Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re concluding 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.
As The Jeffersons was falling out of the Top 30 and being evicted from its comfortable Sunday night time slot (during the season) and relocated to Tuesday, where it was shuffled around and aired intermittently, viewers bore witness to the changing of the guard. The old was being ushered out, while the new — one of the first shows to typify the ’80s — took center stage. Yes, The Cosby Show. It’s hard to imagine a television season in which viewers could watch both The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show, but ’84-’85 is that year. One was a long-clinging, but whitewashed (per a TVGuide article of July ’83 — below), representation of what a socially conscious series about an upwardly mobile black family looked like in the ’70s; while the other was a valiant and unassuming attempt to present ’80s family values through a racially colorblind lens. They’re both fantastic in achieving what they initially set out to accomplish, and at their best, hilariously well-written. (The metaphorical jury is still out regarding whether or not The Cosby Show will be covered here. If any reader has an opinion about this, I’d appreciate knowing it below.)
Unfortunately, The Jeffersons didn’t know when to call it quits. It’s a ’70s show trying to survive in the ’80s. The series changed itself to adjust to the times, and lost itself in the process. Like last season, this year is a total disappointment. Louise Jefferson is an alogical lunatic, and the other characters have been milked for all their comedic worth. The show is tired. And although I think this year is no worse than the last (in fact, the selections in today’s post may be collectively funnier than the shows highlighted last week), I could only pick six episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest installments. (Again, while there’s only six, they may be more worth your time than last week’s seven.) 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 six best episodes of Season Eleven. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Oz Scott, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 232: “Bobbles, Bangles, And Booboos” (Aired: 10/28/84)
Louise and Florence conspire to prank George on national television.
Written by Winston Moss
Although this is a very story-driven installment about Louise and Florence getting George to make a fool of himself on a Candid Camera like television series, the audience is met with the appropriate laughs and therefore can forgive the premise’s inability to truly surprise. (We KNOW the robbery is another prank.) As usual, the laugh quotient bolsters this episode’s standing, and it must be said, these players can still do comedy. The brothel scene, in all its ostentatious bad sitcom glory, is a hoot. (And I love the Ethel Mertz joke!)
02) Episode 235: “The Gift” (Aired: 11/25/84)
George panics when he forgets Louise’s birthday.
Written by Bobby Herbeck
Like last season, the final year suffers from not giving enough meaty material to its star. This offering is one of the few that puts Sherman Hemsley’s George at the center of the proceedings, where laughs are almost guaranteed to exist. The entry is also appealing due to its simple premise — of George trying to scrounge up a birthday present for Louise — necessitating that the beats of the story, and all of the ensuing comedy, must come from the character. A lot of cute, and more importantly, amusing moments in this quiet(er) gem.
03) Episode 239: “The Unnatural” (Aired: 01/15/85)
George drops a home run ball hit by Reggie Jackson.
Story by Andy Borowitz | Teleplay by Jerry Perzigian and Donald L. Seigel
Our special guest star show of the season features Reggie Jackson and several of his fellow Angels. As not too much of a sports fan, I am unmoved by the incorporation of the celebrities; rather, I’m delighted by the delicious premise about George getting ridiculed by the entire world after dropping a home run ball hit by Reggie Jackson. Great stuff to explore there. Unfortunately, the second half treats us to unfortunate loony Louise, who sneaks into the locker room via the laundry cart (à la Lucy) and engages in really cheap laughs.
04) Episode 249: “And Up We Go” (Aired: 04/30/85)
George and Tom try to set a record of most rides in an elevator.
Story by Warren S. Murray | Teleplay by Cheri Eichen and Bill Steinkellner
George and Tom, whose friendship didn’t really develop until after they became grandparents and the show consciously shed its socially charged ambitions, form the center of this script, which sees them trying to break a world record. The one they settle on: highest number of times up and down the elevator. This isn’t a hilarious offering, but it’s satisfyingly written. Furthermore, the premise harkens back to the evergreen theme of George really wanting to leave behind a legacy. This is just another extension of that interesting trait.
05) Episode 250: “The Truth Hurts” (Aired: 06/04/85)
Louise believes she’s painted a masterpiece — but nobody else agrees.
Story by Stephen Neigher | Teleplay by Sara V. Finney and Vida Spears | Directed by Paul Benedict
Episodes that acknowledge Louise’s delusions are definitely more enjoyable, because this self-awareness is like a breath of fresh air. And indeed, there are a lot of really big and memorable laughs in this entry, especially from Florence, the only character who refuses to spare Lousie’s feelings and lie about her artistic ability. While I think the show would be funnier in the era in which Louise wasn’t always so clueless, for the quality of the script itself and the other strong character moments therein, this one is a veritable winner.
06) Episode 251: “The Odd Couple” (Aired: 06/11/85)
Florence and Harry Bentley go out on a date.
Written by Peter Casey and David Lee
My pick for the strongest episode of the season, this installment was produced early in the year but held back after a preemption. The offering is notable for being one of the few with a story about Harry Bentley that’s actually made one of these lists. (Because, honestly, he didn’t fit into a lot of the stories, and the ones he got often didn’t work.) The beauty of this episode is the dynamic between Florence and Bentley, and the awkward strain that potential romance puts on their interaction. The subtitled date scene is a riot, and in addition to the enjoyable comedy, it’s welcome to see an offering that’s so dependent on characters and their relationships. Again: simplicity.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Blood And Money,” in which George pays Ralph to donate blood in his name and then tries to reap the benefits when that blood goes into Mrs. Whittendale (this one almost made today’s list), and “The Gang’s All Here,” in which Louise takes over Charlie’s bar on the evening in which two rival biker gangs patron the place.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Eleven of The Jeffersons goes to…..
“The Odd Couple”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of Cheers! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Great job on the review. Definitely had the same reactions to certain episodes and seasons here. Surprised that The Odd Couple is your favorite pick. One question, who did you think had the worse character transformation..Louise or Janet from Three’s Company.
Well the moment you have been waiting for. you are finally reviewing Cheers.
Also I believe you should review The Cosby Show because for a couple reasons. One in a way it followed The Jeffersons by having a successful black couple, two it was part of the NBC lineup that ushered a new era of sitcoms and bought more positivity in television, four it bought the spinoff A Different World and if it was not for that show, a lot of blacks attended Historical Black Colleges because of that show. (Although I don’t know if you would review it)
Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.
That’s a good question; I think Louise’s transformation is more of a detriment because she actually becomes the focus of most of the scripts, dragging down a lot of offerings from the final two years as a result. By the time Janet becomes a loon (Season Seven), THREE’S COMPANY is very close to becoming “The John Ritter Show with Don Knotts, Joyce DeWitt, and a token blonde”. So it doesn’t matter quite as much.
Thanks for voicing a positive vote in favor of THE COSBY SHOW. My reservations are, of course, a result of Cosby’s current wave of bad press, which I know to be based in truth (firsthand from a professor, who wrote for the first year of THE COSBY SHOW). And while I’m perfectly capable of separating the actor’s personal and professional lives — discussing the show completely on its creative merits — I don’t know how possible it is to even attempt featuring the show as if it exists in a vacuum, separate from everything else that’s going on. Furthermore, I like many things about the series, but I don’t love it as I do most shows here. And that complicates my resolve to “risk” the implications of covering a series that many viewers (not I, personally, however) now find to be tainted. I’ll know for sure whether it’ll be here (following NIGHT COURT, which is following MAMA’S FAMILY, which is following CHEERS) by March, but I’d like to hear from some others. Thanks again for sharing!
My thing is forget what people say..this is a sitcom and if people get mad at you due to all the bad press Cosby they are not your loyal readers. As for what I think about the situation. ..well that is another issue for a different day
Okay. I’ll keep you all posted about my choice! It sounds like most of the subscribers here are still able to appreciate the show for what it was — and I’m relieved. Frankly, my decision now hinges on whether or not I think I can contribute valuable and worthwhile commentary for a show that delights as much as it frustrates. And more importantly, if it delights ME more than it frustrates . . . Stay tuned!
Can’t wait to begin Cheers.
I also agree you should review The Cosby Show because of its important place in history. It’s also a still an amazing show no matter what we may think of Mr.Cosby.
Hi, Brandon! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Thanks for another vote in favor of seeing THE COSBY SHOW covered here!
Great! The main reason I would love to hear your Cosby Show critique is so we can praise the amazing Phylicia Rashad!
Yes, often felt she was underserved on the show. Stay tuned . . .
I too vote for separating the actor’s personal and professional life. Review The Cosby Show if you want to, don’t review it if you don’t want to. It was an important and popular show that is worthy of being considered on its own merits.
Hi, Walt! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Thanks for another vote in favor of seeing THE COSBY SHOW covered here!
Yes, I think your insights on THE COSBY SHOW would be very interesting to read. As much as we have previously discussed series’ like ALL IN THE FAMILY and SEINFELD whose eventual deterioration from their glorious high points represented such a marked drop, I think THE COSBY SHOW is truly the epitome of that syndrome. When it debuted in 1984-85 it was a funny, vibrant, refreshing sitcom that hit all the right notes, but it took just a couple of seasons for it to succumb to the worst excesses of arrogance and self-indulgence and was, by about 1987 or 1988, well nigh unwatchable.
P.S.: I hate to be “that Guy,” but Reggie Jackson was a California Angel by 1985, not a Yankee.
Hi, that Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Good catch; I have amended the above post. And thanks for another affirmative vote for THE COSBY SHOW!
Oh do please review the Cosby Show. I have consistently enjoyed your insights into many of the series you have reviewed; your thoughts about what made the Cosby Show initially good show would be, as usual, rather enlightening. I do agree with one of the commenter’s sentiment that the show lost its savour as it went on; it seemed to me that the show didnt quite know what to do with the kids once they started to grow up. They basically had to add Cousin Pam in order to do more adult storylines, because they seemed averse to the idea of the kids exploring sexuality. Dont get me started on Olivia–or should I say Rudy 2.0–when she came on the show regressed and started retreading old premises. At least from that, we got an a dream episode where the show(in a moment of self-awareness) acknowledges the fact that Olivia was simply a Rudy clone.
Hi, David! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Thanks for another vote in favor of seeing THE COSBY SHOW covered here! The show breaks one of my cardinal sitcom rules: there shouldn’t be more kids than adults.
It’s funny, because I rather share your distaste for kids in sitcoms–I bet they play Full House in the deepest pit of Hell. I suppose what makes the children in Cosby so likeable is for the fact they act like real kids and not like catchphrase spouting machines(looking right at you Full House). The kids, unlike other shows of that era, dont act wiser and more mature than the adults are. The Cosby Show seemed like the first sitcom in so long that knew what kids were like. Also, despite all the other heinous behavior on Cosby’s part, no one can deny he had a rare faculty for working alongside children. He could turn his interaction with the kids into comedy gold.
I generally agree, particularly with regard to the collective strength of the Huxtable youth. But there’s so many of them and they’re almost always the source of the stories; it gets tiring. It’s going to be interesting when I go through the series chronologically (while wearing my critical glasses) and tracking the ratio of what works to what doesn’t — and more precisely, what I find comedically excusable and what I don’t.
Yeah, the stories are definitely centered more on the kids. As a result of that, the show doesn’t quite explore the nuances of Cliff and Claire’s marriage to the same extent say the Bob Newhart Show or even Maude would; their relationship most often is framed in relation to the kids. I don’t think I can quite recall off the top of my head any argument that Cliff and Claire had that wasn’t centered around one of the Huxtable youth. But I know, if you decide to review it, you will give(as always) an incisive and an intriguing review of it.
Thanks! We shall see . . .
I think a review of THE COSBY SHOW is a must. Regardless of what one thinks about Cosby his show was groundbreaking, and look at how many African-American people have said they were influenced by Cosby and Co. to go to college because of the show. The opinions of what someone thinks of Cosby does not mean the show should be relegated to the dustbin of history. Plus I love your reviews. As someone said those who would get mad at you for covering the series really are not fans of your writing. Besides, I am still a Cosby fan of his comedy and work regardless of my personal feelings about what has happened (which this is not the place for that) and when I was growing up Thursday Nights at 8 on NBC was a MUST!!!
Hi, Rick! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Thanks for another affirmative vote for THE COSBY SHOW!
David, Actually there was an argument between Cliff and Clair in the episode, That’s Not What I Said. IMO one of the best
One of my favorites as well. Stay tuned . . .
Glad THE JEFFERSONS is over – the few of these episodes I remember are awful. 67-year-old Isabel Sanford trying to be Lucy is embarrassing.
I also think you should cover THE COSBY SHOW, even though it goes downhill in the third season (way too many plotless and humorless episodes) and is hit-and-miss afterwards. Don’t know if you like THE MIDDLE or not, but I’d like to see that as well – not a kiddie-com but wonderfully written and acted.
Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I find THE MIDDLE to be exactly what its title suggests. But we’re several years away from covering contemporary shows on Sitcom Tuesday (should that day ever actually arise), so it’s not even on my radar (yet).
Thanks for another affirmative vote in favor of seeing THE COSBY SHOW highlighted here.
I think The Cosby Show should be reviewed. Although it had some good episodes sometimes I found it boring but it did bring a lot of viewers to other sitcoms that may have not had a chance if Cosby had not been the lead. I do now remember some of the episodes covered above from The Jefferson’s. Good choices. Will you be covering Wings? It’s one of my favorites from the era. Thanks for all the good work you do in covering our favorite sitcoms.
Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Thanks for another affirmative vote in favor of seeing THE COSBY SHOW highlighted here. WINGS is a safe bet, but not confirmable at this time. The only things you can expect here right now are the shows mentioned upthread. Stay tuned . . .