The Eight Best THE JEFFERSONS Episodes of Season Seven

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from The Jeffersons (1975-1985, CBS), the longest running spin-off from Norman Lear’s flagship series, All In The Family (1971-1979, CBS). I am happy to announce that the entire series has finally been released on DVD. 

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Dry cleaning mogul George Jefferson and his wife Louise continue to adjust to life in a posh — and almost exclusively white — high rise on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The Jeffersons stars SHERMAN HEMSLEY as George Jefferson, ISABEL SANFORD as Louise “Wheezy” Jefferson, MIKE EVANS as Lionel Jefferson, ROXIE ROKER as Helen Willis, FRANKLIN COVER as Tom Willis, PAUL BENEDICT as Harry Bentley, BERLINDA TOLBERT as Jenny Willis, and MARLA GIBBS as Florence Johnston.

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The last season under Milligan and Moriarty, Season Seven, despite some despicable misfires (like the Hawaiian arc), is just as comedic as the last few seasons we’ve been covering. Unfortunately, the lengths to which the show will go to achieve laughs is starting to get ever-so-slighly embarrassing, as many of the offerings in today’s post are built on gimmicks — with cheaper constructs that favor comedy over character, instead of using them in tandem. This is a growing trend that becomes more noticeable with each season; Season Seven is one of the last years where the ends justify the means, and Isabel Sanford actually won an Emmy for her work this year (deservedly). Also of note: the end of this season saw the four-episode disaster spin-off, Checking In, starring Marla Gibbs as Florence. It’s barely worth mentioning (it WON’T be covered here), and Gibbs will be back here next season.

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Meanwhile, like all shows of the ’80-’81 season, The Jeffersons was impacted by the 1980 Actors’ Strike, which pushed the premiere back until November. As a result, although 24 episodes were produced, four were held over for broadcast with Season Eight, leaving only 20 installments for today’s post. Because of the reduced number of offerings, I have hyphenated the total selections in today’s post, for although I think the season is strong enough to earn ten picks, it is not of the exceptional quality of, say, Taxi, the 1980-81 season of which I did a full set — because there was no way I could ever reduce. Yet, although Season Seven’s list will be shorter than the other seasons proceeding it, I consider this year of the same quality as the last few. (This will be the last year for which I can say this . . . ) In today’s post, I have picked eight 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 eight best episodes of Season Seven. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Bob Lally, and that episodes originally aired as part of a hour-hour block are considered two separate installments (as they would be in syndication).

 

01) Episode 136: “Marathon Men” (Aired: 11/02/80)

George and Tom compete against each other in a 26-mile marathon.

Written by Howard Bendetson and Bob Bendetson

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The delayed seventh season premiere is a fine representation of what’s to come this year, utilizing a very silly premise with broadly exaggerated depictions of the characters, but nevertheless earning its laughs through the sheer boldness of its aims and the determined performances of its players. Also, the show seems to get more of an interest in physical comedy, as there are several slapstick-y bits here (most notably George on the treadmill) that didn’t really occur very often in the early years. This isn’t a fanatic episode, but it’s relatively simple, and in comparison to the four-part Hawaiian travesty that follows, looks mighty favorable.

02) Episode 141: “Put It On” (Aired: 11/30/80)

George and Tom follow the women to a male strip club.

Story by Stephanie Haden | Teleplay by Howard Bendetson and Tom Bendetson

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As with the above, the characters are slowly morphed into caricatures, and the danger of this development (which most long running shows are not skilled enough to avoid) is that logic is lost. For instance, there’s really no good reason as to why George and Tom would get up on the stage and strip for a group of women. Furthermore, there’s no good reason why the emcee would let them. Why am I able to excuse this foolishness? Because the comedy is big, and therefore, memorable, and when it comes to this episode, it’s not a totally unreasonable trade-off. In fact, there are an abundance of juicy laughs here — common sense be damned.

03) Episode 144: “Calendar Girl” (Aired: 01/04/81)

George and Louise secretly enter Jessica in a beauty contest.

Written by David Silverman and Stephen Sustarsic

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Regular readers of this blog know EXACTLY how I feel about babies and children in sitcoms, and my sentiments do not preclude The Jeffersons. (But that’s not really a problem until Jessica starts getting dialogue — it’s a tell-tale sign that the end is nigh.) But I appreciate this episode, which utilizes a story based entirely around the baby, because of the stellar performances of Hemsley and Sanford, the latter of whom goes for broke with some of the more theatrical beats, thereby allowing her character to further its descent into looniness, (which I think becomes fully actualized next season). As always, it’s here because of the laughs.

04) Episode 145: “As Florence Turns” (Aired: 01/11/81)

Florence imagines her life as a soap opera, parodying Dallas.

Written by Peter Casey and David Lee

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Okay, there’s no way to deny that this installment is entirely a gimmick — a sketch-like parody of Dallas (which had, just two months before, solved television’s most infamous cliffhanger: “Who shot J.R.?”) with all of The Jeffersons regulars as heightened archetypes. For instance, George is G.R., an obvious take-off of the indelible character portrayed by Larry Hagman. My initial displeasure at this episode’s existence is mitigated by its undeniable hilarity, magnified most certainly by an understanding of the then HOT primetime drama. But for fans of this series, the dynamic between George and Helen makes the whole installment worthy.

05) Episode 149: “Sorry, Wrong Meeting” (Aired: 02/15/81)

George, Tom, and Harry unknowingly attend a meeting of the KKK.

Written by Peter Casey and David Lee

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Here we have a return to the show’s initial promise: handling modern race issues with great humor. And, frankly, this episode succeeds in ways that a similarly premised All In The Family episode can only ambitiously hope. When confronting brilliance, it’s sometimes difficult to analyze, but the simple fact is that the power of the story (including that unspeakable moment when — SPOILER ALERT — George performs CPR on the story’s chief racist, only to have the man declare that he’d rather have died) is allowed to exist, believably, in the same half hour as logical, character oriented laughs. It’s the season’s most masterful episode, and the one that will stay with you the longest. Easily my favorite and a great representation of what this show was designed to do — if only they could have done it more often.

06) Episode 151: “I Buy The Songs” (Aired: 03/01/81)

Having forgotten Valentine’s Day, George tries to make it up to Louise with a song.

Story by Jerry Perzigian, Donald L. Seigel, Peter Casey, and David Lee | Teleplay by Lesa Kite and Cindy Begel

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Frank De Vol, best known as one of television’s best theme composers, makes the first of several appearances in this episode as Sammy the songwriter, whom George seeks out to compose a song for Louise. What makes this installment work better than De Vol’s later guest shots is that he’s only a single facet of the story, and is therefore worked in with the most naturalness. Really, this episode belongs to George and Louise, and aside from the obvious humor (which pretty much has to be a visible presence in any episode I include here), the highlight is George singing his “Wheezy, It’s So Easy” song. Hemsley seems in his element.

07) Episode 152: “Small Fish, Big Pond” (Aired: 03/08/81)

George comes to regret putting on airs to gain membership to an exclusive club.

Written by Michael G. Moye

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You’ll notice that the writer of this episode, Michael G. Moye, was one of the creators of Married . . . With Children (which we’ll be covering here sometime in late 2016). He’ll be a regular contributor in these last few seasons, although the trademark humor of the aforementioned series will not be explicitly visible in his work. Anyway, this is a highly amusing episode that uses a familiar beat — a character putting on airs and unknowingly volunteering to donate more money than anticipated — but does so with great humor. In addition to the strong George moments, I appreciate this episode for its incorporation of Ralph, the doorman.

08) Episode 153: “Not So Dearly Beloved” (Aired: 03/15/81)

George must give the eulogy for a man whom he had just fired.

Story by Fred S. Fox and Seaman Jacobs | Teleplay by David Silverman and Stephn Sustarsic

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Another sitcom episode that looks for humor in death — the scariest of human inevitabilities! The comedy from this one is drawn from the predicament in which George is placed, as he’s forced to give a eulogy to an employee he detested, and one that he had only fired just before the man’s passing. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of big laughs in this installment, and this makes it undoubtedly one of the year’s finest. But one of the gags that I most appreciate is when the camera goes around the room and allows the audience to hear the thoughts of all the mourners — they’re easy laughs, but it’s a unique set-up for this series, and it delivers.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “God Bless Americans,” in which George tries to play up his patriotism so he will be chosen to appear on a local television show, and “My Hero,” in which George hires a bodyguard following a mugging. Also, “And The Doorknobs Shined Like Diamonds” is a dramatic episode worth mentioning for Sanford’s Emmy winning performance — but it’s completely devoid of laughs; if you can forgive that, it’s a worthy entry.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Seven of The Jeffersons goes to…..

“Sorry, Wrong Meeting”

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

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8 thoughts on “The Eight Best THE JEFFERSONS Episodes of Season Seven

  1. You were right with the number one pick. Very good episode
    Also it’s nice that you mentioned And The Doors too. You are right about this sitcom entering more of a slapstick feel, but still a good season.

    Also I feel like Not So Dearly Beloved was too funny. I can see why The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air borrowed that plot for the episode Asses to Ashes. Ironically Sherman Hensley who played Judge Robinson played the antagonist

  2. I must have been watching The Jeffersons a lot this season, since I remember a lot of these episodes (though specifically not where George & Tom were at the strip club). I remember “Marathon Men” and how George & Tom tried to sneak oxygen to recover. I also remember the doorknob episode well too. “Sorry, Wrong Meeting” I remember most for seeing Ike Eisenmann (who appears in the left foreground of the picture just above here) as the son of the KKK leader. He’d played Tony in the original Witch Mountain movies of the 70s. The eulogy episode was really funny, as I remember, and there was a pilot with Grady Nutt (who died in a plane crash not long after taping it) as a minister stuck in the same situation as George.

    One of the funniest episodes I remember from Season 8 must have been taped late this season, as it involved Harry Bentley, who left the show for 2 seasons shortly after it appeared. Bentley had a great line as he & “Mr. J” ended up falling down a garbage chute. I’ll share it next week if you happen to pick this particular episode as a Season 8 favorite.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      The episode of which you’re thinking is “I’ve Got A Secret.” It was indeed produced for Season Seven and held over, and it will be featured here next week. Stay tuned . . .

  3. That’s the great James Karen as the KKK leader, also known for Poltergeist, Return of the Living Dead, China Syndrome and dozens of other credits.

    This was also when lead-in show Alice was becoming excessively broad with silly plots and loud performances, so the two shows were a good match if you liked that sort of humor.

    • Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I always found ALICE excessively broad with silly plots and loud performances, but you’re right, it would pair well with this era of THE JEFFERSONS. As for Karen, he’ll be seen here in a few weeks as one of Carla’s baby daddies on a third season episode of CHEERS. Stay tuned . . .

      • Alice may have gone broad in its later seasons greatly because of its producers, Madelyn Davis & Bob Carroll, Jr., who mastered broad comedy years earlier with Lucy. They were quoted back around 1960, when they created The Tom Ewell Show. (Maybe that show will be worth a Wed. Wildcard look in the future.) Tom didn’t seem to like it when they indicated where they wanted to take his show by saying “Get out the cream pies & fright wigs – we’re going wild!”. I’ve never seen the show to know how far they took the show in that direction, but I’m sure it had some of that humor.

        • I have a set of 29 of the 32 THE TOM EWELL SHOW episodes. Neither the scripts supervised by Davis and Carroll nor Billy Friedberg are comedically bountiful. I have actually thought about the series for Wednesday coverage, but as I told Guy several weeks ago, I have decided to no longer feature flop sitcoms just because they’re curios — they have to be genuinely deserving of time and attention. The jury’s still out in this regard. (Nevertheless, stay tuned — because you may see it here eventually.)

          As for ALICE, again, I think it was broad from day one — and in my estimation, unappealingly.

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