The Ten Best SANFORD AND SON Episodes of Season Five

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.

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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.

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Although the series continues to evolve into cartoonish mediocrity, I was surprised to note during my recent re-watching of Season Five that the comedy was still of the calibre found in Season Four. The only difference is, the gimmicks have increased. Yet while the show is making a general decline, there are still plenty of laughs — and the free fall is neither as sharp or as drastic as it’s sometimes perceived to be. Meanwhile, the writers have tried to inject a little freshness into the proceedings, as Fred and Lamont turn Julio’s old house into The Sanford Arms, making them landlords to a host of interesting people, including Nancy Kulp. And later in the season, Lamont gets engaged and seems headed to the altar. There’s more Esther and Bubba, less Grady (he had his short-lived spin-off) and even Lamont, but through it all, Redd Foxx remains supreme, and though the scripts are rarely superb, he often is. 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.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)

 

01) Episode 89: “Divorce, Sanford Style” (Aired: 09/19/75)

Fred works to reunite a feuding Esther and Woody after she moves in with them.

Written by Ted Bergman | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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A variation of this basic sitcom story was already done on this series back in Season Three when Whitman Mayo’s Grady was temporarily filling in during Redd Foxx’s strike; but it’s much funnier here. Not only is this because of Foxx’s presence, but the series’ increasingly broader style of comedy makes the episode more memorable. Furthermore, the script is fairly strong — although it doesn’t even have to be. Unwritten rule of Sanford And Son‘s later years: some good Esther-Fred barbs can bolster a mediocre episode. And there are some great ones here.

02) Episode 90: “Bank On This” (Aired: 09/26/75)

Fred and Lamont are trapped by a pair of crooks in a bank hold-up.

Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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This episode plays on one set and almost in real-time. As regular readers know, I love these types of installments: the mini one act! But “Bank On This” has more to accomplish than just being funny and well written; this episode introduces Fred and Lamont’s desire to purchase Julio’s lot to turn it into an apartment house, a story that will extend throughout the remainder of the series and into an ill-fated spin-off. And while this episode has a few heavy moments, there’s certainly enough levity to make it work.

03) Episode 91: “The Sanford Arms” (Aired: 10/03/75)

Fred and Lamont seek tenants for The Sanford Arms.

Written by Ted Bergman | Directed by Mark Warren

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Again, the script is much sharper than it need be (you’ll notice that the producers stacked their best installments near the beginning of the season) — filled with big laughs. Like the above, this episode has a purpose: cast a group of potential recurring characters to stay at the Sanford Arms. Unfortunately, none of them really earn distinction, except the hilariously unique Nancy Kulp (better known as Miss Jane Hathaway) as Hoppy’s mom. The total antithesis of Redd Foxx, I must applaud the casting directors for this brilliant juxtaposition of opposites.

04) Episode 92: “Steinberg And Son” (Aired: 10/10/75)

Fred and the gang are surprised to see a primetime sitcom that seems to be based on them.

Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by James Sheldon

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Probably the funniest and best remembered episode from the fifth season, this installment mines much comedy from self-parody, relying on our understanding of the series and its roots. In addition to poking fun at the characters in Sanford And Son, the Jewish “Steinberg And Son” takes on a whole new layer of meaning when one remembers the British series on which the show is based, Steptoe And Son. Furthermore, the spoofing of Redd Foxx’s contract disputes is a riot, and all of the actors seem to be giving forth abundantly in this episode — having lots of fun.

05) Episode 95: “Donna Pops The Question” (Aired: 11/07/75)

Donna receives a proposal from another man and gives Fred an ultimatum.

Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by James Sheldon

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This is one of two episodes this season that do not feature Lamont, and even though his relationship with Fred is the crux of the series, this installment is one of the year’s best. Big laughs are coupled with some genuinely dramatic moments, as Redd Foxx turns in a performance that may knock your socks off. Alone on the stage with a picture of his dead wife, the teary Fred sings a poignant rendition of “Easy To Love.” It’s very effective, and not at all sticky. Again, this drama works because the rest of the script is very funny, exploring the characters realistically and hilariously.

06) Episode 96: “My Fair Esther” (Aired: 11/14/75)

Fred turns into Henry Higgins to prepare Esther for a beauty contest.

Written by Jerry Ross | Directed by James Sheldon

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The success of this episode is built entirely on the relationship between Fred and Esther, which enables easy laughs that overrule the desire for a stronger script. The premise is tired; too many sitcoms have done the Pygmalion parody, and while Esther is a prime candidate for this transformation, given how often Fred calls her ugly, this episode is short on logic and devolves into a bit of a talent show, which this series would do regularly as the series progressed. It’s an okay episode, but like most fans, I’m a “sucker” for Aunt Esther.

07) Episode 100: “The Oddfather” (Aired: 01/02/76)

A wounded Fred finds his life in jeopardy after he witnesses a mob hit.

Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by James Sheldon

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As the second episode in which Lamont does not appear, this installment seems to give all the material that would have been for him to Donna. This is an incredibly cartoonish episode, as Fred is a target of the mafia. It makes this list because there are too many giant laughs, despite, like many episodes this season, its insistence that we suspend the majority of our disbelief. Interestingly, Fred spends the entire time in a hospital bed and much of the action is confined to his room; another theatrical installment.

08) Episode 103: “Fred Sanford Has A Baby” (Aired: 01/23/76)

While Lamont’s away, Fred rents his room to a pregnant woman.

Written by Jay Burton | Directed by James Sheldon

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This is much better than one would seemingly anticipate, as babies and pregnant women can often suck the “com” out of a sitcom. But this installment works because, wisely and appropriately, it centers the action on Fred and his reactions to what’s going on around him. The best stuff occurs with Fred in the hospital awaiting the birth. His bit with the plastic baby as he powders and diapers it is a scream. Regular guest actress Fritzi Burr is excellent as the nurse. A surprisingly good episode.

09) Episode 105: “Lamont In Love” (Aired: 02/06/76)

Fred and Esther do some investigating when Lamont falls in love.

Written by Ted Bergman | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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Another episode that seeks to set up a multiple episode story arc, “Lamont In Love” decides to give Lamont a recurring love interest to evolve the character and expand the storytelling possibilities. Like Donna, Janet is rather bland, but it’s okay here because Fred and Esther get to take charge of the comedy. As silly as it is (and it’s very silly), Fred and Esther’s amateur sleuthing makes for one of the funniest scenes of the season. And the final reveal with Lamont and Janet is both funny and unexpectedly smart — a rarity for the series at this time in its run.

10) Episode 109: “A Pain In The Neck” (Aired: 03/05/76)

Fred gets a backache on the day he’s to be honored by his friends at an awards dinner.

Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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This excursion is sort of like two episodes in one. The first episode concerns Fred’s attempts to fix his injured back before a banquet dinner that he’s attending that evening. The second has Fred at the banquet, where his friends are called upon to roast him (a la The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, on which Foxx and LaWanda Page regularly appeared). The second part — the roast — is less successful than the funny and well-written first half, because it’s gimmick-based. However, compared to many surrounding installments, this one, in total, sticks out as a winner.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Ebenezer Sanford,” a parody of A Christmas Carol, “Can You Chop This?,” in which Fred makes a fool of himself while trying to sell a food processor on television, “The TV Addict,” in which Lamont tries to break Fred of his TV addiction, “The Escorts,” in which Fred launches an escort service for seniors, and “The Director,” in which Fred weasels his way into directing a local play that stars Lamont and George Foreman.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Sanford And Son goes to…..

“Steinberg And Son”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Six! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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2 thoughts on “The Ten Best SANFORD AND SON Episodes of Season Five

    • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think it’s difficult, in good conscience, to call many of these installments well written, but I do agree that Season Five is probably a bit stronger than Season Four. I don’t think this is because of any change in quality; rather, Season Five has fresher stories, and thus, more memorable episodes.

      But stay tuned next week for my thoughts on the final season!

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