Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from one of the best sitcoms of all time, All In The Family (1971-1979, CBS). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode of the series has been released on DVD.
Archie Bunker, a conservative working-class family man with outdated and bigoted views, clashes with his liberal son-in-law, Michael Stivic (nicknamed “Meathead” by Archie), over important issues of the day. Also in the house are Archie’s sweet, but dingy wife, Edith, and their daughter, Gloria, who is caught between the ideals of her father and her husband. All In The Family stars CARROLL O’CONNOR as Archie Bunker, JEAN STAPLETON as Edith Bunker, ROB REINER as Mike Stivic, and SALLY STRUTHERS as Gloria Bunker-Stivic.
The fifth season of All In The Family sees the departure of both the Jeffersons (to their self-titled spin-off) and of the creative team that had been in place for the past few seasons (Nicholl, Ross, and West). Meanwhile, backstage conflicts threatened to overtake the series as Carroll O’Connor’s contract negotiations nearly led to Archie Bunker’s early death, until he and Lear finally managed to work out a deal. Getting through this season is sometimes laborious because, for the first time in this series’ trajectory, not every episode is a winner. The scripts are more formulaic and the jokes aren’t quite as sharp. Simply: it’s a series in the middle of its run. And while most cite the slow demise of this show as a result of Mike and Gloria moving next door, I’m actually of the opinion that it started here in Season Five — even before they left the house. But, since we are talking about All In The Family, there’s an inherently high standard of quality, and most everything in Season Five works. So I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by H. Wesley Kenney.
01) Episode 88: “The Bunkers And Inflation (III)” [a.k.a. “Edith The Job Hunter”] (Aired: 09/28/74)
With Archie still out of work, Louise Jefferson offers Edith a job at their shop.
Written by Don Nicholl and Michael Ross & Bernie West
The season begins with a rather tedious four-part story arc about Archie’s union going on strike. While the topicality of striking unions and the rising cost of living is a good fit for this series, four episodes is way too long to stretch out this story. (The arc has its merits, but it is exhausting and not funny enough to warrant the length.) However, this part is the best of the four and it’s largely because it’s funnier and less static than the others. Also, there’s a lot of Edith in this episode, which is always a good thing for the comedy quotient. (Additionally, there’s some nice stuff with the Jeffersons, for fans of that series.)
02) Episode 91: “Archie’s Helping Hand” (Aired: 10/19/74)
Archie inadvertently helps Irene Lorenzo get a job working with him at the dock.
Written by Norman & Harriet Belkin
Betty Garrett appears almost as much this season as she did in Season Four, only this time she’s not accompanied by Vincent Gardenia as her husband. Irene serves as a great foil to Archie — not only because of her religion, but because of her progressive views about gender roles. This episode deals with that most overtly when Irene gets a job alongside Archie at the loading dock and his co-workers pass around a petition to get her fired. This series often dealt with women’s rights, and Irene, though never a HUGE laugh getter, was the perfect character for these stories and an interesting figure for this point in the series.
03) Episode 93: “Where’s Archie? (I)” (Aired: 11/02/74)
Archie goes to an Army convention, but Mike and Gloria learn that he never arrived
Written by Barry Harman & Harve Brosten
This is the first installment in a trilogy of episodes written around Carroll O’Connor’s off-screen strike as the result of contract negotiations. It is the only one of the three to actually make my list because, not surprisingly, it is the funniest of the trio. Edith hosting the tupperware party is a riot, and Charlotte Rae is an excellent choice as one of the busybody ladies. While the subject of Archie’s possible demise is heavy stuff, all three episodes in this arc do a pretty good job of keeping things light and comedic. Again, however, this is the best of the three.
04) Episode 96: “Archie And The Miracle” (Aired: 11/23/74)
Archie gets religious after a near death experience.
Written by Lloyd Turner & Gordon Mitchell
Without a doubt the best episode of the season, this installment finds Archie suddenly turning to God after narrowly missing death when a crate on the dock almost lands on his head. He vows to go to church and do the Lord’s work, but when the Lord’s work (driving a church bus) conflicts with a football game, Archie feigns injury to avoid keeping his promise. Besides the great premise, this episode is a laugh-a-minute, much like the series in its golden age of Seasons Two and Three. Archie and religion is always great fodder for comedy, and believe me, this episode does NOT disappoint.
05) Episode 97: “George And Archie Make A Deal” (Aired: 11/30/74)
George Jefferson hopes to get Archie’s signature on a petition.
Written by David P. Harmon
With The Jeffersons fast approaching, many of the Season Five episodes in which the neighborhood’s token black family appear give them a lot of coverage. That is, the Jeffersons get more and more to do in their episodes (especially since Sherman Hemsley joined the cast last season as George). In fact, this episode probably could even make for an episode of the aforementioned spin-off, as they get some of the biggest laughs of the entire installment and are featured just as much as the Bunkers. So, again, this episode is particularly recommended for fans of these characters and their spin-off.
06) Episode 98: “Archie’s Contract” (Aired: 12/07/74)
Archie is scammed into signing a deal that would encase their house in aluminum siding.
Written by Ron Friedman
This episode shows the ensemble that the series had been nurturing (which would quickly bust up in a few episodes when the Jeffersons “move on up”) to great advantage, for not only are we blessed with great performances from the core cast of four, but we get great stuff from George, Louise, and Irene as well. Archie getting duped, reprehensible though he may be at times, is always a tricky thing; he IS our protagonist and we don’t want him to be punished (unless he’s been scheming and deserves a little comeuppance). But when the episode is as funny as this one, it works.
07) Episode 103: “All’s Fair” (Aired: 01/18/75)
Edith is determined to engage Archie in “fair fighting” when he refuses to allow her cousin to visit.
Written by Lloyd Turner & Gordon Mitchell
Although this installment may simply seem like another entry in what I like to call the “fight episodes” (named so because the entirety of the script is one long argument between the characters), this entry is perhaps the most unique of the bunch. Part of what makes it works so well is its focus on Edith, who, again, is always great for increasing an episode’s comedic value. The ultra-liberal concept of “fair fighting” is deliciously aggravating to Archie, and there are many laughs of shock and excitement when Edith stands up to Archie. A great exploration of the Archie and Edith dynamic, this one’s a winner.
08) Episode 106: “Archie And The Quiz” (Aired: 02/15/75)
Archie is devastated by his results from a life expectancy quiz.
Written by Michael Morris
After a string of mediocre installments, the series resumes steam in the last few episodes of the season. This is one of the year’s best and concerns a magazine quiz that purports to guess people’s life expectancy. Of course when Archie’s score (due to many factors, including smoking and drinking) is lower than he anticipated, he fumes and has nightmares of his early demise. Not only is this a great premise with a generous helping of laughs, this episode is interesting in hindsight, because although the quiz predicts that Edith will outlive Archie, we know from Archie Bunker’s Place that it will be the other way around.
09) Episode 108: “No Smoking” (Aired: 03/01/75)
Archie makes a bet that he can go longer without smoking than Mike can go without eating.
Written by Lou Derman & Bill Davenport
Stories that involve characters betting against one another often provide opportunities for great comedy because the spirit of competition enlivens the script and propels it in a way that still allows for great character moments. As indicated by the above log line, the episode has Archie giving up smoking while Mike gives up eating. Much of this episode’s success, written by two of this season’s new writers (both veteran scribes), is based on its premise, however, and not the quality of the comedy. As indicated above, it’s an easy laugh-getter… and that’s exactly what this series needs at this point in time.
10) Episode 109: “Mike Makes His Move” (Aired: 03/08/75)
Mike and Gloria grapple with the idea of moving next door to Archie and Edith.
Teleplay by Lou Derman & Bill Davenport | Story by Lou Derman & Bill Davenport and Robert Arnott
I tend to shy away from episodes that are designed solely to progress series arcs for they usually have the comedy as a secondary focus. (It should always be the primary focus, arising from well-developed characters who inspire well-crafted stories.) This episode serves to get Mike and Gloria out of the Bunker residence and into the place next door, which once housed the now spun-off Jeffersons. Fortunately, there’s a lot of comedy in this fast-paced and delightfully chaotic episode that has the kids debating on whether or not to accept this great deal, even though it means living next door to Archie.
Other notable episodes that didn’t make the list above include: “Lionel The Live-In,” a Jeffersons heavy fighting episode that occurs in the Bunker house and is recommended for fans of their series (but still feels like stuff we’ve already seen before), “Gloria’s Shock,” in which Gloria and Mike talk about having children, “Archie Is Missing” [a.k.a. “Where’s Archie? (II)”], the second part of the aforementioned Archie-less trilogy, and “Everybody Does It,” about Archie pilfering supplies from his work. All four of these installments could have easily made the list.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of All In The Family goes to…..
“Archie And The Miracle”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the sixth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!