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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Let's face it, James, this family ain't Ozzie and Harriet."
DVD ReviewAnd lo, though it had never before been seen, there was then a wonder: All in the Family begat Maude, and Maude in her turn begat Good Times." -from the Book of the Prophet (John) Amos
Yes, Good Times is that rarity of the airwaves, a successful spinoff of a spinoff, with a family tree equalled only by Happy Days (itself a spinoff of Love, American Style) and its many live-action and cartoon progeny. Unlike the other segments of the Leariverse, though, Good Times wasn't as focused on hot button issues and being offensive for the sake of being offensive. Rather, it presented a sympathetic look at the Evans family, a struggling black family in the Chicago ghetto, headed by Florida (Esther Rolle), who had first appeared as Maude Findlay's maid, and her husband James (John Amos). Add three smart-alecky kids, namely aspiring artist J.J. (Jimmie Walker), self-obsessed Thelma (BernNadette Stanis) and Black Power militant youngster Michael (Ralph Carter), plus an oversexed neighbor, Willona (Ja'net Du Bois) and you've got formula sitcom land. But the ghetto setting remains unique in television history, and this program was controversial from the start both due to its setting and its almost exclusively black cast.
Today, however, it's best remembered for Jimmie Walker's catchphrase "Dy-No-Mite," which thankfully is not yet in that status here; later on it would be greeted with endless howls and applause, and here it's still mostly passed over without remark by the audience. More interesting in hindsight is the ribbing that the program tends to give to Christianity, especially in the person of Florida. While her faith is gently respected, the dubious uses and abuses of religion are frequently addressed in the sidelines and in subplots, occasionally coming to the fore, such as in the second and fourth episodes. The program ran from 1974 to 1979, totalling 133 episodes in all; as a midseason replacement this first season consisted only of 13 episodes. They make for a convenient and inexpensive reintroduction to the Evans clan, and despite some dated gags about the Energy Crisis of the early 1970s and then-current commercials, it's still pretty funny overall. The episodes all appear to be uncut, running about 26 minutes each. Oh, for the days of only 4 minutes of commercials per half-hour program! The show is also worth revisiting for one of the great theme songs, one of the few soul TV themes.
Episode One: "Getting Up the Rent"
"They say they're gonna throw us out today. Didn't we get no warning?" -Florida
The first episode introduces a number of themes that recur throughout the series, such as James' difficulty in finding decent paying work (he frequently works three jobs and still can't make ends meet) as well as J.J.'s tendency to "find" things in neighborhood stores, as well as setting up the characters. When Florida has her appendix out, the rent money has to be used, which leaves the family short at the first of the month and no way to make it up. Faced with eviction, J.J. threatens to pull a hustle at Marshall Field's and James decides to go back to hustling pool, all over Florida's objections. Not particularly memorable, but a decent introduction, so it merits three Dy-No-Mites.
Episode Two: "Black Jesus"
"He passed out in the gutter, and he was the only one who'd stay still enough to pose." -J.J.
Religion takes a big hit in this second episode as J.J. paints a black Jesus to enter in an art show. Florida objects, Michael storms about race in the Bible, and James decides that the Black Jesus is bringing him good luck after his number comes up. Soon the religious icon is reduced to a mere good luck charm, but Florida gets really outraged when she finds out the model for the portrait is disreputable local character Ned the Wino. Funny and provocative, it merits four solid sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Three: "Too Old Blues"
"That'll be the day, when I'm living so high on the hog I don't know what chitlins are." -Florida
James is selected for a job training program that will lead to a good paying job, and the family's celebrations are set up and hopes are raised. But things go awry when James finds out that he's too old for the program, which only is for ages 18 to 35. This episode features one of the few segments that take place outside the Evans' apartment in the projects, and also contains one of the very few white characters, who are uniformly clueless authority figures. The resulting straw man is a bit too easy to knock over, but the episode nonetheless makes the plight and dashed hopes of the family heartfelt, ranking this with three and a half sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Four: "God's Business is Good Business"
"I knew he was a shepherd when I saw him fleecing the sheep." -Willona
Religion takes another hit in the person of Reverend Sam (Roscoe Lee Browne), an itinerant preacher with aspirations at televangelism. A fraud from the word go, he tempts James with employment with his road show at a rate of $100 per day (huge money in those days). This episode provides a solid conflict between morality and expediency, and it's plenty entertaining as well, though fans of Oral Roberts may take offense. Four and a half exploding sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Five: "Michael Gets Suspended"
"Where do you come off calling the father of our country a racist" -Florida
Michael's militant attitude gets him suspended from school for putting a black history spin on his American history class in a bit of consciousness raising. Just wait till your father gets home, young man—but his reaction's not exactly what anyone expects. Two and a half Dy-No-Mites for taking a provocative look at the white-centered curriculum of the schools.
Episode Six: "Junior Gets a Patron"
"How come all of a sudden he got so much art supplies? Where did he get all that money? I hope he hasn't been 'finding' things again." -Florida
J.J. is on the verge of being discovered when he obtains a patron, Leroy Jackson (Edmund Cambridge). But it turns out that James has a long and unhappy history with Leroy. Father and son nearly come to blows and J.J. moves out. A memorable episode that focuses on J.J.'s positive skills for a change. James also briefly tries to challenge God's authority, to Florida's chagrin. Three Dy-No-Mites.
Episode Seven: "Sex and the Evans Family"
"I'm gonna treat it real diplomatic like. When he gets here, I'll just say, 'Eddie she can't go out this evening. She got a fever of 105 degrees.' Then I'll throw him down the stairs." -James
Thelma is under the microscope this episode, as her new boyfriend, Eddie (Philip Thomas) meets the family. When he leaves his dissertation on Sexual Behavior in the Ghetto in the Evans apartment, the subject of sex and double standards comes to the fore. Although predictable, the performances are extremely funny and the usual expected sitcom misunderstandings are entertaining. Four sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Eight: "Junior the Senior"
"When you was born, I just dreamed of the day you'd go to college. I never figured on a stumbling block called High School." -James
J.J. gets his report card, and he successfully passes from the 11th to the 12th grade. But on closer examination, he doesn't seem to have learned anything and James and Florida go to discuss the matter with the principal, Mr. Kirkman (Frank Campanella), and insist that he be kept behind a year. This episode has an intriguing premise and puts a high value on education. Where the Sex episode put a positive spin on black fathers remaining involved with their children, the concept is further underlined here, with John Amos getting some particularly good scenes. Four sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Nine: "The Visitor"
"Mr. Stonehurst, let me make a wild guess. You've never been around many black families, have you?" -Florida
Everything's breaking down in the projects this episode: the elevators don't work, the washers tear up the clothes, there's no running water, the refrigerator's dead and the heat won't come on. When Michael writes an angry letter to the Chicago Tribune about how they're being treated, the family is visited by the district manager for the projects, William Stonehurst (a very funny Richard B. Shull). When he ends up trapped there by a gang rumble in the street, he starts to get an eyeful of what life is really like for his tenants. Darkly humorous and deeply cynical, this was one of my favorites on the disc. Five fiery, bursting sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Ten: "Springtime in the Ghetto"
"Be better off if we just took all his clothes off and run him through the car wash." -J.J.
Florida is determined to win a prize for the most charming apartment. But when the judges are to come through, Michael takes that moment to play Good Samaritan to Ned the Wino (Raymond G. Allen)—who previously was the model for Black Jesus—and brings him into the Evans home. The family has to clean him up enough to pass inspection along with the rest of the apartment. Other than the wino aspect, this is standard issue sitcom fare and hardly worthy. One feebly cracking stick of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Eleven: "The TV Commercial"
"Michael, it ain't gonna make no difference. Black cow or brown cow, the milk is still gonna come out WHITE." -James
Florida's honest face gets her a part in a TV commercial for health tonic Vita Brite. In between stage fright and ethical dilemmas over being a pitchwoman, Florida is a complete mess, but the lure of big money seems to be overpowering. An okay episode, but the predictable segments actually turn out to be the best, with some excellent comic timing by Walker and Amos. Two and a half sticks.
Episode Twelve: "The Checkup"
"It's the number one killer of black people." -Michael
When James starts getting headaches and flying off the handle, Michael does some amateur diagnosis and concludes he may have hypertension. But getting him in for a checkup after twenty years of avoiding doctors is not the easiest thing in the world. While it was no doubt useful in getting the word out about hypertension, the whole thing has the feel of a 30-minute PSA. The conclusion is a bit pat and the whole is pretty unsatisfactory. One and a half sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Episode Thirteen: "My Son, The Lover"
"Today, my joy is overflowing like a garbage can in the ghetto." -J.J.
J.J. is enamored with Marcy Jones (Ta-Tanisha), one of the most popular girls in school, and he's overcome when she asks him to paint her portrait. But the rest of the family senses something is not quite right with this picture. Another good use of Walker's character, and pretty well written to boot. Proof positive here that John Amos isn't kidding when he makes the opening announcement that the show is taped before a live audience; when he embraces Rolle, a big smear of her makeup adheres to his shirt for a substantial chunk of the program! Three sticks of Dy-No-Mite.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture is adequate, though rather on the soft side. The videotape source has decent colors, though the palette has a slightly dated appearance. However, some of J.J.'s wilder costume choices have brilliant and vibrant color, so this appears to be an admirable representation of the series. Beyond minor video noise and occasional bits of shimmer, there is little to complain about here.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono is reasonably quiet and free of hiss and noise. Dialogue is generally clear, though the audience laughter and other noises are mixed a bit on the high side. The sound is slightly tinny and harsh, lacking in any serious bass even on the theme song. Again, it's passable considering the age of these programs, and it's doubtful it could sound much better.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsAn entertaining and solid start to the series, with some provocative if dated moments. The picture and audio are about as good as can be expected from 30-year-old videotape, but there's nothing for extras beyond an episode guide.
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