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Archie Bunker, a conservative working-class family man with outdated and bigoted views, clashes with his liberal son-in-law, Michael Stivic (nicknamed “Meathead” by Archie), over important issues of the day.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.
To put it bluntly, the sixth season of All In The Family is a disappointment compared to what came before. With the “Family Viewing Hour” now in place, fostering a general TV backlash against Lear’s boundary-pushing ways and necessitating a change in time slot, the series turns its attention to standard sitcom fare — with the occasional “social” issue (like cross-dressing and atheism) thrown in to continue the series’ reputation as a groundbreaker. Also, nine of the 24 episodes are without the entire foursome, as this season ushers in an age of “let’s give them each a few weeks off a year.” This is a great detriment to the series, which was known for its brilliant ensemble. On the storytelling front, Mike and Gloria move out of the Bunker house at the start of the season, which means there’s less of that good old-fashioned ’round the table yelling that typified the early seasons of the series. Additionally, the Stivics are given a baby — a development that, while many will argue is the prescription for a show in need of growth, usually puts a halt to comedy and ends up having a negative effect. And there are new writers: the ones that were working for Lucy in the late ’60s. (Need I say more?) That being said, the great variation in episodic quality makes it easier to pinpoint the good episodes — and there are (shockingly) quite a few. 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 Six. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Paul Bogart.
01) Episode 112: “Archie The Donor” (Aired: 09/22/75)
Archie signs up to be an organ donor in the hopes of getting a promotion.
Written by Bill Davenport and Larry Rhine
This rather ordinary episode is blessed with a generous helping of laughs brought about by some really clever dialogue. Archie’s discussion of cavemen and cavewomen is probably the comedic highlight of the episode, but the sight gag of Archie’s jet black hair is also not to be missed. Meanwhile, the script manages to maintain a consistent level of quality, and though this is the first episode of the season without all four of the cast members (Struthers missed several early episodes while trying to unsuccessfully get out of her contract) the story doesn’t feel lacking.
02) Episode 113: “Archie The Hero” (Aired: 09/29/75)
Archie unknowingly performs CPR on a female impersonator who passes out in his cab.
Written by Lou Derman & Bill Davenport
One of the highlights of the season, this hilarious installment introduces Beverly LaSalle, the female impersonator who will become a great friend to Edith and recur twice more in the following two seasons. Archie’s interactions with Beverly, as you can imagine, are hysterically funny, and the script builds beautifully with each scene just as amusing as the one before. A great subject for this series (which loves to be topical) to address, this episode, despite another absence by Struthers, feels like an early season classic.
03) Episode 114: “Mike’s Pains” (Aired: 10/06/75)
Archie’s blathering gives Mike second thoughts about being in the delivery room with Gloria.
Written by Lou Derman and Milt Josefsberg
While the premise is interesting, this episode makes my list principally for a very amusing sequence when the long talked about (but never seen) Sybil Gooley comes to the Stivics to predict the sex of the baby with a pendulum. Incidentally, this is the first funny episode of the season to feature all four castmates (as the first two aired episodes, which feature the full ensemble, are lacking in the comedy department). For this time in the series run, “Mike’s Pains” is a solid episode with some laughs — and that’s the best for which we can hope.
04) Episode 119: “Gloria Suspects Mike” (Aired: 11/17/75)
Gloria thinks Mike is cheating on her with one of the students that he’s been tutoring.
Written by Lou Derman and Milt Josefsberg
This episode has a lot going for it. Perhaps the most striking thing about this episode to Broadway fans will be the guest appearance of Bernadette Peters as the sexy student who comes on to Mike. (She was one of Lear’s favorites. She landed this role following a guest appearance in a great Maude episode, and would go on to star alongside Richard Crenna in a single season flop, All’s Fair.) But the comedic highlight of the episode is the scene in which Archie gets Mike drunk. Both performers handle the material deftly, and it’s a treat to watch.
05) Episode 120: “The Little Atheist” (Aired: 11/24/75)
A Thanksgiving dinner turns into an argument about what religion the Stivics’ unborn child should be raised.
Written by Lou Derman
Starting in the sixth season (as a result of the foursome not being under the same roof), the series dedicates several episodes a season to essentially 25-minute arguments that are supposed to both address important issues and remind the viewers of the series’ golden days. This episode, which concerns the subject of religion and how it will be featured in the baby’s life, is largely a textbook case of this. However, in addition to being legitimately important to the characters, the episode is very funny and serves as one of the more memorable episodes of the season.
06) Episode 121: “Archie’s Civil Rights” (Aired: 12/01/75)
Archie is charged with assault for using tear gas on a mugger.
Written by Larry Rhine and Mel Tolkin
Another one of the few sixth season episodes that I can honestly say feels like it belongs in the golden age, this episode concerns Archie going to court when a policeman charges him for illegally using tear gas on a mugger. While sitcom characters in court usually lack realism (and this is no exception), the story is engaging and the script is unpredictable. The courtroom scene with the unamused black female judge is truly a scream, and though Reiner does not appear, this installment is close to perfect. Definitely a classic and a favorite.
07) Episode 124: “Birth Of The Baby (II)” (Aired: 12/22/75)
The Bunkers eagerly await the arrival of their grandchild.
Written by Milt Josefsberg and Ben Starr
Yes, this is the episode in which Joey is born, a symbol which serves as another reminder of the series running out of steam and forcing itself to become more “traditionally sitcom.” This episode, with Archie running around in blackface, is clearly an attempt by the series to match their social relevance of the ’70s with the goofy charm and anticipation of Little Ricky’s birth in the ’50s (when Ricky was dressed as a Voodoo priest). It doesn’t quite work, and while I think Part II is funnier and less over-the-top than Part I, it still is more hype than humor.
08) Episode 131: “Joey’s Baptism” (Aired: 02/23/76)
Archie plans to baptize Joey without parental consent.
Written by Milt Josefsberg and Larry Rhine & Mel Tolkin
Without a doubt, this is the best of the season. In addition to a hilarious script that’s just brimming with delicious lines and character-driven moments, the story of Archie seeking to get Joey baptized is one that the series has been building towards all season. And, shockingly, when it finally comes, it doesn’t disappoint. All four members of the cast are on deck to add to the fun, but the funniest scene is between Archie and the Reverend Chong: “We’ve got to have a regular American ceremony here. We can’t have any dragons or firecrackers.” Hysterical episode — recommended to all fans.
09) Episode 131: “Gloria And Mike’s House Guests” (Aired: 03/01/76)
A broken furnace forces the Bunkers and the Stivics to overcome their anger regarding Joey’s baptism.
Written by Larry Rhine & Mel Tolkin and Milt Josefsberg
Though not hysterical, this installment makes sense for the series at this point in time. A rather quiet episode (in design, I mean; it’s loud in performance), its biggest draw is the fact that the script is really ONLY about the interactions among the foursome. That’s right: no gimmicks. In fact, it’s one of the few episodes (I can think of only one other this season) in which there are absolutely no guest stars. Playing like a one act — limited sets, limited players — this episode is a welcome change of pace. And while I wish it was funnier, I appreciate its simplicity.
10) Episode 133: “Edith’s Night Out” (Aired: 03/08/76)
Edith goes out for a night on the town following a spat with Archie.
Story by Lou Derman | Teleplay by Lou Derman and Douglas Arango & Phil Doran
This episode, in which Gloria gives Edith her first pantsuit, is another sixth season delight. Although the premise seems largely an excuse to get Edith’s to Kelsey’s Bar, which will rise in prominence over the next few seasons, the script is consistently funny and motivated throughout. While it’s satisfying to see Edith tell Archie off, the sequence in the bar (in which Edith becomes the life of the party) is the episode’s obvious highlight. Sitcom fans will also be delighted to see Doris Roberts as one of the seasoned barflies who attempts to take Edith under her wing.
Other notable episodes that didn’t quite make the list above include: “Alone At Last,” in which the Stivics officially move out, “Chain Letter,” a mediocre episode that features a great scene where Archie gets a shot, “Birth Of The Baby (I),” the first half of the two-parter mentioned above, which goes out of its way to make the birth a BIG EVENT, “Mike’s Move,” in which Mike comes face-to-face with Affirmative Action, “Archie’s Weighty Problem,” an episode that I wish was just a little bit better, in which Archie is put on a diet, and “Love By Appointment,” another episode without guest stars, and MOST deserves to make the above list.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Six of All In The Family goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the seventh season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!