Sony // 1973 // 530 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 20th, 2003
How'd you like one across your lip?
Thirty years after these episodes originally aired, Columbia TriStar releases the complete second season on DVD for the first time.
What's even better is how much this show is a breath of fresh air in an era of witless, dumb sitcoms.
Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his son Lamont (Demond Wilson) operate a junk business out of their house in the neighborhood of Watts. Their house is a virtual pigsty of junk, either for sale or as part of Fred's personal collection. For Fred, junk is a way of life. For Lamont, junk is the first step towards bigger and better things.
Along the way, the duo contend with a variety of colorful characters: Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), whom Fred hates with a passion; Grady (Whitman Mayo), a forgetful old codger; Bubba (Don Bexley), a not-so-bright friend of Fred's; Rollo (Nathaniel Taylor), a smooth talking friend of Lamont's; and Julio (Gregory Sierra), the Puerto Rican junk collector neighbor of the Sanfords.
It's hard for me to discuss how groundbreaking this series was. The show was off the air when I was born in April 1979. But from the perspective of watching the series thirty years after this season aired, it remains fresh and original. Like many Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin productions, real issues were dealt with in this sitcom and that was something new in the early '70s. Unfortunately, today we are reverting back to an era where concealing issues instead of confronting them is the norm. That is a leading reason why there are so few good sitcoms these days. What connection did any of us have to the NBC dud Coupling? But I'm sure you will find someone who will relate to Fred G. Sanford and his motley crew of characters.
The show was conceived mainly as a vehicle for Redd Foxx. Foxx, whose real name was John Sanford, was never better than he was here. Fred is often referred to as the "African-American Archie Bunker" (even on the back cover), but I think that's a vague description. Fred is cantankerous and even racist at times, but he's a much funnier character, I think, than Bunker. A great deal of the credit goes to Foxx's acting choices; he keeps his character rooted in the reality of the situation and he never strays from how Fred should behave, even when it makes him look the fool.
The second season was a great improvement over the first. A majority of the first season's episodes were remakes of the British series Steptoe and Son and the dry British humor was all too evident. With more original episodes written and many of the best characters added, the quality of the show increased greatly. Of course, perfect casting helped with every role cast with the right actor.
All 24 episodes are spread out over three discs. I have rated them on a scale of zero to five junk trucks:
"The Light Housekeeper"
Fred's car accident forces him to hire a live-in maid, who happens to be an old, dilapidated white woman who drives Fred up the wall.
"Blood is Thicker Than Junk"
Lamont quits his job at the junkyard determined to be independent. The only job he can find is working for a rival junk dealer.
"By the Numbers"
Fred claims that the winning lottery numbers have come to him in a dream, and against Lamont's wishes, he plays them.
Fred fears Lamont is being conned at the poker table and decides to join the game himself.
A white man driving a Cadillac hits Fred's truck. He hasn't sustained any injuries -- until Bubba convinces Fred that he can sue the driver for a fortune.
"Have Gun, Will Sell"
Lamont and Rollo foil a robbery and take possession of the burglar's gun. Fred mistakes it for junk and tries to pawn it.
Fred attempts to marry Lamont to his cousin's ugly daughter -- after learning the girl will inherit $10,000.
Donna invites a patient over to a Sanford home cooked meal. Rivalry ensues.
"Tooth or Consequences"
Fred develops a painful toothache but won't visit the dentist. Lamont hires a hypnotist instead.
Fred accidentally pulls the trigger on an antique rifle Lamont brings home. He then thinks he has killed his neighbor.
"The Puerto Ricans are Coming!"
New neighbors move in next door, and the big one nearly comes for Fred when he discovers they're Puerto Rican.
"A Visit from Lena Horne"
Fred finagles his way into Lena Horne's dressing room and makes an attempt to bring her home.
"Sanford and Son and Sister Makes Three"
Lamont falls head over heels for a young woman, who may be the product of an affair Fred had with her mother. Co-written by Richard Pryor.
"Fred & Carol & Fred & Donna"
Fred invites a pretty saleswoman over the same night he invited Donna to dinner.
"A Quest in the Yard"
A bum claims to have injured himself on the Sanford property and threatens to sue. Will Fred and Lamont be able to prove otherwise?
"The Big Party"
Fred cooks up a scheme to make big bucks by throwing a party. He makes a tidy sum until the local mob arrives to take their cut.
"Lamont Goes African"
Lamont tries to impress a young Nigerian woman by becoming obsessed with African culture. A twist occurs when she objects to his talking back to wise guy Fred.
"Watts Side Story"
Lamont falls for Julio's sister -- uniting Fred and Julio's mother in their mutual distrust.
"Pops N Pals"
Fred becomes jealous of Lamont's friendship with Julio and plans another scheme to keep Lamont home.
"The Infernal Triangle"
Fred's intended fiancée happens to be Lamont's old girlfriend.
"Home Sweet Home for the Aged"
Lamont finally puts Fred in a nursing home. His plan backfires when Fred is evicted from said home.
Lamont buys a valuable commode for $20 but Fred remains skeptical about the whole deal.
Local boy Jason runs away to the Sanford home. It's up to Fred to set things right.
Fred, Lamont, and Rollo accidentally get themselves cast in a porno movie and are arrested in a raid. Aunt Esther is their only hope.
Columbia TriStar remains respectful to the original photography by issuing the show on DVD in a full frame transfer. This is probably their best work on a TV show to date. There are the obvious, tell tale signs of early videotape production, but it's a nice, clean transfer with vibrant, bold colors and little grain. This is a great improvement over the prints used for TV Land.
As was typical in the early years of television, a Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix is the chosen audio format for this set. It's unremarkable in general, but the dialogue does come across clearly and there are no major defects in the soundtrack. Quincy Jones' theme music sounds quite good actually, now that I think about it.
No extras are included, other than the usual mandatory coming attractions trailer at the beginning of the first disc. This series was groundbreaking for its time and deserves better. Redd Foxx and Whitman Mayo are departed, but many of the others are still living, so a commentary track could have been easily arranged. As I have said before, some studios will do anything to save money.
According to the Internet Movie Database, three minutes of footage were cut from the episode "Blood is Thicker than Junk." This footage does remain in the print used on TV Land airings, so the question arises: why cut it? The footage isn't offensive in any way and it remains timely and funny today.
Norman Lear and his co-workers are acquitted.
Columbia TriStar is given a stiff fine for making unnecessary cuts to one episode.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 530 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Verdict's Review of Season One Set