Sony // 1974 // 334 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 21st, 2003
Any time you meet a payment
Any time you need a friend,
Any time you're out from under.
Not getting hassled,
Not getting hustled..."
-- The "Good Times" Theme
TV spin-offs are nothing new to viewers. As I write this, one of the most popular and long-running spin-offs is still in production: NBC's hit sitcom Frasier. Kelsey Grammer's Dr. Frasier Crane was originally a character on the hit show Cheers. After Sam Malone's tavern closed for good in 1993, Dr. Crane was moved to Seattle for his own show. Likewise, Norman Lear's groundbreaking sitcom All in the Family begat the Bea Arthur comedy Maude, and from Maude came the 1974 hit Good Times. Technically, Good Times is a spin-off of a spin-off. It's enough to make your head spin! Good Times: The Complete First Season is now available in a two-disc set care of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
Good Times follows the adventures (and sometimes misadventures) of an African American family living in the Chicago Projects. Though they are practically dirt poor, the Evans family is still able to maintain their dignity by being a close knit clan filled with heartwarming laughs and smiles, all the while facing rough adversity. The family includes the stern, sharp-tongued mother Florida (the late Esther Rolle); her hard working husband James (John Amos); their sassy daughter Thelma (BernNadette Stanis); their black empowered young son Michael (Ralph Carter); and everyone's favorite big mouth, one-liner spewing beanstalk, J.J. (Jimmie Walker). Also a familiar face was the Evan's neighbor Wilona Woods (Ja'net DuBois) who always seemed to be visiting and talking about her dating woes. Together the Evans family will face religion, eviction, health troubles, sex, swindlers, and other topical issues of the day.
There are a total of 13 episodes on this two disc set:
* Getting up the Rent
* Black Jesus
* Too Old Blues
* God's Business is Good Business
* Michael Gets Suspended
* Junior Gets a Pardon
* Sex and the Evans Family
* Junior the Senior
* The Visitor
* Springtime in the Ghetto
* The TV Commercial
* The Checkup
* My Son the Lover
Being from Chicago, I believe that I am in a unique position to review Good Times. I have seen the toils and troubles of the poor! I have lived among the less fortunate! I have...um, okay, so none of that is true. I am a middle-class white guy who likes Bruce Springsteen and Pop Tarts. Technically speaking, I don't have much in common with the Evans. However, I do remember watching Good Times when I was a kid and thinking it was -- pardon the catchphrase -- DYN-O-MITE! After revisiting the series many years later (I can't even remember the last time I saw it in reruns), I was washed over with a nostalgic feeling. Though I don't think Good Times will go down in the history books as one of the great TV comedies of the 20th century, it does have its share of funny characters and a few good laughs packed into each episode.
Norman Lear was a pioneer in television. His shows were not only comedies but also perspectives on our world. In All In The Family, we saw life through the eyes of cranky bigot Archie Bunker. In Maude, Bea Arthur took on such topics as abortion and a woman's place in the world. In Good Times, it's all about making ends meet in a world that doesn't favor the weary. The show often reflected this theme -- in the very first episode, the Evans must deal with coming up with the rent money after an eviction notice shows up in their mailbox. In another episode ("God's Business is Good Business"), James is given a chance at making $100 a day (a lot for the '70s) working for a crooked revered, but passes to save his dignity and his soul, which brings me to another main theme running though Good Times: religion. In today's age, most TV shows shy away from any discussion of Jesus Christ or religion. I liked the way that Good Times stood up for the characters' beliefs, made abundantly clear in the episode "Black Jesus" when young J.J. paints a portrait of the Savior...who just happens to look like the neighborhood's local wino!
The cast is memorable, especially comedian Jimmie Walker as the lanky J.J. Most shows have a breakout character, and for Good Times it was J.J.'s jive mouth, which was more often than not getting him into trouble. But even while hogging the spotlight, there were other actors that performed their roles just as well. The burley, husky voiced John Amos (best remembered by this reviewer as the goofy father in Eddie Murphy's Coming to America) does a good job as the family patriarch, and the late Esther Rolle as his wife Florida slings zingers almost as fast as she can process them.
Though Good Times is a fun watch, it's not without its faults due most in part to the show's dated look and feel. The comedy and one-liners are not what I'd consider "sharp," and the performances sometimes look very staged and stiff. The show's laugh-track sounds cranked up so high that you'd think Robin Williams, George Burns, and Jerry Seinfeld had entered the room all at once. But even with the negatives, Good Times is still considered a groundbreaking TV show that paved the way for such black comedies as The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show. And that's defiantly -- err, pardon my catchphrase fever -- DYN-O-MITE!
Each of these 13 episodes is presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame version. The show was originally produced on videotape and often sports inconsistencies inherent with that medium: some of the colors appear to be washed out and the image is sometimes a bit soft. Otherwise, these transfers are all pretty decent considering the source and date (well over 25 years old). Fans will be happy to see that this classic '70s show is looking about as good as it's going to get.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise when I say that these sound mixes aren't anything special. Hollow and with an almost mono feel, each audio track is focused solely in the front speakers without any directional effects or surround sounds. Only a slight amount of distortion and hiss is heard throughout each episode, not surprising considering the medium and age. Also included on these discs are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Even J.J. will get the blues when he finds out that these discs don't contain any substantial extra features. Except for a promotional short for other Columbia TV show box sets, this first season of Good Times is void of any supplements.
Good Times is just that: enjoyable TV. The Evans family speaks to those who are struggling in the economy or facing often insurmountable hardships. Norman Lear's show features winning performances, especially by breakout star Jimmie Walker as the smooth talkin', jive walkin' J.J. Worth a peek if you've got the time.
Columbia has done a decent job at bringing the first season of this acclaimed show to DVD.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 334 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Promotional Trailer