Last night Norman Lear, along with Jimmy Kimmel and ABC, brought to us a live version of two of the most iconic and groundbreaking television shows in American history:
–“All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons”–
Both shows were written and produced by Lear. He is one of the most important individuals in the history of tv; most notably, in my mind, for making thought provoking sitcoms with various points of view.
The episodes which were presented to us by the live cast were, word for word, the exact episodes that premiered on television more than 40 years ago. It’s both amazing and amazingly sad that some of our larger scale issues have remained the same more than 4 decades later.
Here is my not so quick Nick on last night’s special:
1- The Negatives-
I truly enjoyed both shows. From the nostalgia of it all to the performances. But if I’m being honest, there were two (ok 2 & 1/2) character portrayals that just didn’t sit completely well with me.
As much as I like Woody Harrelson, I just couldn’t buy him as Archie Bunker. Instead, I only saw Woody…or Billy Hoyle acting like Archie. I don’t know. It just wasn’t it for me.
In a smaller role but also what felt like the biggest miss, the longtime actress, Fran Bennett, played Mother Jefferson. As much as I hate to even speak ill of an 81 year old black woman, I was not feeling any Zara Cully vibes through Ms. Bennett.
And Wanda Sykes is the half. While she is hilarious in pretty much everything she does, Wanda as Louise Jefferson felt forced. It wasn’t terrible or anything; it simply felt like an ehh choice…while numerous other roles were spot on.
But enough with the negatives….let’s get to the good stuff!
2- The Theme Songs-
When Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei got to the last line of the “All in the Family” theme, it almost got me. Between their interpretation itself and the memories of that classic beginning of the show, it was truly a moment to me.
This is what we call classic! Tune in RIGHT NOW for #LiveInFrontOfAStudioAudience to watch the star-studded event on ABC! #AllintheFamily #TheJeffersons @WoodyHarrelson @MarisaTomei pic.twitter.com/8GlCjVBpS1
— ABC (@ABCNetwork) May 23, 2019
And then…Jennifer Hudson?
Jennifer. Freaking. Hudson?
Somehow, even though they mentioned her before the whole show started, I never put two and two together to think that she would be singing what is possibly the best theme song ever.
But she did it…
— ABC (@ABCNetwork) May 23, 2019
…and as always, she nailed it.
3- The Standouts-
“All in the Family” was very good. Not spectacular by my standards, but definitely enjoyable. But…Marisa Tomei? Was great.
She embodied everything about Edith Bunker; from the voice to the quirkiness, to everything. And for many, Tomei will always be special to us anyway because she was the only non-black main character on “A Different World” in its early stages.
Kerry Washington as Helen Willis was PERFECT. The hair, the facial expressions, the phrasings, every single thing Kerry did was Roxie Roker spot on.
Will Ferrell as Tom Willis was dope as well.
And the obvious one, Jamie Foxx.
For years I have believed that Foxx is in the conversation for “most multi-talented across the board” individual in Hollywood. But we kinda take dude’s abilities for granted. He is a rare one from my angle. Yet we have grown so accustomed to him portraying characters to a tee; some folks might overlook how great his efforts were here, line flub included.
Sherman Hemsley would have been proud.
4- Marla Gibbs-
Dawg. I actually outloud said “Awwwww” when Louise opened that door and 88 year old Marla Gibbs was standing there as Florence. She was the highlight of the night.
And the best part was her saying one of my favorite lines of any tv show ever:
After realizing that there were two black women (families) who actually lived in the fancy apartment building, Florence said,
“Well how come we overcame and nobody told ME?”
And a special shoutout to the casting group with the tip of the hat to “227” by bringing Marla and Jackée together again.
5- Norman Lear: Ally-
There have always been allies in Hollywood. Ask any Republican and they might tell you that everyone out there is a Democrat.
Obviously that isn’t true and not everyone cares about minorities (race and gender in this case). But one person who seemingly was on the front lines before it was popular, was Norman Lear.
I don’t know if there is some rando video of Lear saying the N word somewhere, or talking down to a woman, or dropping pills in drinks, I don’t know. And if there is, it will come to light asap (no time like the present aka when everyone is looking).
But what I do know is this:
Lear had a lot of minority people working and brought many uncomfortable, overlooked topics to the small screen. Television changed because of this man’s vision, and our world is better for it.
So a big THANK YOU to Norman Lear for a career worth recognizing.
Thanks again to ABC and all who were involved in bringing us a special night of television.