If there was a television show any more depressing than that '70s bit of ghetto angst Good Times, I'll be dammed if I've ever seen it. Developed by Norman Lear from All in the Family, the downtrodden dealings of the Evans' family and friends—matriarch Florida (Esther Rolle) her strong, disciplinarian husband, James (the great John Amos), skinny goofus J.J. (Jimmie Walker), pretty, younger sister Thelma (BernNadette Stanis), even younger Michael (Ralph Carter) and sexy single neighbor Willona Woods (Ja'net DuBois)—were a surprisingly popular draw to mid 1970's America.
I understand there were some other downer sit coms during that time (this is after all, the era in which Edith was attacked by a rapist on All in the Family) but Good Times is so gloomy, I've had a hard time getting why anyone watched the thing. It was supposedly realistic and hard hitting—a show about real people for real people—but it always appeared overdrawn to me, a show that if made in the more politically correct climate of today would probably be construed as racist (though I don't think the show is). Before I caught reruns of the show, I remember my older brother telling me horror stories about it: "Yes, I swear Janet Jackson was on it, and she was living with this terrible woman who burned her with an iron!"
Yeah, fun stuff. And further proving just how down this show was, it's perfectly fitting that the season I'm reviewing, Season Four, begins with death. After the family is finally gonna get out of that roach infested, slum lord dwelling in Chicago and move to better times in Mississippiwhere father James is working, their luck runs out. Floridagets a telegram stating he's been killed in a car wreck. Stunned faces and total silence. End of episode. Wonderful! Then, next episode, we're dragged through the whole bereavement ceremony during which Florida acts tough but finally breaks down at the end of the show. Again, wow. Now I am watching a situational comedy correct?
But truly, it's not the downer factor that makes Good Times suffer, it really is the writing. Too unnatural, too forced Dyno-mite-ness, too white people writing black power. The show garnered respect because of its projects setting, but watch it again—just because its attempting to be real doesn't make up for some pretty sub-par comedy and easy resolutions, particularly by season four. Granted, there are some interesting, touching moments—like when JJ dates and dumps an older woman or when Florida could almost re-marry but her prospect turns out to have lung cancer (The two part episode is so poetically entitled "Love Has a Spot on its Lung"), but they never flower into anything significant.
Good Times is called such with both irony and pride—in the face of strife, we're going to make it—but you never feel anything good coming from this show. It's just dingy, depleted and depressed. Depressing mostly for its strained humor and not necessarily hard hitting subject matter. I'm sorry, I know people believe these to be a less socially relevant sitcom to Good Times, but Sanford and Son (starring the inimitable, brilliant Redd Foxx) and The Jefferson's were so, so, so much better. And I know everyone likes that Good Times theme song (it is a good one), but give me Quincy Jones' funky Sanford and Son theme tune any day of the week.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Good Times in its original full frame format (1:33:1). This is an old show with low production values so it doesn't immediately appear optimal but I assume this is as best they could do. And the walls in the apartment look vividly dirty.
Audio comes in English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Sounds fine for what it is.
No extras. Though it would be kind of cool to see what is up with these people nowadays.
Who am I to change anyone's opinion over their beloved television shows? There are certain shows, even if kinda bad, you just enjoy (like say, Charles in Charge). So if you love Good Times, you might get a kick out of watching the show again. If you never were a fan, the fourth season probably isn't going to turn you into a believer.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun