I spent Monday nights in the fall of 1975 breathlessly watching my favorite TV show. And I do mean breathlessly.
That’s because I had to rush home from my afterschool job at a nearby convenience market and hope that I didn’t miss much more than the “goils were goils and men were men” in the theme song of blue-collar comedy “All in the Family.”
I hated being a latecomer – again. I didn’t see the first few episodes when the program premiered 50 years ago (January 12, 1971), but I was certainly aware of the residents of 704 Hauser Street (in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, New York) by the time Popular Library published the paperback “The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Bunker” 14 months later.
Ah, yes, in this onscreen battle between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, Archie was hailed as the quintessential “lovable bigot.” (As various social media memes have implied, lots of thin-skinned people today would be demanding that college presidents wipe out “systemic lovable bigotry.” Archie could end an argument with a good old-fashioned raspberry. Now we end an argument by tearing down the statue of some dude who freed the slaves while not wearing a mask.)
Archie (like a blind hog finding the occasional acorn) could sometimes unleash a common-sense pronouncement that put son-in-law Mike “Meathead” Stivic in his place and resonated with the common man. For all his narrow-mindedness and malapropisms, Archie was a sympathetic figure who struggled to adapt to a changing world.
Although reruns of “Friends” and “The Office” get all the attention in today’s streaming-service bidding wars, the edgy “All in the Family” was quite a groundbreaker in its time.
It was the first show to rank No. 1 for five consecutive seasons, the first major American show videotaped before a live studio audience, the first sitcom in which all the lead actors (Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner) won a Primetime Emmy Award and the first show in history to feature the sound of a flushing toilet. (If network censors had been less uptight in the Fifties, maybe Fred Mertz wouldn’t have gone around with that constipated look all the time. I’m just saying.)
I doubt my son’s high school classmates are familiar with “AITF,” but the show’s legacy lives on in the Tyree household. My wife still denounces a meandering, pointless recitation as a “dingbat story.” But I’ve wisely refrained from telling her “Stifle!” or “You’re a real pip, you know that?” Otherwise, I might find myself leaving on that midnight train to Georgia.
I am overjoyed that ABC and producer Norman Lear have presented live reenactments of old episodes of “All in the Family” (and “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times”) without doing full-blown reboots. Still, I have to wonder what Archie Bunker would be doing in the era of taboo team names, “Defund the Police” and unisex restrooms.
Would we hear “That has got to be the laziest white drone I’ve ever seen”?
How about “Craft beer? Craft beer? Edith, Duke Wayne would never touch a beer that hadn’t passed through 10 million sets of kidneys”?
I know! He would say, “Are you sure Sammy Davis, Jr. is dead and can’t do a guest-shot? What if we brought him back in one of those waddayacallem zombie Appomattoxes?”
*Sigh* Those were the days.