6 January 2006 | email@example.com
The Jeffersons- Another 70's CBS Classic, But Are George and Archie Twins?
If the Television Hall of Fame selected television programs as a whole to win a gold plaque similar to Cooperstown N.Y. for MLB, or Canton Ohio for the NFL, "The Jeffersons" would be there front and center.
The long running CBS sitcom which aired from 1975 through 1985, won several Emmys, including Isabel Sanford for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. To me "The Jeffersons" is one of television's top fifty All-Time Programs, and the best one with a predominately African American cast, better than "The Cosby Show" and "Sanford and Son". As a child it was a thrill to be able to watch this program when schoolwork or bedtime did not get in the way.
I now own the first two seasons of "The Jeffersons" on DVD, and I enjoy the performances of all the characters. The show is of course centered around bigoted and avaricious George (Sherman Helmsley), and his long suffering wife Louise "Weezy" Jefferson (Isabel Sanford), but the performances of the character actors are also well above par. Paul Benedict as George's goofy, bizarre neighbor, Ned Wertimer as the not so modest or polite (when it comes to tips) doorman, Mike Evans as wisecracking son Lionel, and Marla Gibbs as wisecracking live-in-maid Florence, and of course the interracial couple who are usually the butt of George's racist jokes, Tom and Helen Willis played by Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker. And of course don't forget going way back in the day when people born in the 1890's were alive, well and entertaining us all, Zara Cully as George Jefferson's quick witted Mother, Olivia. She was hilarious when seeking attention from George and Weezy she intentionally tackles herself to the ground in a season 2 episode.
But "The Jeffersons" at least the first two seasons centers around George and his vices, which often outweigh his virtues, similar to the Archie Bunker character introduced in the early 1970's. Like Archie George is set in his ways, avaricious, sometimes crude, and often bigoted. Like Archie he is a bigot without a mean streak. He is a lovable bigot, and his racist views are played out for laughs, but George is not a carbon copy of Archie. They're not twins. Archie makes fun of everyone that is not his race, religion creed, or sexual orientation. George sticks to the basics. Just make fun of whitey, and those whites that don't offer him anything in return for his efforts.
There are some whites like Wittendale, the banker who holds the key to George's future of a dry cleaning monopoly. George always wants to pander to this guy. However George has no use for "honkies" like Tom Willis and his black wife Helen. Like Archie Bunker he despises mixed marriages. (Although Archie is all for Irish marrying Italian). Mostly because Weezy has him on a short leash, George reluctantly accepts Tom and Helen Willis as neighbors and in-laws.
One major reason why Archie's ethnic and racial slurs often spiral out of control and George's doesn't is the nature of the women they're married to. Edith is tolerant, dingbatty, and naive, while Weezy is sharp, quick witted, and as shrewd as George. She puts her foot down faster on George, than Edith does on Archie. Edith tends to push Archie in the direction he's going, with some first class dingbat punchlines added in.
George is a little bit of a thing, with an obsession for power and control, much like Danny DeVito in the movies. He lusts for money and power, and he's got it, a wife a family and a full chain of cleaning stores. Archie doesn't have all this. Archie needs to shut other people down to better his own situation. George doesn't. George has money and power. However, like Archie he is set in his ways, and his lack of modesty always gets him into trouble.
What this show was missing was a crossover appearance by Archie and Edith from the slums of Flushing to the penthouses in Manhattan. Carroll O' Connor and Jean Stapleton never appeared on "The Jeffersons." "The Jeffersons" was not the greatest TV sitcom. "All in the Family" along with "Seinfeld", "The Honeymooners" and "Cheers" were better. However there was a certain charm with this show that lasted from the Gerald Ford through the second half of the Ronald Reagan presidency. This was one fine show.