Judge Lacey Worrell wonders what's so funny about rent control and tenants' organizations?
With your family around you, you're never alone.
227, a moderately popular entry in NBC's Saturday night lineup, makes a welcome debut on DVD, considering that this sitcom never enjoyed the kind of second life it should have had in syndication.
Facts of the Case
Mary Jenkins (Marla Gibbs, The Jeffersons) is a middle-class wife and mother living in a lively Washington, D.C. apartment building. She is surrounded by friends like gentle Rose (Alaina Reed Hall, Sesame Street) and busybody Pearl (Helen Martin, Hollywood Shuffle), but her most trying moments occur when she must deal with the resident single vixen, Sondra (Jackee Harry, Another World).
Mary must keep a watchful eye not only on her husband, Lester, who is a target of Sandra's, but also on Mary's teenaged daughter, Brenda (Regina King, Daddy Day Care), who is experiencing the pangs of first love with Calvin, Pearl's grandson.
This first season showcases the unique comedic chemistry between the principals, particularly between Mary and Sondra, who dislike each other intensely but can't seem to avoid each other. 227 is ostensibly about Mary and her family, but it is really a show about the fierce competition between women, which is a world many men…especially Mary's husband…know little about and would have no desire to inhabit even if they were aware of it. What gives this show appeal is that most female viewers are able to relate to Mary, and every woman over the age of about, oh, 13 or so, has known someone like Sandra.
Another strength of this show is the willingness of its creators to take it out of the living room and into places like 227's laundry room and front stoop; this provides opportunities for a variety of outsiders to enter the lives of the main characters. Modern sitcoms appear to be terrified of allowing the living room sofa to be out of sight for more than several seconds, so it is a credit to 227 that a risk like this was taken. That said, the sets are very obviously sets, and as admitted by a crewmember in one of the three featurettes included on this release, the first season of the show was shot on a very limited budget. It shows visually, but the acting and the writing are strong enough to overcome the aesthetic limitations. This strong first season of 227 was enough to eventually attract guest stars like Run-DMC and Bobby Brown; say what you will about Bobby Brown today, but he was one of the hottest things going in the late 1980s.
The three included featurettes are especially generous, given the fact that original cast members were brought in to share their perspective now that it has been close to twenty years since the series debuted. Even the relatively brief "From Stage to Screen" featurette is worth a look; although I watched this show during its original run, I had no idea it was based on a play. The featurette discusses the challenges of translating a drama based in the 1950s into a gentle 1980s sitcom.
227 ran from 1985 to 1990, and toward the end of its run it was showing its age, most notably with the addition of a child genius character (Countess Vaughan, The Parkers) that detracted from the main story line. This show has an extensive page dedicated to it on jumptheshark.com, the site infamous for tracking the exact moment when popular shows lose their edge and resort to desperate ratings ploys to retain viewers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although the story lines are classic and would translate to any decade, the 1980s pastel and jewel-toned fashions make 227 look very dated on DVD; some of the colors and patterns in the wardrobe are bright to the point of distraction. And looking at the hairstyles on everyone but Sandra, it's hard to believe that they ever looked good—even in an anything-goes decade like the '80s.
In the special features it is mentioned several times that this show wasn't created specifically for an African-American audience: Anyone can relate to the timeless themes and the solid acting. Watching this show twenty years later, despite some unevenness and the tendency to become slapstick at times, 227 still rings true.
A little '80s nostalgia never hurt anyone. If you're tired of endless reruns of The Cosby Show and Family Ties, give 227 a try.
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