Shout! Factory // 1976 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jeff Robbins (Retired) // October 28th, 2010
"I'm one guy who ain't prejudiced against anybody who may be less superior to me." -- Archie Bunker
Thank goodness for Shout! Factory. After Sony declined to release the final three seasons of All in the Family, the pop culture retro label has mercifully taken over, beginning with the release of All in the Family: The Complete Seventh Season. It's tremendous television.
Well, it's been three years since Sony's last release, so maybe a quick refresher course is needed: Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) -- dock foreman for the Prendergast Tool and Die Company by day, cab driver by night -- lives in a modest house in Queens, New York with his underappreciated and devoted wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), who works part-time at the Sunshine Nursing Home.
Archie and Edith live next door to their daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), her husband Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner), and their grandson, Joey. This season's only major recurring supporting character is Teresa (Liz Torres), a young Puerto Rican woman who rents out one of the Bunkers' spare rooms.
Archie loves his wife, his daughter, his grandson, his chair, and his television. He tolerates his son-in-law, whom he considers a "phony, bleeding-heart liberal." He dislikes and distrusts pretty much every racial, ethnic, and religious group to which he himself does not belong; nor is he a big fan of the gays, whom he unabashedly refers to as "fruits."
I admit it. I'm a Brett Favre apologist. After watching him tear up my beloved Minnesota Vikings for so many years, I'm happy enough to have him playing for and not against the Vikings that he can almost do no wrong by me, although I'm fully aware that almost every aspect of his off-the-field life for the last two or three years has made him seem like a real ass.
It's the same for me -- and many others -- with Archie Bunker. No doubt Bunker's racial prejudices, homophobia, sexist attitudes, and religious intolerance are despicable. In short, the guy's a real ass. But thanks to Carroll O'Connor's absolutely brilliant portrayal of Bunker, the guy is almost lovable. We hate the man's attitudes and beliefs, but somehow we can't condemn the man himself.
Having taken a three-year hiatus from All in the Family, the first thing I observed about these 25 Season Seven episodes was their simplicity. Having already launched The Jeffersons and Maude as successful spin-offs, the program had almost completely reverted its focus back to the Bunkers and Stivics. With one exception ("Teresa Moves In"), there are no "A" plotlines and "B" plotlines; an episode entitled "Fire" is solely about a fire at the Bunker house, while an episode entitled "The Baby Contest" is only about Archie submitting his grandson's picture for a "cutest baby" contest. A large number of the shows take place in just one location, typically the Bunker's living room. The individual episodes are presented almost like short plays; if producer Norman Lear had decided to broadcast a live episode of All in the Family, no one would likely notice any difference.
With minimal plot lines, hardly any supporting players, lengthy scenes heavy with dialogue, and few set changes, the burden to deliver falls heavily on the cast and writers. They are more than up to the challenge.
O'Connor and Stapleton are in particularly fine form in the three-part story
arc that opens the season. Entitled "Archie's Brief Encounter," the
season's first plot revolves around Archie's dalliance with a vivacious waitress
named Denise, played by guest star Janis Paige. O'Connor plays his flirtation
with Paige with a perfect mix of lust, embarrassment, guilt, and fear. Wisely
avoiding the trap of making sexual desire among the middle-aged adorable (like
this generation's Cialis commercials), the situation here is played seriously,
and it is shocking when Archie doesn't rebuff Denise's first kiss, but instead
goes in for more. A well-timed interruption causes Archie to leave before
anything more serious happens, but later he is confronted by Edith when she
finds Denise's number left by the telephone. It's a heartbreaking scene, and
Stapleton's stunned silence as the shattered wife is wonderfully sad. The two
actors' reconciliation scene in the third part of the arc is also a marvel, as
Stapleton and O'Connor -- seven seasons in -- continue to add layers to their
characters by revealing a stronger Edith and a weaker Archie; it is clear here
for perhaps the first time that despite his often dismissive treatment of her,
Archie needs Edith much more than she needs him.
The two actors are later united in agony in "Mike and Gloria's Will," another wonderful episode in which Mike, after a near-death experience, forces the issue of who should raise their son in case something should happen to him and Gloria. He quite rightly has issues with the bigoted Archie being his son's main role model (especially when Archie buys Joey an enormous machine gun that he claims is "better than what they give me to kill Krauts in World War II"), but he is not prepared for how -- in a memorably tense scene -- devastated Archie and Edith are to hear that they are not trusted as guardians to the grandson they adore. Though Joey was born in the sixth season, the seventh season is when O'Connor was first allowed to show Archie as a doting and loving grandfather, which served the dual purpose of softening his character yet also making him even more complex.
All in the Family was at its best when it tackled societal problems, and one of its best topical episodes and arguably the high point of the season came, oddly enough, in the Christmas show entitled "The Draft Dodger." In the episode, an old friend of Mike's named David (guest actor Renny Temple), shows up unannounced to have Christmas dinner. Turns out David had years earlier escaped to Canada to avoid being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War and is visiting the states at great personal risk (draft dodgers were not given amnesty until the following year). He ends up eating Christmas dinner not only with the Bunkers but also with a friend of Archie's, Pinky Peterson, who had a son killed in Vietnam. Though much of the episode strikes a light tone (thanks to a gag gift Archie desperately wants to try out on Pinky), there is an undercurrent of tension throughout as we await Archie's discovery of David's secret. When he finally does, the episode turns absolutely riveting, first because of Archie's highly explosive response to Mike's insistence that "the war was wrong," and second because of Pinky's subdued response: Instead of being appalled by David's illegal avoidance of the war that his own son sacrificed his life for, Pinky offers a hand of friendship to David. He declares that both young men had to make difficult decisions, and since his son isn't alive to celebrate Christmas, he would like to celebrate it with David. The inference, of course, is that Pinky, and, by extension, all parents who lost children in Vietnam, wish that their sons and daughters would have made the same decision as David, but the show expertly avoids any such heavyhanded preaching.
("The Draft Dodger" is a marvelous half-hour of television, only mired somewhat by the clumsy editing of O'Connor's use of the word "goddamn" which comes up twice in the explosive scene after Archie discovers David's true identity. Following the taping, CBS forced O'Connor to redub his lines, which unfortunately diluted a very powerful scene. Though Shout! Factory presents the scene as originally broadcast, it would have been a wonderful bonus if the episode could have been presented as originally recorded. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the original audio even exists anymore.)
In addition to "The Draft Dodger" and other Season Seven episodes that deal with unemployment, suicide, violence, and, of course, discrimination, this set reminds us that All in the Family wasn't always topical, sometimes it was simply funny as hell. One such hysterical episode is "The Boarder Patrol," in which the Bunkers arrive home early to find Teresa upstairs with her boyfriend. Well, to be exact, Edith discovers them, and keeping the situation from Archie drives much of the episode's comedy. The show may tread a little close to Three's Company territory for some, but the farcical nature of the half-hour is a welcome change of pace, and Teresa's boyfriend unknowingly kissing Edith is undoubtedly one of the comedic highlights of the season. But probably the most laugh-out-loud episode included here is "Mike and Gloria Split," which includes the unforgettable scene of Archie and Mike becoming first roommates and then bedmates. Archie's detailed instructions to Mike of how to properly climb into a bed (it has to do with making sure you have a flap to air out the bed in case of gas) had me on the floor.
Though not given as much "heavy" material to work with this season, one of the revelations of this set, particularly for anyone who hasn't watched All in the Family for a while, is the work of Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner. Struthers, who has unfortunately become a bit of a pop-culture joke, more than holds her own with O'Connor in many scenes as a strong woman refusing to accept her beloved father's prejudiced ways. And Reiner is simply hysterical, particularly in his scenes with O'Connor, but also notably in "Gloria's False Alarm," in which he hesitantly agrees to get a vasectomy (from a young doctor who memorably says "Let's boogie" as prelude to the operation), and in "Archie's Chair," when, to his horror, he breaks his father-in-law's most cherished possession. Though Reiner still occasionally acts in some cameo roles, watching All in the Family: The Complete Seventh Season makes you wish he would get in front of the camera more frequently.
Most of the episodes here, presented in the standard format befitting their original broadcast, look decent, but the video quality does have an overall soft appearance and there are occasional instances when episodes seem as if they were somehow transferred at the wrong frame rate (at times I was reminded of the look of the "Russian Show" from SCTV, another series I wish Shout! Factory would finish off). At first I thought the problem was much worse on "Archie's Brief Encounter," but after watching all 25 episodes and then going back to the season premiere, I realized that I must have just gotten used to how the shows looked, as the premiere was no worse than the other episodes. Extreme videophiles may be disappointed, but I believe most All in the Family fans will be more than content with how the audio and video presentation on All in the Family: The Complete Seventh Season.
Speaking of "Archie's Brief Encounter," the first two (of three) parts of that season opener and the two parts of "Archie's Operation" both originally aired as one-hour episodes but are here presented instead as two half-hours. In these cases, I worry that scenes have been cut from the original hour-long episodes, though posts on the Shout! Factory message board can only confirm that a short scene was cut from the opening of "Archie's Brief Encounter." Another episode, "Mike, The Pacifist" is, at 23:52, about a minute shorter than the other episodes, but I could find no evidence as to what, if anything, was cut.
As with Sony's first six releases, there are no bonus features included here, unless trailers for Rhoda, Father Knows Best, and Marcus Welby, M.D. (which play automatically upon insertion of the first disc) can be counted.
As good as Season Seven is, it does show some minor signs of running out of gas by the third disc. There's nothing wrong with not addressing a major societal ill on every episode, but late-season entries such as "The Joys of Sex," "Fire," and especially "Archie's Dog Day Afternoon" are not even funny.
There's also a character development issue on the third disc that is bothersome. In the very strong episode "Stretch Cunningham, Goodbye," Archie reluctantly agrees to deliver the eulogy at a friend's funeral. The friend, unbeknownst to Archie, was Jewish, and, while delivering his touching eulogy (which he caps with a respectful "Shalom"), Archie, realizing that he could care for someone "different" than him, appears to have a personal breakthrough that would cause him to seriously reconsider his bigoted ways. Unfortunately, five episodes later he panics at the thought of accepting a Jewish member into his "Kings of Queens" lodge.
All in the Family: The Complete Seventh Season is a release that has been long overdue. It's a no-brainer purchase for anyone looking to complete their All in the Family collection or for anyone interested in truly classic television.
Though some extras would have been appreciated, Shout! Factory has pleased
the court for its service to the community by rescuing this classic from Sony's
abandoned pile. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Jeff Robbins; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated