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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Politics > Good Times + Sanford & Son – The Complete Series (Sony DVD)

Good Times + Sanford & Son – The Complete Series (Sony DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: B



The initial TV successes of Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin in the early 1970s created a wave of groundbreaking TV hits that seemed would never end.  Into the early 1980s, they, Mary Tyler Moore and Garry Marshall (starting with The Odd Couple & Happy Days) dominated the TV sitcom in a way that remains its peak.  Quickly expanding, the team tried to new shows and they immediately became huge hits.


Yorkin approached NBC (CBS was the Lear/Yorkin home) to do an American version of the U.K. hit Steptoe & Son, signing racy, bold comedian Redd Foxx to play the father and an unknown Demond Wilson to play his son Lamont.  The result was launched in 1972 as Sanford & Son and it was a watershed hit.  Foxx proved that without his blunt language and adult situations, he was a brilliant comic actor and Wilson was perfect casting as their chemistry and great writing resulted in six seasons on top as the family running a junkyard & recycling business.  Yorkin directed the early shows, including the pilot, and Yorkin proved that he was as strong a player on the Lear/Yorkin team as Lear.


Meanwhile, back at CBS, the spin-offs from All In The Family were beginning and after Maude (reviewed elsewhere on this site) with Bea Arthur became another groundbreaker, the biggest hit spinoff from a hit spinoff to date was in the works.


Among the cast was Esther Rolle as the formidable Florida, Maude’s maid and the only one who was a match for Maude.  Her character was so popular that actor Mike Evans and writer Eric Monte started to develop their own show.  Evans was the first Lear/Yorkin Jefferson, playing the first of the two Lionel Jeffersons from the very first pilot episode of All In The Family.  The Jeffersons was a huge hit spin-off, but while it was in its climb to phenomenal success, Evans had to leave to be more hands on with Good Times, a semi-biographical version of his life that offered Rolle as the star and a strong supporting cast.  They included John Amos as father James Evans, Sr., Ralph Carter as “Michael”, BernNadette Stanis as Thelma, comic Jimmie Walker as J.J. and Ja’net DuBois as best friend/neighbor Wilona Woods.


The families live in a project in Chicago where things are so bad you can (as the song says) look so long that it look like you are “watching the asphalt grow” and this became the most realistic look at poverty on any TV show to date, especially a comedy.  A debate started over J.J. and his comic antics “ruining” the look at the urban plight, but this was always meant to be a sitcom and not a drama like Frank’s Place (now a cult classic) would be.  However, that would be a minor problem versus what would happen to the show over its six season beginning in 1974.


When All In The Family was a big hit, Carroll O’Connor became one of the highest paid TV actors of all time and had a long, great character history on TV and in many classic feature films.  Sanford & Son was as big a hit at one point and when Foxx wanted similar pay in the middle of the series’ success, the producers bulked, but he did get his money when he took his case to NBC.  However, a backlash developed against any other actors who wanted big pay and the result was the sudden disappearance of major characters or even their sudden death.




On Good Times, Amos wanted more money and they decided to kill him off and rely on Rolle, but when she later wanted more money (and deservedly so) she was written out of many episodes and entire seasons leaving neighbor Wilona the parent!  Rolle did return in the end, but these changes hurt the show badly and are a far larger problem than anything with the J.J. character.  Still, some good shows were made in these later times and the addition of Janet Jackson as Wilona’s adopted daughter Penny was one of those rare later-season character add-ons that actually worked.



The same kind of money ballets would hurt great hits like Welcome Back, Kotter, Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company and other shows whose talent and audiences deserved better.  This is not to say that then actors who wanted the money were always in the right, but there was a definite slant against them that by the 1980s would profoundly hurt dramatic TV in a way it never did recover from.


Sanford & Son also had some great supporting performances in those of Don Bexley as Bubba, Nathaniel Taylor as Rollo, Whitman Mayo as Grady and LaWanda Page stealing more than a few scenes as Fred’s equal, Aunt Esther.  As the side characters became more prominent, the show’s humor became wilder, more outrageous and built up all the more.  The surprise in watching the early episodes are the atypically serious approach to the storytelling and humor that builds up the main characters more than you would see in most sitcoms.  Establishing the dignity and wit within the humor was a brilliant move and those early shows in particular hold up very well as a result.


They also dealt indirectly with issues, something Good Times took head on, including Michael’s explicit connection to the Black Power movement and all the ideas that entails.  No character before or since in TV history has taken on that ideology and the writing did it in a very smart way.  By the end of the series, Michael’s choices were whittled down to becoming either a basketball player or judge, but it gave the show an edge worthy of the best Lear/Yorkin shows.  Florida became the moral center of the show and when she was gone, she still haunted the show in this respect.


After releasing every season separately in single-season box-sets, Sony is issuing Complete Series DVD sets in the controversial single-spindle packaging where the spindle does not hold the discs and the plastic unit is of a thin plastic.  They are definitely space-savers, but I still think they could be at least of sturdier plastic if Sony is not going to supply fancier DigiPak boxes.



The 1.33 X 1 image on both shows originated on analog professional NTSC videotape (the 2” reel-to-reel kind) and despite some aliasing, softness and flaws here and there, look pretty good for their age.  I always liked the distinct way the Lear/Yorkin shows were lit, shot and set designed.  That look and feel is here throughout both shows and leaves little to complain about considering their age.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is also a fair approximation of the audio.  There are sadly no extras, but both shows deserve more.  However, they hold up and now you can enjoy all 136 episodes of Sanford & Son, plus all 133 episodes of Good Times any time you want.


Note that the Fred Sanford revival series Sanford (aka Sanford Arms) that ran for 1.5 seasons starting in 1980.  We’ll see if that is a DVD set announced next.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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