Shout! Factory // 1971 // 6300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // October 26th, 2012
"If all blood is the same, lemme ask you this: How come they ain't got no Swedes in the Mafia?" -- Archie Bunker
Set as white type on a black background, the following message scrolled from bottom to top of the screen, as a voice intoned:
The program you are about to
see is ALL IN THE FAMILY.
It seeks to throw a humorous
spotlight on our frailties,
prejudices and concerns.
By making them a source of
laughter, we hope to show --
in a mature fashion -- just how
absurd they are.
On Tuesday, 12 January 1971, television changed forever...and almost nobody noticed.
General wisdom has it that All in the Family -- the groundbreaking Norman Lear creation (itself an adaptation of the BBC comedy Till Death Us Do Part) about the working class Bunker family of suburban Queens, NY -- would never make it on television today. This theory is usually attributed to the notion that Americans would no longer tolerate a program centered on a white man spouting racial epithets for laughs. Just as valid is the argument that trigger-happy network executives would never have allowed a program with ratings as dismal as All in the Family's to run its contracted batch of thirteen episodes, much less repeat them during the summer season. But this is exactly where viewers began paying attention to what was going on inside 704 Hauser Street, where middle-aged warehouse worker Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor, Law And Disorder) lived with his wife Edith (Jean Stapleton, Up The Down Staircase), their newlywed daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers, Five Easy Pieces) and her husband Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner, This Is Spinal Tap).
Sometimes good things happen to evil network executives and apathetic audiences who routinely ignore innovative new television programming in favor of the tired and true.
Which brings us to the good news and the bad news, all of which depends on your individual perspective. First, it doesn't appear Shout! Factory has done anything more than collect the nine previously released DVD season sets (the last being twinned to a bonus disc featuring three interviews and five pilot episodes), without any additional audio or visual upgrades. These standard definition 1.33:1 full screen transfers with Dolby 2.0 Mono audio are more serviceable than spectacular, with English subtitles provided to bolster the patchy dialogue tracks. It's not as if these shows are unwatchable (far from it), but one can't help feel robbed by anything less than a state-of-the-art presentation for this landmark artistic achievement.
Several of my esteemed colleagues here at DVD Verdict have written definitively on the individual seasons sets, and I highly recommend exploring their critiques. In the meantime, let's press on.
The bonus disc kicks off with a new eleven minute Norman Lear interview, erasing any doubt that the man is no longer capable of entertaining. Two documentaries, "Those Were The Days: The Birth Of All in the Family," and "The Television Revolution Begins: All in the Family Is On The Air," were previously included as part of The Norman Lear Collection box set, as were two unsold ABC pilots -- "Justice For All" and "Those Were The Days" -- shot in 1968 and 1969, respectively. Both of these shows are identical to All in the Family's first official episode, save for the fact that O'Connor and Stapleton were working with different supporting actors in each, and the family surname was Justice rather than Bunker.
A trio of additional pilots round out the bonus features and extend the well-established narrative.
* Gloria (1982) looked in on Archie's "little goil" (now long divorced from Michael), moving to upstate New York with her son Joey (Christian Jacobs, Yo Gabba Gabba!) to take a job in an animal shelter run by the kindly and eccentric Doc Adams (Burgess Meredith, Rocky). O'Connor appears only in this premiere episode, which accurately exposes the single-season series for what it was: incredibly underwhelming.
* Archie Bunker's Place (1979) is not exactly a "spinoff," but rather what All in the Family morphed into when Stapleton decided to stop answering to the nickname of "Dingbat" and move onto other things. Edith actually appeared in several episodes during the first season, whose focus was on Archie's self-run tavern, but not in this first episode, which introduces Archie's new partner and foil, Murray Klein (Martin Balsam, 12 Angry Men). Archie kept his "place" open for business on CBS for four seasons and 97 episodes. Meh.
* 704 Hauser (1993) finds a black family, headed by cigar-chomping blow-hard liberal Ernie Cumberbatch, now inhabiting in Archie's former home. Despite an intriguing premise and the inspired casting of John Amos (Good Times), the series failed to deliver on its promise and exited the airwaves after only six episodes.
But wait, there's more! Thirty nine glossy color photo-laced pages more, to be exact, detailing the plot summaries of all 208 original episodes and featuring two essays -- One by Pulitzer-Prize winning TV critic Tom Shales; another by Marty Kaplan, credited as the "Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media, and Society at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism." I kid you not.
All that said, this is arguably the greatest and certainly the most influential television series of all time, gloriously collected here as All in the Family: The Complete Series.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 6300 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episodes
* IMDb: All in the Family
* IMDb: Gloria
* IMDb: Archie Bunker's Place