker was an American original who was not Father knows Best. He was a real character with a very narrow point of view which I don't really believe he was every that prejudiced. He did allow the Jeffersons into his home and family life. He allowed Edith to work and have a transsexual friends. He also showed that despite the obvious character flaws that ARchie was truly human. He was still a good father, a loving husband, and grandfather. He may have argued and called his son-in-law "a Pinky Meathead," but he did it with love. I think the show should have ended when Jean Stapleton left because I didn't like them killing her off.
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