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.
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, ROXIE ROKER as Helen Willis, FRANKLIN COVER as Tom Willis, PAUL BENEDICT as Harry Bentley, and MARLA GIBBS as Florence Johnston.
With only 22 episodes, Season Ten is the shortest year since the first. This may be a blessing, for the series is officially a disappointment, as the show has run out of stories that engage its original premise, the characters are defined by easy laughs, and most scripts utilize logic sparingly. Paul Benedict returns as Harry, but because he’s never been a big participant in the stories, his presence is trivial. Meanwhile, Franklin Cover is out for over a third of the year on medical leave, and when he returns, he looks noticeably ill. In the absence of Tom (and Lionel and Jenny, neither of whom make a single appearance), the show has even less characters with which to work. More material than ever is thrown to Isabel Sanford’s Louise; this would have been something wonderful in the early years, but by now, her characterization has changed drastically. No longer the voice of reason, Louise is now an excitable loon — espousing easy laugh lines and driving many of the most ridiculous stories. At the same time, George ends up taking a backseat, and it’s a shame that he isn’t the focal point of as many episodes as he was in seasons past (and that ones that he does anchor are generally not worth discussing). Basically, this is an unfunny season, and thank goodness this series is almost over. In the meantime, I have picked seven 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 seven best episodes of Season Ten. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Oz Scott, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 211: “I Do, I Don’t” (Aired: 10/16/83)
George and Louise agree to host a seminar for newlyweds.
Written by Jeffrey Richman and Joyce Gittlin
Although not a smart episode, this installment bears mentioning due to its comedic presence, which elevates the unworthy premise and tries to justify the unmotivated behaviors of the regular characters. Thematically, it treads ground that’s familiar to the audience and should have already been overcome by the characters. (i.e. George not treating Louise as an equal — remember when they dealt with that way back in Season Two?) But beggars can’t be choosers; comedy is comedy, and in that regard, this episode is slightly superior.
02) Episode 213: “And The Winner Is . . .” (Aired: 10/30/83)
Louise anticipates winning a Volunteer of The Year award.
Written by Neil Lebowitz
I use this installment frequently as an example of how much the Louise character has changed. Remember the offering in which Louise is mad at George for attempting to bribe his way into securing her the award? Now it seems as if she’d welcome that kind of interference. Her mad dog persona, although funny (and certainly good for 24 minutes worth of laughs), is so unlike what this character used to be at the start of the series. It’s uncomfortably jarring, especially since this episode isn’t a novelty. This is how she acts from now on.
03) Episode 215: “The List” (Aired: 11/20/83)
Louise intervenes when George resolves to beat up an old school bully.
Written by Marty Farrell
At first, this episode seems like it’s going to be about George and his desire to meet some of the unfulfilled wishes on his “gonna list” (a.k.a. bucket list) — chiefly to beat up a school bully who routinely tormented him. Unfortunately, the installment becomes about Louise, who drags along Helen to a pool hall in an attempt to preempt George’s visit and convince the man to let George win. There are some easy bits involving the women in the pool hall, and you’ll probably laugh out loud several times. So, it’s ultimately a success.
04) Episode 218: “What Makes Sammy Run?” (Aired: 01/01/84)
Louise tries to keep the secret that Sammy Davis, Jr. is in the building.
Written by Sara V. Finney | Directed by Tony Singletary
Our requisite guest star episode of the season finds Louise once again encountering Sammy Davis, Jr. (whom she met way back in 1972 in a phenomenal All In The Family episode). This installment is nothing like the aforementioned, and truly doesn’t deserve to be associated with that television classic. Once again, we have Louise acting like a manic fool — a chicken who’s head is soon to be chopped off — and the offering is only appealing due to the others’ reactions to her behavior. Some much needed self-awareness!
05) Episode 225: “Otis” (Aired: 03/18/84)
George is forced to examine black stereotyping when he’s the subject of a magazine article.
Written by Michael G. Moye
In its early seasons, this show made a point of being more political, cultivating stories that dealt with race relations and what it was like to be black in the ’70s. But by the last few years, perhaps a reaction to the change in style between ’70s television and ’80s television (which desired to be less socially conscious) or a general running out of ideas (and the accompanying knowledge of how to make the stories funny), these types of episodes dried up. Here’s an exception, and while it’s not hysterical, it’s certainly unforgettable. A favorite from the era.
06) Episode 227: “George’s Old Girl Friend” (Aired: 04/01/84)
One of George’s ex-girlfriends holds him hostage.
Written by Kurt Taylor
Shockingly, given the melodramatic and tired premise — which has George being held at gunpoint by an old high school flame — this installment is undoubtedly the strongest of the tenth season. There’s drama inherent in this story, but fortunately, the script allows it to play out with integrity; this character is angry at the world for a bad decision she made, and George is the only person on whom she can take out her anger. It’s a very solid source of conflict. But, naturally, it’s only made to work by the miraculous comedy. The best bit occurs when the Willises show up while she’s got a gun to George’s back. Memorable, funny, and well-written.
07) Episode 229: “In The Chips” (Aired: 05/06/84)
George and Jimmy must retrieve casino chips from Florence’s bingo tournament.
Written by Peter Casey & David Lee | Directed by Arlando Smith
Garrett Morris makes his final appearance as George and Louise’s overgrown foster son, Jimmy, who returns in this surprisingly amusing installment to provide the story with its conflict. Meanwhile, the incorporation of Florence’s bingo game into the story is smart, allowing for some narrative cohesion (and jokes about the kind of people that frequent these tournaments). George’s thinly drawn bodyguard returns as well, but it’s Jimmy’s final showdown with the old lady cardsharp that makes the offering worthwhile.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Real Men Don’t Dry Clean,” which is notable solely for the final gag of the men bringing home stuffed animals that they claim to have hunted, and “Honeymoon Hotel,” in which the Willises actually get something to play.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Ten of The Jeffersons goes to…..
“George’s Old Girl Friend”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the final season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!