Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re concluding 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 final season of Sanford And Son features many of the show’s absolute worst installments. The on-location Hawaii episodes are a low point for the series, but although the scripts and stories are clearly running out of steam, Redd Foxx is still a hilarious protagonist. The beginning of the season is particularly disappointing, but things pick up in the winter/spring of 1977. (This is unlike seasons past, when the producers would air the best episodes first and save the mediocre ones for later.) Aunt Esther, Bubba, and Donna are used a lot this season, and that’s actually good for the comedy. Thus, there are still many laughs to be had. 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 Six. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 116: “The Stakeout” (Aired: 10/15/76)
As Fred flirts with a new female tenant at the Sanford Arms, police stakeout his house to spy on a fence.
Written by Earl Barret | Directed by Norman Abbott
Because of the farcical plot, with a crook cross-dressing to avoid suspicion and charming the unaware Fred, the script wisely knows not to insult the audience’s intelligence. It’s obvious that the new object of Fred’s desire is the man that the cops are after, and the script lets the audience know. Now it’s just a matter of Fred arriving to the same conclusion. Needless to say, watching Redd Foxx flirt with what’s obviously a man in a bad wig is a guaranteed laugh getter.
02) Episode 118: “The Winning Ticket” (Aired: 11/05/76)
A pair of con men sucker Fred into running an illegal raffle, for which they plan to collect the prize money.
Written by Bob DeVinney | Directed by Alan Rafkin
Whenever Fred does something slightly crooked, he’s either punished or somehow absolved by the end, and this episode treats us to both. Fred is both punished for scamming his customers with the fake raffle (when the man shows up with the winning ticket) and absolved because he too was the victim of a scam himself! Also, Esther and Bubba coming into Fred and Lamont’s scheme at the end makes for a nice climax. Well-written and amusing.
03) Episode 122: “Aunt Esther Has A Baby” (Aired: 12/03/76)
Fred steps in when Woody gets plastered right before he and Esther are to meet with an adoption agent.
Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by Alan Rafkin
Although Esther and Woody’s sudden desire to be parents does seem a bit contrived (we’ve never heard about it before), it creates an interesting opportunity for comedy. Naturally, Woody gets drunk before the adoption agent is set to do her evaluation, so Esther calls upon her brother-in-law to take Woody’s place. As is to be expected, this goes comedically disastrous. (For those curious, LaWanda’s neck brace was the result of injuries sustained in a real life accident.)
04) Episode 123: “Aunt Esther Meets Her Son” (Aired: 12/10/76)
Aunt Esther finds herself in a dilemma when she meets her new adopted son.
Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by Al Rabin
This funny episode continues where the last one left off, as Woody and Esther finally take home Daniel, their teenage son, whom they will potentially adopt. Things are going fine until Esther’s church ladies come for a visit and gift the kid with an inscribed Bible. Daniel reveals that he doesn’t believe in God, leading Esther to have one of Fred’s classic heart attacks. It’s a riot; the high point of the installment. From there, things work out rather predictably (but sweetly).
05) Episode 127: “The Defiant One” [a.k.a. “Chinese Torture”] (Aired: 01/21/77)
Fred and Esther get stuck in a pair of Grady’s magic handcuffs.
Written by Alan Eisenstock & Larry Mintz | Directed by Russ Petranto
Perhaps the most unoriginal premise this series ever concocted, this installment sees a welcome appearance by Grady, who gets Fred and Esther locked in his trick handcuffs. There are plenty of big laughs, despite the routine story (which we’ve already seen on I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners and will find on future shows), because the characters being handcuffed have an incredibly contentious relationship. Putting the two of them together non-handcuffed is a scream, forcing them to be physically joined is even funnier. Hilarious.
06) Episode 128: “A Matter Of Silence” (Aired: 01/28/77)
Fred decides to play along when Lamont and Donna fear he is going deaf.
Written by John T. Bell | Directed by Russ Petranto
Episodes in which Fred Sanford goes a little hammy are usually pretty funny because of Redd Foxx’s consistently amusing performance. This installment is an excellent representation of that; perhaps even superior to other similar entries, due to both the broadness of the comedy (which again, evokes some big laughs) and the machinations of the story, in which Lamont and Donna turn the tables on Fred, the trickster.
07) Episode 130: “The Reverend Sanford” (Aired: 02/11/77)
To avoid paying taxes, Fred gets ordained and terns the house into a chapel.
Written by Jim Belcher | Directed by Russ Petranto
With a script by a freelance writer, this episode easily gets my vote as the funniest of the season. The premise, with Fred turning the house into the Chapel on the Junkpile for the Seventh-Day Junkists, is delightfully wacky. Meanwhile, the jokes are rapid-fire and well-delivered. In addition to the entire congregation scene, Fred’s offer to perform Aunt Esther’s exorcism and Lamont’s vowel-inspired introduction to his father’s worship service are two standout moments. A late season classic; original and funny.
08) Episode 134: “Funny, You Don’t Look It” (Aired: 03/11/77)
Fred orders a family crest and genealogy scroll that claims he is both royalty and Jewish.
Written by Rabbi Joseph Feinstein | Directed by Russ Petranto
This unusual script was apparently written by a Rabbi, which should come as no surprise after viewing the episode. Spurred by Roots, Fred decides to trace his lineage and order a family crest, which leads him to believe that in addition to being African royalty, he is also of Jewish descent. Fred’s reaction to this may surprise you, although the outcome, in which [SPOILER ALERT] the company is revealed to be fraudulent, may not.
09) Episode 135: “Fred Sings The Blues” (Aired: 03/18/77)
B.B. King comes to dinner and Fred fears that his Elizabeth is B.B.’s long lost love.
Written by Larry Mintz & Alan Eisenstock | Directed by Russ Petranto
Episodes built around a guest star are often hit-and-miss for me. This episode earns a hit because the story draws a connection between B.B. and Fred’s past in St. Louis. After reading B.B.’s book, Fred fears that the mysterious E.W. that he left behind is his own dearly departed Elizabeth Winfield. Of course, there’s another E.W. with whom Fred is associated, and like “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” the reveal, while slightly telegraphed, is nevertheless amusing.
10) Episode 136: “School Daze” (Aired: 03/25/77)
Lamont, Donna, and Esther fear the worst when Fred and Bubba secretly go back to school.
Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by Carl McCarthy
Surprisingly, there is a tiny bit of finality in this otherwise routine episode that actually aired (and was produced) as the series finale. Fred and Bubba finally earn their high school diplomas, and it’s strangely uplifting to end with Fred bettering himself and earning the distinguished title of class valedictorian. Meanwhile, the script is fairly funny, especially in the beginning when Esther, Lamont, and Donna think Fred is going around with some hussy. [This won’t be the end of Fred, Esther, Rollo, Bubba, or Grady. They’ll be back in several ill-fated spin-offs. Stay tuned…]
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “I Dream Of Choo-Choo Rabinowitz,” in which Fred tries to break the world record for most time spent awake, “Here Today, Gone Today,” in which Fred’s friends try to honor him with a surprise, “The Will,” in which Fred has a near death experience after Aunt Esther hits him with a Bible (and MOST deserves to make the above list), and “Fred The Activist,” in which Fred fights against ageism.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Six of Sanford And Son goes to…..
“The Reverend Sanford”
Come back next Tuesday for the start of our coverage on The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978, CBS)! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!