The Seven Best ALL IN THE FAMILY Episodes of Season Nine

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re finishing 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. 

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With the kids away, Archie and Edith Bunker find their lives complicated once again as they attempt to raise her cousin’s daughter, Stephanie. All In The Family stars CARROLL O’CONNOR as Archie Bunker, JEAN STAPLETON as Edith Bunker, and DANIELLE BRISEBOIS as Stephanie Mills.

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The final season of All In The Family barely deserves to carry the title. With Mike and Gloria gone, stories slowly begin to revolve more and more around Archie and his chums at the bar — a foreshadowing of what’s to come next season with the launch of Archie Bunker’s Place. Regular readers know how I feel about kids in situation comedy, and my sentiments regarding Stephanie are no different. She’s not funny, she drags the show down, and the show is worse because of her. Perhaps the producers felt the need for a child to both keep the theme of “family” in place and give Archie a new foil. But the scripts are poor, and the comedy is poorer. (I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that they stopped taping in front of a live audience. The responses are all genuine, but the laughs were not live with the performers.) The dichotomy in tone is strong: the dramatic episodes have no comedy, and the comedic episodes have no substance. It’s just not a good year of situation comedy, and it was hard to make this list — I couldn’t choose ten, and for the episodes that I DID choose, I simply don’t have a lot of good things to say. But I have managed picked seven 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.

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Here are my picks for the seven best episodes of Season Nine. (They are in AIRING ORDER and hour-long installments are considered two separate entries.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Paul Bogart.

 

01) Episode 186: “What’ll We Do With Stephanie?” (Aired: 10/15/78)

Archie and Edith argue over what to do with Stephanie.

Written by Larry Rhine and Mel Tolkin

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Of all the episodes this season that center on Stephanie and/or the arc that brings her to the Bunker doorstep, this is certainly the strongest. As you may have guessed, this is because it is the funniest. There’s also an undercurrent of honesty throughout this installment, as Archie struggles with his decision to keep Stephanie, since her no-account father clearly has no intention of returning. Some comedy, some drama; it’s a solid episode.

02) Episode 189: “Archie’s Other Wife” (Aired: 11/05/78)

Pinky pranks Archie by arranging for him to wake up next to a black stewardess at a convention.

Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf

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This episode is inherently silly as the focus turns to Archie and his prank-waging friends. The premise attempts to add some relevance by addressing both infidelity and race (by having the stewardess be an African American), and simply because of the silly story and our knowledge of Archie’s character, the episode cranks out a few laughs. It’s a casual, light-hearted episode (even when Archie fakes his death), and far from this season’s regularly unenjoyable tripe.

03) Episode 192: “Bogus Bills” (Aired: 12/03/78)

Archie tries to track down the origin of some counterfeit money in the bar, while Edith is arrested.

Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf

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Here we have another episode that is completely trivial. Set almost exclusively in the bar, the premise involves Archie trying to track down how counterfeit money made it into his cash register. Meanwhile, Edith is arrested, naturally, for passing counterfeit bills. Her scene in the police station is very funny and the reason that this otherwise mediocre episode bumped itself up from the honorable mention list.

04) Episode 193: “The Bunkers Go West” (Aired: 12/10/78)

The Bunkers are devastated when Gloria and Mike cancel their plans to join them for Christmas.

Written by Mel Tolkin and Larry Rhine

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Though largely set-up for the next two parter, this intimate episode is actually a cut above the rest this season. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the upcoming return of Mike and Gloria, or perhaps its just a good script, but there’s some natural character-driven comedy in this episode, and even if the next two episodes weren’t as good as they are, I would still appreciate the existence of this amusing well-written installment.

05) Episode 194: “California, Here We Are (I)” (Aired: 12/17/78)

The Bunkers visit the Stivics in California, unaware that they are separated.

Written by Milt Josefsberg & Phil Sharp

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The Bunkers (and Stephanie) travel to California to spend Christmas with Mike and Gloria. Unfortunately, the Stivics have separated and are feigning togetherness for the holiday. It’s magical to see the foursome united once again — a reminder of how good this series used to be. Reiner is a little stiff (perhaps it’s a choice), but Struthers is better than ever, and it’s obvious how glad Stapleton and O’Connor are to be reunited with “the kids.” Good episode, but Part II is even better.

06) Episode 195: “California, Here We Are (II)” (Aired: 12/17/78)

Gloria confides in Edith about her infidelity and Archie explodes.

Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf

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Without a doubt, this installment is the best of the season. This episode is a brilliant roller coaster ride of emotions, just as the series used to be in its heyday, as Gloria comes clean about her separation from Mike and the cause: her infidelity. The scene between Gloria and Edith in the bathroom is hysterical, and the fight with the foursome in the bedroom (including one truly shocking line by Archie) is unbelievably powerful. This is a fantastic episode — firing on all cylinders. And the MVP is Struthers, usually the ensemble’s underdog, who probably gives her best performance of the series.

07) Episode 209: “Too Good Edith” (Aired: 04/08/79)

Archie works Edith ragged, unaware that she is suffering from phlebitis.

Written by Harriett Weiss & Patt Shea

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Yes, this is the final episode. No, it is not funny. Yes, I do recommend that you watch it. Taking on serious themes, like the majority of episodes that aired in 1979 (most of which I couldn’t promote from the honorable mentions list), this installment wisely brings the focus back on the relationship between Archie and Edith. In these regards, it’s a wise choice for a series finale. And though it’s not the end of the characters, this quiet episode feels like it should be.

 

Other notable episodes that failed to make the list above include: “Weekend In The Country” and “Barney The Gold Digger,” two mildly (very mildly) amusing episodes that center around Archie’s friend Barney, “Return Of The Waitress,” in which Janis Paige returns as the woman with whom Archie almost had an affair, “The Return Of Archie’s Brother,” in which Archie’s brother once again appears — this time with a young wife (good story, but needs more comedy),“Stephanie’s Conversion,” an episode that should be better than it is, in which we learn that Stephanie is Jewish, and the two episodes that precede the finale: “The Family Next Door,” which tries to recapture the glory of the early days (unsuccessfully), and “The Return Of Stephanie’s Father,” a finely acted and dramatically solid installment that is completely free of comedy.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Nine of All In The Family goes to…..

“California, Here We Are (II)”

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Come back next Tuesday for the start of a whole new series! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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23 thoughts on “The Seven Best ALL IN THE FAMILY Episodes of Season Nine

  1. Great work on this series too, Jackson! I was wondering when (or if) you’re planning to review The Bob Newhart Show. Me-TV just reran both Thanksgiving episodes (More goo to go!), and they were both very good shows. Again, like the last season of AITF, you may have trouble finding 10 favorite episodes of Season 6, but it was mostly a great series. (Newhart, the follow-up sitcom, got mostly too weird for me over time.)

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Funny you should mention THE BOB NEWHART SHOW; I’m headed back home for the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow and just packed the complete series set to bring with me! Look for a post on Season One on the first Tuesday of February 2015. (I was going to do MAUDE first, but in the hopes that a complete series set is coming, I’m putting it off indefinitely.)

      Until then, the best from THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and SANFORD AND SON…

        • HI, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Yes, and I have the official Season One dvd release along with syndicated copies of Seasons Two through Six in my personal collection, but since I’m pretty confident that the series will eventually be released unedited and in pristine quality, I’d rather wait and review the series then.

          Trust me, MAUDE (along with THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) will be covered before this blogger hangs up his keyboard! I’m just going to give Shout! some more time to get their act together.

  2. I think you underestimate season 9 of All in the Family. There are more good episodes than the 7 ones listed. I for one loved Stephanie’s Conversation episode for the sweet scene at the end when Archie gave Stephanie the Star of David necklace. It showed a bit of growth in Archie-hell Mike would have shat his pants if he realized that not only was Archie raising a Jew in his home he probably would be have been shocked Archie knew what the Star of David was. Archie may have had a good dose of bigotry and ignorance but this episode showed under all that he had a good heart.

    I also thought sweet was the scenes at the end in Stephanie’s Crime Wave when we learn Stephanie had been stealing things not from Archie and Edith but her teacher. The reason being that she wanted keepsakes if she ever had to leave. Archie was gruff at first and it was funny as Edith intervened but in the end Archie showed heart when he told Stephanie he was not going to turn her loose for nothing (Archie’s words there). These two episodes gave a preview of the closeness they would form in Archie Bunker’s Place.

    I also laughed and love Edith’s Last Respects in which Edith the sole attendentee of her spinster Aunt Rose’s funeral services. Jean Stapleton was outstanding in a stand alone perfomance for the most part of this episode. So much calamity-the funeral director was hilarous, the fact that in the next room an overflowing funeral was going on in contrast and the director constantly taking chairs from Rose’s service for it and then the scene where a young man showed up and chatted with Edith not realzing he was at the wrong service. Pure hilarity in this episode!

    And FYI I recently bought the entirely of Archie Bunker’s Place from an ioffer.com seller and watched it in entirety. While as a whole it nowhere as good as All in the Family, it did have some good episodes and interesting twists that you would not expect of Archie Bunker.

    Good episodes: Sammy Davis’ return which I liked better than his All in Family one believe it or not, the custoday battle where Archie fought Stephanie’s rich grandmother to keep Stephanie (Celeste Holms guested as the grandmother) and of cours the emotional episode where Edith died. Also to note in season 1 there was a Thanksgiving episde which brought the entire family together one last time and we lwearn due to taking part in a nude protest Mike lost his job.

    As for Archie growing well here’s a few examples: for the series he had a Jewish business partner and friend and later was represented by a Jewish lawyer who dated his niece Billie who came to live with Archie and Stephanie as well as workd at the saloon. For a while he had a black housekeeper who he respected to help raise Stephanie and get this-Archie had a serious 6 month relationship with a Puerta Rican woman!

    Yes All in the Family’s later years were not as grand as its previous seasons but that doesn’t mean you should skip them, write them off or pan them. If you looked at them by themselves instead of comparing them to the early years, you would find lots of gem episodes in those last couuple of seasons. Give em a second look and don’t just skim over them, really look at them and see that even though the show was fading, it still was head and shoulders better than anything on then and I dare say even now.

    • Hi, singlegirlpa66. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      When I choose a series to blog about on Sitcom Tuesdays, I make the decision to cover every single season, sifting out the “gems” and presenting what I think are the best to my readers. Despite this blog being a subjective forum, I try my hardest to look at every year with the same objectivity.

      However, episodic television lends itself to comparison, particularly within each individual series. Furthermore, I think comparison is essential in the quest for quality. As you said, ALL IN THE FAMILY’s later years are “not as grand as its previous seasons.” That’s not an unpopular opinion.

      It was a daunting task, but I chose what I think are the strongest installments from Season Nine, arguably the show’s weakest. I didn’t skim, skip, or write it off. But I did pan, and will always pan, if need be.

      As for the episodes you listed as being some of your personal favorites, they’re not among mine. (Although, I did include “Stephanie’s Conversion” in my list of the honorable mentions. It simply wasn’t funny enough to make my list of the best.)

      I too own a collection of ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE and am well aware of Archie’s trajectory in that series. But I do not consider the show’s comedy within the same league as ALL IN THE FAMILY’s and will not be covering the series in its entirety on Sitcom Tuesdays. However, stay tuned very soon for a Wildcard Wednesday post on one of the series’ most famous episodes…

      As for the quality of Season Nine, we’ll have to agree to disagree! :)

      • That is a fair assessment thanks I do though think you should have included in season 9’s best episodes Edith’s Last Respects. I found it to be hilarious and a great acting job for Jean Stapleton.

        And yes Archie Bunker’s Place is nowhere as good as its orginator-my point was that since only season 1 is on dvd and it is hardly played in reruns, many old fans have forgotten and new fans are unaware that the show had a few good nugget episodes here and there. None of its nuggests matched AITF’s of course but they are worth seeing..

        My summation is basically this-All in the Family whether it was a great episode or an average one and even a forgettable still stands head and shoulders above most of tv history and that includes a lot of the unoriginal crap airing today.

        Oh one thing-how about sometime down the road doing posts on The Jeffersons and One Day at a Time?

        And another non Norman Lear series I would love seeing reviewed is Alice.

        Have a great turkey day! Jenny aka singlegirl lol

        • Again, we’ll have to agree to disagree about “Edith’s Last Respects,” which I don’t think is comedically up to par.

          All three of the series you mentioned are possibilities here. Like MAUDE, I think Shout! will eventually release ONE DAY AT A TIME. All that I’ve seen is the short first season, but if/when the complete series is released, I’d love to give it a closer look. Similarly, I haven’t seen enough of ALICE to be able to adjudicate it properly. One thing is for certain, I won’t touch the series until it is completed on DVD.

          THE JEFFERSONS is, as of this writing, the most likely candidate for coverage, given the recent complete series release. However, all of my run-ins to date with the series have been from the early years. I need to catch some of the later seasons before I fully make up mind to cover the entire series.

          Happy Turkey Day to you, Jenny! Hope you have a great one!

    • Ah, but all six seasons of GREEN ACRES, unedited and digitally restored, are available for purchase on iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon.

      As for HE & SHE, in addition to it being my favorite unreleased sitcom, my post was a call to action — another voice hoping to convince an enterprising company to remaster and release the series. Like THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, which I’ll begin discussing next week, although I think we will eventually get the show on DVD, it won’t be during my tenure as a blogger.

      However, I am quite confident that MAUDE will be released within the next 18 months, and because I’d much rather adjudicate beautiful full length episodes, I’ve chosen to wait a bit longer for Shout! (or another company) to step up to the metaphorical plate. Again, I will double back and cover the series at some point if that release never happens.

      In the meantime, the next 15 weeks on Sitcom Tuesdays will see THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1971-1974, CBS), SANFORD AND SON (1972-1977, NBC), and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (1972-1978, CBS). So please stay tuned!

  3. The biggest issue with the final season of The Bob Newhart Show is that Newhart is virtually absent from about 6 or 7 of the episodes that season, and the scripts in those episodes substitute Howard, Mr. Carlin or Jerry as the male lead in those episodes. However, the next-to-last season of The Bob Newhart Show (1976-77) is arguably its best, sharpest and most consistent.

    • Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, the lack of our star in five episodes is a hindrance to the final season. I agree that Season Five is a great year; not sure though if it’s my favorite… Stay tuned for February!

      • We just finished watching “Over The River & Through The Woods” from Bob Newhart’s 4th season. For my money, the funniest Thanksgiving episode in sitcom history (apologies to WKRP in Cincinnati’s “Turkeys Away,” which is also a dark and twisted gem of an episode).

  4. Note to singlegirlpa: ALICE was not a Norman Lear series. It’s understandable to link it with the vaguely similar ONE DAY AT A TIME, which was a Norman Lear entry and which, like ALICE, lasted a ridiculously long time on the air, but it was actually the product of two of the I LOVE LUCY writers, Bob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn Davis.

  5. I started looking at your blog and I love it. AITF is a masterpiece

    What are your favorite Episode of the cast and why
    Just curious

    • Hi, Nicole! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Again, I usually don’t think about the episodes in that frame of reference, but off the top of my head…

      Archie/O’Connor: “Meet The Bunkers”
      Edith/Stapleton: “Edith’s Accident”
      Mike/Reiner: “The Games Bunkers Play”
      Gloria/Struthers: “California, Here We Are (II)”

      (I’m too lazy to explain why I favor these installments here, for I trust the reasons are — at least — already implicit in the coverage featured in this series of posts!)

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