By Tonja Renée Stidhum, The Root
I owe a lot of my love for comedy writing to Norman Lear.
As a typical black child raised by her loving grandmother, I plopped my (then) tiny butt in front of the single TV in the house every day to watch episodes of All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford & Son, Maude and more. Though the material was likely too mature for my innocent eyes and ears, I chortled so heartily at all of the jokes, right along with my grandma. I distinctly remember seeing one particular name pop up in the credits of all of these brilliant shows and wondered—who is this genius?!
Well, two of those shows, All in the Family and The Jeffersons are getting the live revival treatment thanks to ABC. The live show will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and Lear, and will star Jamie Foxx, Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, Wanda Sykes, Will Ferrell, Anthony Anderson, Kerry Washington, and more.
“I was shocked that you didn’t ask Queen Latifah first,” Sykes quipped on a promo segment of Jimmy Kimmel Live, after admitting how emotional it was to play such an iconic character such as Weezy Jefferson.
Kimmel also dubbed Black-ish to be the most Norman Lear-esque television show on air right now and I’d have to agree. As The Root’s weekend writer Aliya Semper Ewing noted in relation to the live show’s announcement, “All in the Family was a beacon of political and social conversations in American homes for almost a full decade during a crucial time for race relations.”
As such, its spinoff, The Jeffersons carried that same tradition—but this time, from the perspective of black folks.
As Aliya noted:
With George Jefferson’s biting and brutal truths spoken, the show highlighted what it was really like to be a black man in a white man’s working world. Notably, The Jeffersons was the first television series to feature an interracial couple (played by Roxie Roker and Franklin Cover), and it became one of the longest running African American shows on TV.
On Tuesday night, I got the honor of attending the final taped run-through of the live show. Admittedly, as a huge fan of both series, I did bristle at the thought of recreating what could never truly be recreated. But, after the great energy of our warm-up guy (hey Roger!) and the talented performances of folks like Foxx (my God, I’ll never tire of lauding how talented and versatile this man is), Tomei (her Edith is crazy good), Sykes, and Woody Harrelson, I became more content with the fact that this isn’t so much a replacement as it is a reverence.
The set and costumes are like a visual tour of nostalgia — whether it was Archie Bunker’s chair (which we learned is at The Smithsonian), the Bunker piano (“Gee, our old LaSalle ran great…”), Weezy’s patented wardrobe (Sykes joked that the outfits were a part of her personal wardrobe during the final curtain call), and all the way down to the Jeffersons’ building elevator. Fans of the show will be pleased with that aspect of the recreation. It was certainly surreal for me to see.
As you know, the revived televisions shows originated in the 1970s and 1980s, but as you’ll see in the live show tonight, a lot of the racial, social and political topics are still very relevant today. That, folks, speaks to Lear’s timeless virtuosity.
Get ready to get your clap-clap-doubleclap-clap on with a special version of The Jeffersons theme song. I sure did it with enthusiasm and aplomb as I sat in the studio audience—though, I felt like I was in an advanced clap class because the white folks around me only did the safe single clap. Maybe that was for the best because they did good! Yay, post-racial America.
Plus, there’s one particular surprise in the Jeffersons episode that had me hollering with glee in the audience. Once you see it, you’ll likely have the same reaction as a fan of the show.
Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All In The Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ will air tonight (Wednesday) on ABC, May 22, 8-9:30 PM ET.