Sony // 1972 // 528 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // June 18th, 2003
."...Those were the days..."
For the benefit of the American pop culture illiterate, All in the Family, Norman Lear's groundbreaking sitcom that ran from 1971 to 1979, follows the exploits of the working-class Bunker family. Adapted from the British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, the concept is simple as can be: narrow-minded bigot Archie (Carroll O'Connor), his sweet but dingbat wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), their daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), and her jobless, college student husband Mike "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner) struggle to live in peace with one another at 704 Hauser Street in New York.
This three-disc set contains all 24 episodes of the second season of the show. Here's the run-down:
"Gloria Poses in the Nude"
I got no respect for a guy that spends his whole life getting cheap thrills out of other people's "nudidity."
Archie's flabbergasted when Mike's old college buddy, up-and-coming artist Szabo Daborba (David Soul, Starsky & Hutch) paints Gloria in the nude. Free of hang-ups, Mike's okay with it...or is he?
"The Saga of Cousin Oscar"
Family feeling can go just so far, then you gotta grab the bull by the corns and heave-ho.
When Archie's deadbeat cousin, Oscar, winds up dead during a visit at the Bunker house, the relations in Detroit stiff Archie for the funeral costs...the crumbs!
"Flashback: Mike Meets Archie"
It's like celebratin' the 365th day of a toothache.
On the occasion of Mike and Gloria's first wedding anniversary, the Bunkers reminisce about Mike and Archie's first meeting.
"Edith Writes a Song"
When the foist burglar breaks into this house, youse all turn to me and holler, "Do somethin'!," you know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna turn right around back and say, "Sing Edith!"
After some crimes in the neighborhood, Archie want to use the $30 in the family pot to buy a gun, but the family votes to let Edith use it to have music composed to a poem she wrote.
"Archie in the Lock-Up"
Are you kiddin'? Me go to a Commie demonstration? Wild hornets couldn't drag me there.
When Archie goes down to the U.N. to round up Meathead and Lionel Jefferson from a war protest that's turning violent, he's arrested along with the protesters.
"The Election Story"
You know somethin'? If you liberals go on gettin' your way we're all gonna hear one big loud flush. That's the sound of the U.S.A. goin' down the turlit.
Archie decides to vote for the first time in years...against Mike's and Gloria's candidate.
The dent in his car is hardly cold and he's comin' over here to claim his pound of fish.
Edith, a shopping cart, a can of cling peaches in heavy syrup, and a stranger's car don't mix. Archie's convinced the body shop is going to bilk him.
I got this friend of mine, see, and he's havin' "connubible" difficulties. That means he's a married man, but the trouble with him is he can't...he's stuck in neutral.
The stress of exams leaves Mike impotent. When the tests are finished, his anxiety should go away...but will it?
Safe City, California. Where the minorities don't outnumber the majorities.
When Archie receives a flyer from a real estate developer offering to buy his house, he considers selling and moving to sunny California...until the developer drops by and Archie learns he's black.
"The Insurance Is Canceled"
What I say ain't got nothin' to do with what I think.
Archie's home insurance policy is canceled because he lives in a "high-risk neighborhood." At the same time, he has to decide which of his three assistants at the plant will be fired. He decides to let little Emanuel the Puerto Rican go even though Stretch Cunningham is the least competent.
"Christmas Day at the Bunkers"
I'm the only one around here that understands the true and solemn meaning of Christmas. Which is a time for peace and quiet "contemptation."
It's Christmas but Archie's cranky because he didn't get his annual bonus.
"The Man in the Street"
I tell ya, that Nixon's gonna open his mouth once too often. He ain't gonna have Archie Bunker to kick around no more.
The Bunker house is abuzz when the TV goes on the fritz the same night CBS News with Walter Cronkite interviews Archie for a man-on-the-street's perspective on the president's economic policy.
"Cousin Maude's Visit"
I hate that dame!
When the Bunker family falls ill, Edith's cousin Maude (Bea Arthur) comes to take care of them. Problem is, she and Archie are like oil and water.
After 23 years of "stifles," the Dingbat turns on me!
The Bunker house is in upheaval as Edith goes through menopause.
"The Elevator Story"
Oh, listen to this guy. If it ain't the black callin' the kettle "pot."
While Mike, Gloria, and Edith wait for Archie in a restaurant to celebrate Edith's birthday, he gets stuck in an elevator with a black elitist (Roscoe Lee Browne, Treasure Planet), a whacked-out secretary (Eileen Brennan, Private Benjamin), and a Puerto Rican janitor (Hector Elizondo, Tortilla Soup) and his pregnant wife...who's going into labor.
"Archie and the FBI"
Don't be botherin' the US government with the Constitution.
Archie gets paranoid when the federal government starts investigating him and one of his buddies down at the plant.
"Archie Sees a Mugging"
I was in Italy in the war. That don't mean I saw Mussolini.
Mike's upset when Archie witnesses a mugging but says he didn't see anything because he doesn't want to get dragged into court to testify.
"Mike's Mysterious Son"
Get yer hands off my daughter, you Palooka, and head for the YMCA!
The Bunker house is turned upside-down when a strange woman drops off a little boy she claims is Mike's son.
"Archie and Edith Alone"
Certainly, I like bein' alone with you, Edith. Turn on the TV.
When Mike and Gloria visit a farming commune for eight days, Archie and Edith have to remember what it's like to be alone together.
"Edith Gets a Mink"
I ain't sayin' it's largesse, "smallesse," or any other kind of "esse." When I want my wife to have a fur coat, I'll buy her a fur coat.
When Edith's affluent cousin gives her a mink cape as a thank you, Archie wants her to give it back.
Your bein' colored, well, I know you had no choice in that. But whatever made you turn Jew?
When Sammy Davis, Jr. leaves his briefcase in Archie's cab, he pays a visit to the Bunker house.
"Edith, the Judge"
You'll be the best little judge that marriage can buy.
When Archie and a Laundromat owner have a dispute over a ruined load of laundry and broken washing machine, Edith agrees to mediate a settlement.
"Archie Is Jealous"
That's the straw that broke the camel's neck!
Archie flips out when he learns Edith spent a weekend at her boyfriend's parents' cabin 25 years ago.
It'll be a cold day in hell when I'm in a hurry to see Edith's cousin Maude.
In the kick-off for the All in the Family spin-off Maude, Archie and Edith go to Maude's in order to attend her daughter Carol's wedding. (Carol is not played by Adrienne Barbeau as she would be in the series, by the way).
Like M*A*S*H*, that other behemoth of a sitcom in the 1970s, All in the Family was strong out of the gate, presenting biting satire the likes of which had never before been seen on American television. Within a couple seasons, though, it became aware of its own importance and lost touch with the very things that made it brilliant, becoming increasingly serious and preachy. Feeling the need to editorialize on its own satire for the benefit of the minority of viewers who might be laughing for the wrong reasons, the comedy became hamfisted, less sure-footed, and more of a kind with the other mediocre comedies that littered the airwaves.
The show's second season finds it at its peak, slipping into more natural rhythms than in its first season as cast, crew, and writers are fully confident in their own powers. Nearly thirty years later, the comedy here is often brutal, the bigotry flowing from Archie's mouth cringe-inducing. But satire has to be painful. The show's greatest strength is its nuanced examination of the complex intersections between political philosophy (informed and uniformed) and the realities of day-to-day living. In the heated exchanges between Archie and his son-in-law, we're clearly supposed to identify with Meathead's open-minded, compassionate worldview, but the show deftly avoids oversimplified moralizing by framing Meathead as a kid as often naïve as Archie is ignorant. Much as we disagree with Archie, we feel a level of compassion for him because he's a guy who's lived an entire life paycheck to paycheck, working a job with crappy benefits and unpaid sick leave, the sort of guy who always does what it takes to ensure there's food on the table (much of which Meathead eats) and the bills are paid.
Some of the show's smartest and funniest episodes can be found in this package: Sammy Davis, Jr.'s visit (in which Archie repeatedly urges Edith not to mention Mr. Davis' glass eye, then does so himself), the two episodes featuring Maude (Bea Arthur and Carroll O'Connor are wickedly funny in their sparring), "The Elevator Story" which features a young Hector Elizondo and Archie exchanging witticisms with an affluent African American nearly as prejudiced as himself, and the flashback episode in which we witness Archie and Meathead's first meeting.
That said, one can also see minor chinks in the show's armor, signs of its future degradation. Because it pushes at the boundaries of cultural norms and exposes our ugliest selves, satire requires courage. A satirist must accept the fact that some won't understand the joke. Some will, in the case of a show like All in the Family, read satire of bigotry as bigotry itself. When satire stoops to explain itself, it loses its bite and wit. Some of the episodes here are guilty of just that. "The Insurance is Canceled" is a perfect example of what the show would become in its later, weaker seasons: taking on more than it can handle with parallel plots, each of which informs the other, the show commits the sin of editorializing on its own themes. In the final act, Emanuel, the Puerto Rican worker Archie has chosen to lay off strictly because of his race and despite the fact he's the most diligent of his three workers, explains he feels more sorry for Archie than he does for himself because his own absence isn't going to make the remaining employees work harder, meaning more work and longer hours for Archie. It's a smart point, but one made more effectively in the final moments of the show when we see Archie arriving home from work late and exhausted. There's no need to both show us and tell us. Good satire demonstrates an unflinching belief most of the audience is smart enough to get the point, and an uncompromising resistance to offering overt explanations to the portion that isn't. Despite the occasional misstep, most of the episodes in this complete season package show are courageous and spot-on.
As Rob Reiner intones over the end credits of each episode, "All in the Family was recorded on tape before a live audience." To that, I would add: nearly 30 years ago. It looks and sounds like it. Colors are faded, they sometimes bleed, and are far from consistent -- sometimes, for instance, Archie's shirt is white, sometimes light beige. The mono audio is flat at best, and sometimes shrill and distorted. If you've seen the show broadcast in reruns, you'll have a decent idea of what you're going to get here. The good news is, I didn't detect any transfer-related problems: no compression artifacts or pixelation or blocky mosaics. The DVDs present and preserve the show in as good a condition as it's ever likely to be.
The discs provide English and Spanish subtitles. That's it. There are no extras.
Considering All in the Family's reputation as a television series of cultural and sociological significance, I'm a bit surprised by the lack of extras in this set (Norman Lear and the cast weren't available for commentaries?). But the discs succeed in preserving the show, and these complete season packages give one an excellent sense of its evolution.
If you haven't seen All in the Family in a long time, you're liable to be shocked by its frankness. You'll think to yourself, "They'd never put a show like this on the air today." True, but only because All in the Family was instrumental in reshaping the cultural assumptions it satirized.
Review content copyright © 2003 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 528 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated