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Thursday, May 10, 2012

'All in the Family' S9: A Terrific End to a Wonderful Series

The '70s sitcom "All in the Family" has scores of  remarkable attributes, several of which I discuss below, but the series' awesomeness really hit home last night.

I had been watching Tivoed episodes of current shows but wanted to watch something on DVD. I confess to pulling out my set of the first season of the '80s sitcom "Bosom Buddies" but really craved something with a good mix of well-written comedy and a not too intense drama. While mentally reviewing the list of the plethora of series in my collection, I decided on the ninth season of "All in the Family" and am very glad that I did.

Before continuing with my praise for this season, I would like to give Shout Factory my standard shout out for releasing seasons of this show after another distributor apparently abandoned it. Shout adopted this series beginning with its seventh season.

Most of the recognition that "All in the Family" receives revolves around being one of the first shows that marked the shift from the '60s' rural and otherwise absurd comedies to more realistic and gritty ones. 

On a very basic level, "All in the Family" was the first show to include the sound of a toilet flushing. Another bit of trivia is that Danny "Danny Partridge" Bonaduce's father wrote for "All in the Family."

Adequately discussing the countless controversial and still relevant issues, which ranged from draft dodging to euthansia, that the series addressed would require writing a book. A Norman Lear hosted retrospective of the show in the ninth season DVD set is a good start.

However, CBS's good ratings for episodes of "All in the Family" that ran in prime time during a late '80s television writers' strike is evidence that the vast majority of the episodes would be relevant today.

"All in the Family" is also known for making producer Norman Lear a true household name. 

Aside from the seven shows, including the failedcoms "Checking In" and "704 Hauser Street," that I counted that spun off directly or indirectly from "All in the Family," Lear's '70s classics include "Sanford and Son" and "One Day at a Time." My second confession for the day is that Valerie Bertinelli-Van Halen was my first crush.

On a larger level, "All in the Family" was part of an unparalleled decade of great CBS sitcoms that extended beyond the Lear classics. Other great intelligent CBS shows from the era include "M*A*S*H," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and "The Bob Newhart Show." Even the not always great filler shows in CBS's Monday night 8:30 slot were above average.

I would additionally like to remind you whippersnappers out there who are tired of hearing grandpa prattle on about ancient history that the opening credits of "Family Guy" are a homage to the opening credits, which did not change for nine seasons, of "All in the Family." 

I feel compelled to mention as well that a college friend had close to a zero interest in any television from any era but regularly called a mutual friend Meathead and told the rest of us to stifle. Another friend barely has any DVDs but owns "All in the Family."

The theatrical nature of "All in the Family" episodes additionally made the show special. The sets, staging, and acting all have a nice element of live theater. Jean Stapleton's, who played devoted wife Edith, stage business with a telephone cord in the first episode of the ninth season was hilarious.

The ninth season of "All in the Family" was also special because it maintained the show's quality well despite already running more than 150 episodes and adding a "Cousin Oliver" element to the show in the form of the abandoned young daughter of Edith's cousin. Little Stephanie was neither too saccharine or too sassy; she was simply a typical blue collar kid.

The ninth season also made for good television despite leaning more toward feuding married neighbors and other typical sitcom plots than issue-related stories. This was likely due both to Sally "Little Girl" Struthers' and Rob "Meathead" Reiner's absences depriving Archie of verbal sparring partners and the fact that the series had already covered the weighty issues of the day and the centuries.

This is contrasts with the cartoonish nature that many excellent shows, including "M*A*S*H" and "The Jeffersons" developed in later seasons. Seeing formerly intelligent characters act buffonishly and often sustain serious harm to their person and property with absolutely no lasting ill effect always distressed me. 

I lost track of how many times Mel's Diner on "Alice" got wrecked only to look exactly the same as it did before the accident the following week. I also gave up on "Married With Children" once Al Bundy become a real-life Wile E. Coyote.

The final episode of "All in the Family" deserves a special note because it did not resort to any special gimmicks or big surprises. The even longer running "Cheers" was praised for having a similar element in its final episode.

Those of you who have enough interest in "All in the Family" to still be reading this "epic" review are encouraged to email me thoughts and/or questions.