They sing that they're "movin' on up," yet Judge Dennis Prince sees that the quality of this latest boxed set seems to be slidin' on down.
George Jefferson: "If I paid you to think, you could cash your check at
the penny arcade!"
While Ja'net DuBois boastfully sang, "Well, we're movin' on up," The Jeffersons was actually slidin' on down in the ratings race by its third year. How come? Was commercial cleaner magnate George Jefferson all washed up? Had Norman Lear's edgy, in-your-face social commentary gone cold? Or was it actually Lionel's fault?
Let the deliberations begin in this case of The Jeffersons—The Complete Third Season.
Facts of the Case
George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) is still living quite comfortably in east side, high-rise apartment with his often adoring, often appalled wife, Louise (Isabel Sanford). It's now been two years since the couple escaped the urban blight of their former Queens, NY home, living next door to that insufferable bigot, Archie Bunker. George's dry-cleaning business was doing quite well, catapulting him into the spotlight of small business success. Now his biggest problems are no longer centered around money but, rather, around the annoying antics of those around him. Lionel (Damon Evans replacing Mike Evans) seems intent to marry that "zebra," Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert), daughter of the Oreo couple upstairs, Tom and Helen Willis (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker). George also has his hands full with his ever-insubordinate housemaid, Florence (Marla Gibbs) and nutty bachelor neighbor Mr. Bently (Paul Benedict). Louise, meanwhile, struggles to keep George from having his ever-flapping jaw and obnoxious attitude segregate the couple from their friends, family, and other acquaintances. Of course, she wouldn't mind if Mother Jefferson (Zara Cully) were to become disenfranchised from the family, her incessant criticism of Louise having surpassed the point of tolerance.
So as George, Louise, and all those around them grapple to get along, we find our wise-cracking cleaner up to his neck in all manner of situations, including controlling wedding plans for Lionel and Jenny, coming to terms with the fact that Florence has become a live-in maid, grasping to regain his sense of superiority after having his life saved by "whitey" Tom Willis, and even pimping the Bicentennial celebration to boost his business while battling a competitor. It's all just another year in the life of boastful, braggart, bigot George Jefferson.
Originally launched as a CBS 1975 mid-season replacement and spin off of the controversial yet wildly popular All in the Family, The Jeffersons cracked the top ten ratings almost immediately, acquiring the #4 spot in its first year. It succeeded largely thanks to Sherman Hemsley's perfect depiction as the insufferable George Jefferson, a frustrated and oppressed black man who struggled to rise above his lowly lifestyle while neighboring Archie Bunker, his foul disposition made even worse when success came his way and went straight to his fat head (and big mouth). Hemsley played the part perfectly, while Isabel Sanford did a fair job reacting to high-strung and hyperactive outbursts. The characters of Tom and Helen Willis were devised to serve as a major irritant to the jaundiced George, controversial in their own right as situation comedy's first interracial couple. Marla Gibbs as housemaid Florence was a stroke of good luck for the show, she being able to incessantly sass George and serving as a formidable foe for the overbearing cleaning baron. This season also marked the replacement of Mike Evans, he who had portrayed Lionel Jefferson in episodes of All in the Family and during the first two seasons of The Jeffersons. As Evans's duties as co-creator of Good Times increased, he temporarily left his role as Lionel to be replaced by the capable yet not quite so comedic Damon Evans. Sadly, Zara Culley is not to be found in this year's batch of episodes, she who was battling cancer, ultimately to succumb to the devastating disease in Februrary 1978. She had played to role of Mother Jefferson to annoying precision, yet we're not able to watch her spin her web of discontent around Louise during this third season.
But, as mentioned at the beginning of this case, The Jeffersons was slipping in the ratings race. After capturing that envious #4 ranking in its inaugural season, the show slipped to #21 for the second year and down further to #24 this third year. How come? Well, the show ran for an impressive eleven seasons total so it did have a definite amount of staying power, yet perhaps its brand of confrontational comedy just wasn't as edgy as it once had been. The show managed to survive the slide in ratings during its second and third seasons, then would sling-shot back to into the top ten for seasons four through six.
Following the apparent success of their first two boxed-set releases, Sony Home Entertainment now offers a third installment, The Jeffersons—The Complete Third Season, which captures the 24 episodes that originally ran from September 1976 through April 1977. Spread across three single-sided discs contained in a fold-out digipak keeper, here are the episodes you'll find within:
Each episode here is presented in its original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio, but certainly wasn't restored or otherwise digitally enhanced since it looks identical to the large-format video tape used at original broadcast time. The picture is generally soft, though the color levels do manage to maintain a consistent saturation level. It's not really a drop in quality from what had been presented in the previous two collections, so it's a quality proposition of nothing-gained-nothing-lost. The audio comes by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that seemed a bit more muddled than I've come to expect of vintage '70s television. It's certainly audible and discernible, yet lacks the sort of crispness I like in my audio tracks.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of late, I've become quite the cheerleader for Sony Home Entertainment's TV-on-DVD releases, noting how well they incorporate fun extra features in a full-season set while keeping purchase price to a reasonable (read: affordable) level. Strangely, this collection contains no extra features at all, though neither did the first two seasons' releases. The price point of $29.95 (readily available for at least five bucks less online) is certainly reasonable, so why no bonus goodies?
The Jeffersons continues to be entertaining today, even though the notion of poking fun at race relations has significantly diminished in recent years. Thankfully, Sherman Hemsley does well in his role, especially when bouncing off of prickly Florence, to keep the laughs alive. I can't understand the lack of extras here and so I can only offer a lukewarm recommendation for the purchase of this set. It's definitely worth that price of a rental, though.
George Jefferson and his entourage are found not guilty by this court, worthy maybe of a citation of annoyance for his outdated bigotry and stifling snobbishness. Sony Home Entertainment is officially put on notice to rectify the lack of extras on this otherwise worthwhile boxed set. Court adjourned.
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