After nine seasons and some significant alterations in the cast, CBS decided in 1979 that "All in the Family" had changed enough to warrant a new title. And thus "Archie Bunker's Place" was born.
It's often called a spin-off of "All in the Family," but it's more accurately a sequel. Mike and Gloria were already gone (they moved to California at the end of Season 8), thus depriving Archie of his most formidable sparring partner. The Jeffersons had departed for greener pastures, too. Even Edith was in danger of leaving: Jean Stapleton had indicated her weariness with the character and her desire to leave the show.
Season 1 of "Archie Bunker's Place" begins with Archie (Carroll O'Connor) seeking to add a restaurant to the bar he bought two years earlier (in Season 8 of "All in the Family"), and acquiring a new partner in the process: a Jewish man named Murray Klein (Martin Balsam). Thus the central location for action is moved from the Bunker living room to Archie Bunker's Place, and it's noticeable immediately what a difference that makes. The bar has a congenial bartender and a couple regular customers. A cook played by Anne Meara shows up later. Not one of these characters is interesting or funny, and Archie's interactions with them are the mildest of sitcom blandness.
Even Archie's racism and intolerance seem obligatory now, and this once-great character is a pale imitation of what he used to be. Take this exchange early in the first episode of this season, as Archie is excited to get started on building the restaurant:
ARCHIE: Great news! I just came from talking to Swenson, the contractor.
BARNEY: The Norwegian?
ARCHIE: Yeah, a boozer, I know, but what the hell, the more he drinks, the lower his estimates.
That's the best you can do, Archie? Norwegians are boozers? Yeesh. I've heard more incisive social commentary on Teletubbies.
The plots are dull copies of old "All in the Family" premises, too. Of course Archie hates that his new partner is Jewish. Of course he hates that the waiter he hires is gay. There's even a guest appearance by Sammy Davis Jr. in Episode 19 -- a transparently desperate grab at former glory, since Sammy's appearance in a Season 2 episode of "All in the Family" was legendary.
The only time "Archie Bunker's Place" shows signs of life is in the five episodes Edith appears in. (Yes, sadly, only five. By Season 2, she was gone altogether.) Edith was the perfect foil for Archie, sweet to his sour, optimist to his pessimist, carefree to his worrier. When they're together, he seems like himself again, not like the cartoon the new situations have turned him into. What's more, the only real laughs, not to mention the only real social commentary, have to do with Edith and Archie. Watching them commiserate about the Energy Crisis in Episode 5 is bittersweet: It's great to see the old duo in classic form, but disappointing to realize how rare it is now.
A Thanksgiving two-parter has Gloria and Mike visiting from California, and again we're reminded of the show's brilliant past as Archie and Mike get into it over nuclear energy, gender roles and protest marches.
In short, what little good there is about this season of "Archie Bunker's Place" comes when the show reverts to the "All in the Family" format. The newer additions -- Archie's bar and grill, Edith's precocious niece Stephanie, the various characters added for the new locale -- are dime-a-dozen elements that you'll find in a thousand other sitcoms.
All 24 episodes are included on three discs. Chapter breaks are where the commercials were: one after the opening credits, one about 11 minutes in, and one just before the closing credits.
VIDEO: Despite having newer source material, these "Archie Bunker's Place" DVDs look worse than the "All in the Family" DVD releases. The picture is a little grainy and the colors are dull. The quality is slightly better than VHS or a TV broadcast, but not much.
AUDIO: Just mono, but it sounds OK for our purposes.
EXTRAS: Not a single one.
If you think you remember this show fondly, I bet you're wrong. I bet you're remembering "All in the Family."