ALL IN THE FAMILY
The Complete First Season
Review by Michael Jacobson
Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers
Creator: Norman Lear
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Length: 286 Minutes
Release Date: March 26, 2002
start, Daddy. Remember, Jesus was
but only on his mother’s side…”
has never been a show in the history of television like All in the Family…and
sadly, there probably never will be. It
was a show that shunned political correctness in favor of raw, human truth, and
dared to shed light on such topics as racism and prejudice, religion, sexual
preference, the Vietnam War and others…but with humor.
It made us laugh, but dared to suggest to us that if we could see the
human being inside of a bigoted man whose time had passed, that maybe there was
hope to be had in spite of the world going crazy around us.
it was the show that put the sound of a toilet flushing on prime time television
for the first time. That’s
episode 12, by the way, for the culturally curious.
in the Family was
that rare phenomenon that came along at just the right point in history, and
left its indelible mark because of it. It
couldn’t have been made earlier or later than the 1970s, a decade where flower
children were still clinging to their ideals, where the gap between
conservatives and liberals was widening, and where political turmoil was always
around the corner (and maybe never so big as when Watergate hit).
It was the perfect setting to place a family, and that’s exactly what
pioneering producer Norman Lear did. There
would be conflict on the outside, yes…but also, conflict on the inside, where
the home was becoming less and less of a castle to a lovable bigot for whom the
parade was passing by.
man was, of course, Archie Bunker, played to comic perfection by Carroll
O’Connor. Archie was a man for
whom America meant opportunity and freedom for all, but especially for the white
man. Now middle aged, he can’t
believe the changes in the world around him.
“I went to the bathroom at work, and so help me, there was a guy in
there with a pony tail!” he complains in the pilot.
“My heart almost turned over on me…I thought I was in the wrong
odds with Archie was his son-in-law, Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner), a liberal who
also loved America, but trumpeted change. He
was living embodiment of everything Archie distrusted and feared, and it
didn’t help that he was Polish. He
became affectionately known to the television audience as “Meathead”.
was married to Archie’s daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), also a voice for
the left. Was two against one a
fair fight? It didn’t
matter…Archie’s arguments were often too stupefying for reason!
of course, there was Archie’s longsuffering wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton).
One of TV’s most beautiful and wonderful characters, she maintained an
innocent sensibility of common sense, despite her sometimes lack of
understanding leading to her pet name of “Dingbat”.
Lear and his talented cast and creators went for broke with this series…it
took three tries to get it on the air, and even when it finally broadcast,
nobody seriously believed it would last because of the controversy.
But the controversy helped make it great.
This show was fearless in its willingness to tackle subjects once taboo
in prime time. Some people
applauded it, others recoiled…but for the most part, we all watched. And laughed.
observations about everything from race to religion were crude, indeed.
But…and this is crucial…minorities were never the butt of the joke on
the show. Archie always was.
Some were offended by his flippant tongue and barbs about blacks, Jews,
Chicanos, homosexuals and more, but most got the gist.
What Archie said about others was never as revealing about them as it was
about himself. Even as a kid
watching with my parents, nobody ever had to explain that to me…I simply got
that Archie was the buffoon, and not the targets of his insults.
The fact that he was capable of such insensitivity yet remained so
endearing was a testament to the genius of Carroll O’Connor.
that’s largely what made the show so great.
What could have been a single-joke premise instead became a
character-driven comedy, where the people and situations were as real to us as
our own lives and family. These
were people who could make us laugh, but make us think, as well.
first thirteen episodes that comprised season one were jewels right out of the
box, and many of them rank amongst the all time best shows this program had to
offer. Who could ever forget
“Writing the President” where Archie dons his Sunday best just to compose a
letter to his beloved Nixon? Or
when “Archie Gives Blood” despite his belief that all blood isn’t created
equal (“If all blood is the same, how come they got no Swedes in the
Mafia?”)? And two of the best
litmus tests of the show’s racial conscience, “Lionel Moves Into the
Neighborhood” and “The First and Last Supper”, which brought Archie face
to face with the Jeffersons?
episodes and more are all here, and COMPLETE, thankfully, for the first time in
a long time. In other words, if
you’re only watching the reruns on cable, you aren’t seeing the whole shows.
This three disc set is nicely presented, despite two questionable
choices…there is no “play all” option available, and there are no chapter
stops within the episodes themselves. I
don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though, because these shows
deserve to be watched from start to finish.
in the Family deserves
to be collected on DVD. It’s more
than a television classic…it’s an integral part of America’s modern
culture. It preserved forever a
fleeting moment in time where the world’s changes were closing in on one
misguided character who could have happily lived forever with things the way
they were. It dared to talk about
issues that needed to be addressed despite our fears.
of all, it made us laugh loud, hard, and often. Those were the days, indeed.
review is dedicated to the memory of the late great Carroll O’Connor.
the two strikes against it right out of the box (being 30 years old, and coming
from a video tape source), I have to say that All in the Family holds up
well on DVD. It’s not perfect
looking, of course, but still surprisingly good after all this time.
Colors are still bright and vibrant, and images show good detail and
integrity despite occasional flaws inherent in tape.
Archie, Edith, Mike and Gloria have held up very well…it’s like
seeing old friends again.
was also pleased with the audio presentation…despite being a simple 2 channel
mono mix, the shows sound better on disc than you’ll remember from TV.
The episodes were taped before a live audience, and there is a theatrical
quality to the sound of both the dialogue and the crowd responses…full and
open, with a touch of reverb. Surprisingly