Episodes: All in the Family spinoffs, ranked
|Emily VanDerWerff||Apr 2, 2016|
(On Friday, we rank things, why not?)
All in the Family has the most spinoffs in TV history, assuming we count the one-season '90s show 704 Hauser, which spun off not the original show's characters, but the house they lived in. I have decided it counts, which gives the show an edge over Happy Days. (All in the Family spawned seven shows, either as children or grandchildren, while Happy Days only spawned five. But a lot of TV scholars and critics don't count Archie Bunker's Place, because, well, it's basically just All in the Family, but with a shift in focus from the family to Archie's bar, since Archie was the only original regular character left after a while. But we're counting everything here.)
And the All in the Family spinoffs were pretty good, generally! I mean, they're a lot better than the general quality level of, say, Happy Days spinoffs, at the very least, though they don't quite match Mary Tyler Moore's spinoffs (all three of which are worth watching on some level or another). Put another way: While there's not really a Frasier in this bunch, there's also not a Tortellis.
Not seen: Checking In. See, before I started writing this article, I had totally forgotten I've never seen this show, which features the Jeffersons' former maid Florence (played by Marla Gibbs) working at a hotel. It only lasted four episodes, which would explain why I haven't seen it. There's an episode on the Jeffersons complete series set, which I have, so maybe I should check it out. Watch the very '70s spinoff title sequence here.
6) Gloria. I should probably lump this under "not seen," as I've seen maybe three episodes, but this series, which first aired in 1982, feels like an attempt to anticipate the anodyne family sitcoms that would rule in the '80s. All in the Family creator Norman Lear, perhaps surprisingly, has no real involvement in this show, despite having initially created the character of Gloria, and the show wastes its single-parent setup (Mike and Gloria have split), to say nothing of setting things in a potentially promising workplace environment (a vet's office!) that offers fewer story opportunities than you'd expect, given all the cute animals. Anyway, ratings were pretty good, but CBS canceled it anyway. Probably the right call.
5) 704 Hauser. I should probably swap this with Gloria, but I've seen all of this one, it features the young Maura Tierney, and it's one of the weirder spinoffs I can think of, since it flips the dynamics of the original AITF (with left-leaning parents and right-leaning kids), then sets it all in an early '90s Queens, among a black family who now live in Archie's old house. It's not a particularly good series, but it's sort of fascinating that it exists. I think it's all on YouTube, or it was when I watched it.
4) Archie Bunker's Place. This gets some points just because Carroll O'Connor was always so great at playing the title character. It's also notable for featuring the final time the cast of the original All in the Family played their characters in the same episode of television (a first-season Thanksgiving episode). But it's a pretty classic example of taking a character who worked in one context (in this case, a politically oriented family sitcom) and shoehorning him into another one entirely. Archie's bar was just never the setting that the Bunker living room was, and, as such, Archie Bunker's Place is mostly a tribute to Carroll O'Connor's indomitable desire to keep this character alive as long as possible. It's another show CBS canceled despite pretty good ratings. (For as much talk as there was of a rural purge at CBS in the early '70s, the network appears to have gone through a similar purge of Norman Lear-related productions in the early '80s, but nobody has researched that, so far as I can tell.)
3) The Jeffersons. I know this is a bit of a heresy among many, but I've never warmed to The Jeffersons quite like I think I was supposed to. I love Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley enough that I can watch just about any random episode from the show's incredibly lengthy run. (It actually outlasted AITF, unless we count Archie Bunker's Place as a straightforward continuation.) But there's a problem lots of Lear shows have where the further they get from their '70s milieu, the less their premises work, because so many of them are indebted to the politics of the time. Though The Jeffersons has great performances and some really funny episodes, I think it's the most affected by this. Its central premise of racial and class divisions being scaled by the Jefferson family is theoretically still of interest now, but it feels stuck in its period in a way I can't quite define, since the show wasn't really outwardly political.
2) Good Times. I should probably have this one lower, too, since the show struggled so much to keep J.J. from taking over once "Dyn-o-mite" became a national catchphrase. But this series' mix of broad comedy and brazen dramatic moments is perfectly Lear, and I love it for confronting issues of class in a way that American TV rarely does. I think Jeffersons is probably a "better" show, whatever that means, but Good Times has much higher highs across its run (and, admittedly, much, much lower lows).
1) Maude. I was shocked to find just how much I enjoyed Maude when Shout Factory released its complete series set last year. While it, too, is hampered by the political nature of its comedy, it's evident how much Lear and all involved love these characters, especially the hard-to-take, uncompromising Maude. The best episodes of Maude are those where you can see writers who fundamentally agree with a character's politics still finding ways to satirize who she is and what she does. There have been few better comedic portrayals of kneejerk liberalism on American TV than this, and it was ostensibly created by a bunch of liberals themselves. Also surprisingly stylistically innovative. Check it out sometime!
(Before we go, I interviewed Norman Lear a year ago, and it was a huge career highlight.)
Episodes is published at least three times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.