Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from one of the unashamedly funniest sitcoms of the decade, Sanford And Son (1972-1977, NBC). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode of the series has been released on DVD.
Widower Fred G. Sanford and his adult son Lamont reside in their humble Watts abode, which also doubles as a junkyard. With the irascible Fred around, hijinks are always bound to ensue — much to the bemused chagrin of Lamont. Sanford And Son stars Redd Foxx as Fred G Sanford and DEMOND WILSON as Lamont Sanford.
The eighteen Season Three episodes in which Redd Foxx appears comprise what I believe to be Sanford And Son‘s golden era. Unfortunately, the actor’s off-screen strike, which forced production to bring in Whitman Mayo as a substitute, mars not only the last six episodes of the season, but the reputation of the year as a whole. It’s not that Grady isn’t an enjoyable character; he is. But he’s no Redd Foxx, who, as far as I’m concerned, is the most important ingredient to the show’s success. He’s the comedy, and nobody on the series brings the quantity or the quality of laughs that he does. So this season, which would otherwise be brilliant, is rendered imperfect by his extended absence. That being said, there are so many fabulous episodes in this season, many of which make great use of the ensemble — Grady, Bubba, Aunt Esther, Julio, Rollo, Donna, that I still feel comfortable calling it my favorite of the six. 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 Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 40: “Libra Rising All Over Lamont” (Aired: 09/21/73)
Fred’s hypochondria flares up just as an astrologist tells Lamont to avoid strife and conflict.
Written by Ilunga Adell | Directed by Jack Shea
While the premise of Lamont and the astrologist never reaches its maximum comic potential, this episode packs a major comedic wallop with its inclusion of Aunt Esther, who bursts onto the scene during the second act and immediately livens up the proceedings. Her sparring with Fred is as delicious as ever, and there are several choice exchanges between the two. But the best moment occurs when she storms Fred’s bedroom with her group of church ladies. Hilarious.
02) Episode 43: “This Little TV Went To Market” (Aired: 10/12/73)
Fred buys a discounted TV from a shady vendor, but Grady claims the set was stolen from him.
Written by Gene Farmer | Directed by Peter Baldwin
This is an excellent episode, and while several other episodes on this list may indeed be funnier, I would nominate this installment as one of the best representations of the series and its storytelling. Fred wants a new TV and decides to go for a cheap buy with a shady dealer. Enter Grady (in his first appearance on the series), who announces that Fred’s new set looks exactly like the one that just got stolen from his place. Great set up, strong pay-off; classic Sanford And Son.
03) Episode 44: “Lamont, Is That You?” (Aired: 10/19/73)
Fred fears that Lamont and Rollo are lovers when Grady sees them outside a gay bar.
Written by James R. Stein & Robert Illes | Directed by Peter Baldwin
It’s always interesting to see sitcoms of the era contend with topics that, while perhaps shocking to some, are now commonplace on television. In this case, the series deals with homosexuality — and in a majorly comic way. It’s an evergreen misunderstanding: Bubba sees Lamont and Rollo at a gay bar, leading Fred to suspect that the pair are an item. We’ve seen the plot in later series, but seldom with as much humor as it’s handled here. While it may not conform to 2015 standards of PCness, the laughs are timeless.
04) Episode 46: “Superflyer” (Aired: 11/02/73)
Fred seeks to inherit $1500, but only if he gets on a plane for the first time.
Story by Charles T. Williams | Teleplay by Charles T. Williams and Ilunga Adell | Directed by Peter Baldwin
Here we have another common sitcom premise, but once again, this series makes it exceptional by tailoring it to the marvelously unique characters. This installment has manny big laughs as Fred Sanford flies on a plane for the first time. From his bag of chicken wings, to his obsession with finding a stewardess named Jackie, this episode will have you rolling in the aisles. Meanwhile, the story benefits from an unexpected, but comedically ripe twist, making this one of the series’ greatest.
05) Episode 47: “The Members Of The Wedding” [a.k.a. “The Engagement”] (Aired: 11/09/73)
Lamont plans to sabotage Fred’s plans to wed Donna by introducing her to the family.
Written by James. R Stein & Robert Illes | Directed by Jack Shea
Episodes that center around Fred’s relationship with Donna are VERY hit and miss for me, largely because her character isn’t afforded the same opportunities for comedy that other members of the ensemble are. But this one works, and it’s precisely because the script pits her against the family — chiefly Esther, who’s never been nastier. Excellent line deliveries abound, but one of my favorites is Aunt Esther’s retort after Lamont says that Donna means lady: “Is that so? I once had a dog named Lady.”
06) Episode 48: “The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection” (Aired: 11/16/73)
Fred seeks to retrieve his prized record collection after donating it to a library.
Written by Phil Mishkin | Directed by Mark Warren
Sanford And Son is on a definite roll with this, another one of the series’ absolute strongest installments. Lamont convinces Fred to donate his beloved record collection to the library for a tax deduction. But when he learns that they could be worth something, he goes to get them back. The scene at the library is hysterical, largely because of Bubba, who Fred has enlisted to play the part of Blind Mellow Jelly’s son. Bubba’s repeated “I want my daddy’s records” is an absolute scream. Fabulous installment.
07) Episode 52: “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” (Aired: 01/04/74)
A man from St. Louis comes to town and claims to be Lamont’s real father.
Written by Ilunga Adell | Directed by Jack Shea
Probably my favorite episode of the entire series, this episode blends both humor and heart in a way that never borders on schmaltz. This is primarily because the story is rooted in the show’s crux: the relationship between Fred and Lamont. As for the comedy, the entire second act is brilliant sitcom writing from start to finish. I’ve probably seen the scene between Fred, Aunt Esther, and Big Money Gripp about 50 times, and I laugh-out-loud with each viewing. So many delectable moments; if you only see one episode of the series, make it this one.
08) Episode 53: “Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle” (Aired: 01/11/74)
Fred convinces Lamont to fight a traffic ticket in court, and decides to offer his legal assistance.
Story by Paul Mooney and Gene Farmer | Teleplay by Gene Farmer | Directed by Bob LaHendro
When watching this series, a pattern begins to emerge: an ordinary premise is made unordinary by exceptional characters. As was the case with several others this season, “Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle” is very routine in its design — a sitcom character goes to court, and another sitcom character decides to act as litigant. Here it’s Lamont and Fred, and the story addresses issues of racism, adding yet another dimension to the episode. And, as usual, the results are riotous.
09) Episode 56: “The Party Crasher” (Aired: 02/08/74)
Lamont and Rollo try to keep Fred away from their party with a pair of babes from Detroit.
Written by Gene Farmer | Directed by Stan Lathan
This is the last time we get to see Fred Sanford in Season Three, and for that reason alone, this episode becomes valuable, for comparisons between this installment and the proceeding one reveal how brilliant Redd Foxx is at elevating his material. This episode has a rather dull premise (for this series), but the performers make it exciting. The two Detroit dames are scenery-chewing hoots and the scene where Fred crashes the party is a wonderful climax. Fun episode.
10) Episode 59: “Tyranny, Thy Name Is Grady” (Aired: 03/01/74)
Grady takes his role as master of the house too seriously, making enemies of both Lamont and Esther.
Written by Gene Farmer | Directed by Stan Lathan
Undoubtedly the best Grady episode from the third season, this installment works because it sets up two narratives — both under the same thematic umbrella — and then converges them for maximum comedic value. One story involves Lamont’s attempt to bring home some girls and the other involves Esther’s desire to hold a Bible meeting in the house. Grady rules no on both, so when it looks like Lamont is going to overrule his mandate, Grady calls upon Aunt Esther, who unknowingly bursts in on a make-out session. Needless to say, it’s hilarious.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Lamont As Othello,” in which Fred interferes in Lamont’s attempt to rehearse a play, “Fred, The Reluctant Fingerman,” in which Fred witnesses a robbery at Julio’s place, but is reluctant to get involved, “A House Is Not A Pool Room,” in which Fred’s new pool table becomes a major distraction, “Wine, Women, And Aunt Esther,” in which Fred and his cronies decide to plan a wild party, “This Land Is Whose Land,” in which Fred and Julio quibble over property lines, and “Aunt Esther & Uncle Woodrow Pfft…,” in which Grady interferes in Esther and Woodrow’s domestic spat. Most of these episodes are pretty popular among the fan base — deservedly so — and were I to make a longer list, “Fingerman,” “Pool Room” and “Land” would be included.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of Sanford And Son goes to…..
“Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Four! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!