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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Nine of All In The Family goes to…..
“California, Here We Are (II)”
Come back next Tuesday for the start of a whole new series! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!