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ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE
Season One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Martin Balsam, Danielle Brisebois, Allan Melvin, Anne Meara
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  None
Length:  24 Episodes
Release Date:  January 31, 2006

"This here is WORSE than Pearl Harbor...this is a day that will live in infancy!!"

Shows ***

America's most beloved bigot is back, and keeping it all in the family.

Archie Bunker's Place picked up in 1979 where the groundbreaking All in the Family left off.  Archie (O'Connor) had gone into business for himself, buying Kelcy's Bar and planning to turn it into a restaurant and saloon.  His daughter Gloria and husband Mike had moved off the show and away from the coast, taking up residence in California.  His longsuffering wife Edith (Stapleton) was still around, but not for long.  And Edith's niece Stephanie (Brisebois) had come into the family, giving Archie one more thing in his life to fret about.

In fact, apart from Archie himself, there wasn't much in the way of holdovers from the old show.  In Archie Bunker's Place, the classic character was given pretty much a new family to deal with, including his surprise new Jewish partner Murray Klein (the excellent Balsam), a tough but goodhearted cook Veronica (Meara), and a loveable troupe of bar patrons to keep the atmosphere lively.

This first season set contains all 24 episodes from the premiere year, and there are a few gems, starting with just how Archie and Murray came into being in business together.  There are even some visits from old friends, including Sammy Davis, Jr., and Mike (Rob Reiner) and Gloria (Sally Struthers), who show up for a new two-part Thanksgiving Day classic.

The premise is generally entertaining, but fair or unfair, following on the heels of such a classic as All in the Family was a daunting task, and Archie Bunker's Place, despite its charms, sometimes rings hollow in comparison.  I was surprised, for example, at how much more darker the mood frequently was.  All in the Family was never afraid to tackle big issues or taboo topics, whether it was the Vietnam War or breast cancer, but they always managed to drive a serious point home and make you think while making you laugh at the same time.

In the early days, the atmosphere was ripe with Watergate, Nixon and Ford, and the writers had a comic field day with them.  In 1979, Jimmy Carter was president and the malaise of his administration was in full bloom.  The creators seemed much more reticent to tackle Jimmy than Dickie.  In fact, in one episode, Archie says "To hell with President Carter!"...and the studio audience erupts in cheers.  I had a feeling that Norman Lear was turning over in his grave...and he wasn't dead!

Perhaps the biggest complaint is that the show went where so many sitcoms went before, and would do so frequently in the future...they buckled to the idea of bringing in a cute kid to liven things up.  Call it Cousin Oliver Syndrome.  All in the Family became the must-see show of the 70s without a cherubic face.  Danielle Brisebois is okay as Stephanie, but every time I watched her interactions with Archie, I felt that someone somewhere had really caved in and gave out.

Still, Carroll O'Connor was always the ingredient that made the show work, and his presence continued to navigate the replacement series through some rocky waters.  His ability to make what should have been an unpleasant character thoroughly likeable, and even pitiable, was a testament to his genius as an actor.  Archie Bunker became as indelible as Lucy Ricardo or Ralph Kramden, and like those classic counterparts, he will always be a part of our popular culture.

Sure, Archie has to deal with Murray's Judaism (and, in a stroke of irony, his niece's as well), a gay waiter, a prostitute who picks up men in the bar, a duo of female bandits, and Edith's new job, but the series in the first year didn't really seem to delve into uncharted waters.  Martin Balsam was superb as Murray, and the chemistry he shared with O'Connor is largely what made the show work.  The sharp-tongued Anne Meara was also a good foil.

And Edith...poor Edith.  Jean Stapleton had been ready to move on, but the powers convinced her to come back at least in a supporting role for the inaugural season.  She's only in a handful of episodes, and Edith would soon die off so that Ms. Stapleton could pursue other interests.  Given her limited role here, she didn't have much of a chance to keep audience's hearts warm to her.  Such is the nature of the business, I guess.

I don't mean to sound overly hard on the show...it's just that all who know me know that I consider All in the Family the greatest sitcom ever.  As a fan, I was happy to see the show continue on in any form, even if marched less proudly and plodded more.  Archie Bunker's Place kept the spirit somewhat alive for a few more years, and that's something we fans can raise a toast to.

Video ***

For a late 70s sitcom shot on video, Archie Bunker's Place has held up quite well.  It certainly shows noticeable improvement over the earliest seasons of All in the Family.  Colors and detail levels are generally good, with some inescapable source limitations here and there.  Certainly nothing to shy away from.

Audio **

It's pretty much all about the dialogue, and as such, the mono track is quite serviceable.  Dynamic range is limited but not missed, and the opening and closing music sound fine.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing but some previews of other Sony television DVD titles.

Summary:

Archie Bunker's Place picked up the torch, and if it didn't run with it, the show at least kept it moving forward.  Thanks to the excellent work of Carroll O'Connor and Martin Balsam, the new series proved there was life to be had after All in the Family, and that a beloved bigot from the 70s could face the 80s with just as much bewilderment and befuddlement.

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