Our reviews of All In The Family: The Complete Second Season (published June 18th, 2003), All In The Family: The Complete Fourth Season (published August 10th, 2005), All In The Family: The Complete Seventh Season (published October 28th, 2010), All In The Family: The Complete Eighth Season (published January 19th, 2011), All In The Family: The Complete Ninth Season (published June 16th, 2011), and All in the Family: The Complete Series (published October 26th, 2012) are also available.
"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."
This disclaimer ran just prior to the premiere of All In The Family on January 12, 1971. CBS was worried about the potential backlash of a show that tossed around words like "spic," "spade," and "hebe" as punch lines. But there was no backlash, because no one was watching. In fact, it wasn't until the show began its summer reruns that viewers started a love/hate relationship with bombastic bigot Archie Bunker, his sweet but dopey wife Edith, whiny daughter Gloria, and bleeding heart Mike "Meathead" Stivic. When the show finally caught on, it became a phenomenon, garnering multiple Emmy awards over nine seasons. The first season of this groundbreaking series makes its DVD debut, thanks to Columbia TriStar.
Facts of the Case
Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) is a blue-collar plant worker who lives at 704 Hauser Street in Queens, New York. Archie's an old-fashioned guy. He believes in God, hard work, the Republican Party, and above all, segregation of races. Edith (Jean Stapleton) is the eternal optimist, devout, accepting, if somewhat of a "dingbat." They'd probably get along peacefully enough, if not for the fact that their daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and son-in-law Mike (Rob Reiner) live right upstairs. Mike's a Chicago-born Democrat, an atheist who believes in free speech and equal rights. He's content to live off his in-laws while studying for a Master's in Sociology. Archie and Mike are polar opposites forced to live under the same roof, the perfect set-up for conflict and comedy.
The importance of All In The Family cannot be underestimated. It was the first sitcom to portray American life as it was, not as it hoped to be. Standard family fare like The Brady Bunch and My Three Sons portrayed an idealized white suburban America, with lukewarm conflict like sibling rivalry and braces. All In The Family never whitewashed the way things were, highlighting issues like discrimination, prejudice, and homosexuality and then laughing at them through the absurdities of one faulty family. Norman Lear, the brilliant creator of All In The Family (and about half of the other great shows on television during this era), gambled that people were ready for a show that could make them laugh and think. That's not to say that All In The Family was universally loved. Many people found Archie's views on race to be extremely offensive. But the writers were always careful to portray Archie as the buffoon, whose limited viewpoint always gets the better of him. In the hands of any other actor, Archie Bunker would be easy to hate. The late Carroll O'Connor endowed Archie with enough sympathy that the show continued its successful run even after the rest of the ensemble cast moved on. Archie Bunker's Place found Archie buying a stake in Kelsey's Bar, only to learn his business partner is a Jew.
What follows is a brief summary of all thirteen episodes in this collection. All episodes are uncut (unlike what you often see in syndication):
"Meet the Bunkers": In the pilot episode, Archie and Edith return from church to find Mike and Gloria in a compromising position. This collapses into the quintessential Mike/Archie argument about everything from sex to politics to racial stereotypes. It's a very funny episode and sets up the characters nicely, but the acting is stiff as the players struggle to discover their characters. Notably, Jean Stapleton plays a glum, resigned Edith, very different from what her character would become. Lionel Jefferson is introduced in this episode.
"Writing the President": When Archie learns that Mike is writing a scathing letter to President Nixon, Archie decides to write his own letter, praising Nixon. Later, Archie fantasizes that Nixon reads his letter to the entire country on TV. This is a cute episode, but it lacks any truly classic moments.
"Oh, My Aching Back": While moonlighting as a cab driver, Archie is rear-ended by a Jewish woman. He's not really hurt, but when he learns that Lionel's parents bought a dry-cleaning business with the proceeds from an accident, he consults a Jewish law firm—because Jews make the best lawyers. The show begins to hit its stride with this episode.
"Judging Books By Covers": Archie is upset when Mike and Gloria invite their flamboyant friend Roger over for lunch. Despite Mike's protests, Archie insists Roger is gay and heads to Kelsey's Bar for a few beers. Archie discovers that his macho drinking buddy Steve is the one who's gay. This is a terrific example of just how progressive All In The Family actually was.
"Archie Gives Blood": Archie's reluctant to go with Mike to the blood bank because he doesn't want his blood to go to "some radical." Despite a show of bravery, Archie faints when he sees the sight of his own blood. This episode contains another classic Mike/Archie argument, this time about the social implications of organ transplants.
"Gloria's Pregnancy": When Archie hears that Gloria and Mike are going to have a baby, he's furious and insists Mike get a job and their own apartment. But when they make plans to move out Archie changes his mind. This is one of the first episodes to show a softer side of Archie, including an extremely moving scene between Archie and his "little goil."
"Mike's Hippie Friends Come to Visit": Mike and Gloria invite some friends of his to spend the night without asking Archie. When Archie finds out the couple is unmarried, he throws a tirade. Archie finally offers to pay for a hotel, but the couple refuses to leave, exasperating even Mike and Gloria.
"Lionel Moves Into the Neighborhood": When he learns that a black family is moving in next door, Archie conspires with the other neighbors to buy the house back from them. Archie even enlists Lionel Jefferson to persuade the family to leave the neighborhood, until Lionel reveals that its his family that's moving in. This episode contains the first appearance of Isabel Sanford as Louise Jefferson who would go on to star in the successful spinoff The Jeffersons.
"Edith Has Jury Duty": Edith is sequestered for a high profile murder case and maintains her belief that the Puerto Rican suspect is innocent despite pressure from the other jurors. Meanwhile Archie pouts that Edith isn't at home to wait on him. This is the first episode primarily about Edith and showcases how wonderful Jean Stapleton was in the role.
"Archie Is Worried About His Job": When his company announces cutbacks, Archie waits all night for a phone call from the night guard telling him who's getting fired. Edith, Mike, and Gloria keep vigil with him, along with an odd assortment of night owl neighbors. It's a testament to how sympathetic Archie has become that you're actually worried with him.
"Gloria Discovers Women's Lib": When Gloria discovers Mike's liberal views don't extend to equality of the sexes, she walks out. But Mike's less worried about the separation than about his grades—until his high marks arrive and he can't celebrate without her. This is the first episode to show that Mike and Gloria's relationship is as imperfect as Archie and Edith's.
"Success Story": Archie's excited when an old army buddy, Eddie Frazier, is coming for a visit. Eddie is Archie's model of success, a self-made millionaire. Mike questions Eddie's ethics and later learns that appearances aren't everything—Eddie is estranged from his son. This is one of the weaker first season episodes.
"The First and Last Supper": Archie insists Edith fake a sprained ankle to get out of a dinner invitation to the Jeffersons. The plan backfires when Mrs. Jefferson brings dinner to their home. Archie is surprised to learn that he and Mr. Jefferson have something in common—they'd both rather keep with their own color. This is, perhaps, the strongest episode of the collection and a perfect capper to the season.
All In The Family: The Complete First Season is presented in it's original aspect ratio, 1.33:1 full frame. On the whole All In The Family looks better than it ever did in its endless reruns over the last thirty years, though it's far from perfect. Colors are a little washed out, and some parts of the picture actually look slightly discolored. I noticed no instances of edge enhancement or digital artifacting. Some grain pops up every now that then, but that's to be expected in a show as old as this one.
Presented with the original mono track, the discs perform adequately in the audio department. It will not wow your system, but maintains consistency with the original presentation. A 5.1 remix wouldn't have improved the experience very much, given the limited nature of sitcom audio. As is, the dialogue is crisp and clear. Also included are Spanish and English subtitles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My biggest complaint about Columbia TriStar's release of All In The Family is the packaging. Not unlike their recent release of The Larry Sanders Show, the tri-fold paper casing is flimsy and unimaginative. The cover art looks chintzy and thrown together. It's a shame, because who buys season collections aside from collectors? And collectors are notoriously meticulous about packaging. I hope that they'll remedy this for the release of Season Two. Also, these discs are featureless, which seems like a missed opportunity for such a beloved show. Commentaries by Norman Lear, and/or the inclusion of the terrific 20th Anniversary Special would've made this release much sweeter.
Columbia TriStar has done a splendid job with the first season of All In The Family. One of the most important television programs of all time, All In The Family deserves this kind of attention. This is a must buy for die-hard fans. The curious may want to rent this first or check out the endless repeats on cable.
Stifle yourself! All In The Family: The Complete First Season is not guilty! Bring on Season Two!
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