Welcome to a new Thanksgiving themed Wildcard Wednesday! While last year’s tribute to this most delicious of days featured several of my favorite holiday themed sitcom episodes, this year’s post is going to feature just one — an episode that you might have forgotten. Given that we’ve just finished our coverage on the best episodes from All In The Family (1971-1979, CBS), it’s appropriate that today’s installment comes from the first season of the series that AITF eventually became, Archie Bunker’s Place (1979-1983, CBS). While I can absolutely confirm that coverage of Archie Bunker’s Place will not begin next week, I am also almost certain that the series will never be covered here in full. Why? Well, only the first season has been released on DVD, and though I have access to every episode, frankly, the series isn’t good enough to warrant our undivided attention.
For those who are unaware, Archie Bunker’s Place is set almost exclusively in the bar that Archie purchased at the start of All In The Family‘s eighth season. The series follows Archie and his staff — with an occasional story dealing with Stephanie or something in Archie’s personal life. Jean Stapleton even recurs as Edith in five half-hour installments produced for Season One. Stacked all within the Fall of 1979, these five episodes are the last times that we get to see this character, as she is killed off-screen before the start of Season Two. The episodes in which she does appear are largely mediocre (as is this whole series), but also quite out-of-place within the context of this ensemble, work-place oriented, and lighthearted (a.k.a. not socially relevant) show. Two of them (“Edith Gets Hired” and “Edith Versus The Energy Crisis”) are barely worth mentioning. The final episode in which she appears, “The Shabbat Dinner” [a.k.a. “Edith’s Shabbat Dinner”] is the best of the bunch. Originally aired on December 9, 1979, the installment finds Edith cooking a Shabbat dinner for Stephanie and Archie’s Jewish business partner, Murray (and his gentile date). Edith also invites Murray’s mother, who, unbeknownst to Edith, is firmly against her son dating a non-Jew. The absurdity of Edith cooking a shabbat dinner — something you never thought you’d see on All In The Family — drives most of the comedy. It’s not hysterical, but there could be a worse send-off for this marvelous character.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Today’s post is about a two-parter which features not only Edith, but Gloria and Mike Stivic as well. The kids return to the Bunker household for Thanksgiving, marking the last time this foursome will ever be together. Aired originally as a one-hour episode, both parts of “Thanksgiving Reunion” were originally broadcast on November 18, 1979. Like last year’s two-parter in which the Bunkers went to California, this installment follows a similar pattern: Mike and Gloria are hiding something. Last time it was Gloria’s affair and their separation, this time it’s the fact that Mike has been laid off due to his participation in a nude protest. And this time, Gloria and Stephanie know about it; they just want to keep it from Archie. Needless to say, it is far from having the same impact as the aforementioned installment — which features brilliant comedy and powerful drama. This one seems to be going through the motions. And knowing that this is the last we’ll get to see of this iconic cast together (not to mention the last time we’ll ever see Mike Stivic), there’s a certain sadness about the episode. Not only is it the end, but it’s not even a very good end. (Of course, it still is better than much of ABP‘s regular faire.)
Yet, fans of the once mighty All In The Family and these always well-crafted characters should seek out “Thanksgiving Reunion.” (Contact me for access to this episode.) Though Edith holds on for one more episode (and Gloria comes back for a two-parter and a poor spin-off), the permanent breaking up of the ensemble is almost a bigger sign of what’s to come — not only in this series, but in the situation comedy in general. It’s the end of an era. The political and socially driven programming of the ’70s (ushered in by the legendary Norman Lear) is over. It’s over. A new era is coming. And in my mind, it’s not a better one. So while we celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday, I would like to declare my thanks for All In The Family and all of the ’70s shows that it inspired. They give me such joy. And although this installment is a rather inauspicious end for these iconic characters, I couldn’t discuss All In The Family without mentioning it. Here’s to my favorite holiday — and to the Bunkers!
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!