There have been hundreds of television sitcoms over the years, but only a few stand the test of time to become true "classics": I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Cheers, Seinfeld…and perhaps the best of all of them, All In The Family.
Watching Season Three on DVD, it's amazing how much power and relevance the shows still have. Perhaps it's because our current political atmosphere isn't all that different from the Vietnam years of the early 1970's, but I think the issues and debates brought up on All In The Family are just as relevant today as they were 30 years ago.
Another thing that hit me while watching the episodes was just how full of "fluff" modern day sitcoms have become. Is there any chance that a sitcom could get on TV today that would attack President Bush? Or question the war in Iraq? Yet many of the All In The Family shows weren't afraid to criticize the administration of the time, or take on tough issues like gun control, racism, sexism or religion. Yes, if someone had the guts to remake the show today, Archie would be a Bush supporter, Mike would be a Kerry man (as Rob Reiner is in real-life) and their neighbors the Jeffersons would no longer be African-American…they'd be Middle Eastern.
But since no one has the guts in Hollywood anymore to be controversial, it's nice to have these episodes to entertain us on DVD. Here's a brief list of some of the great shows viewers will get to see in this 24-episode set:
"Archie and the Editorial" - Season Three kicks off with the kind of show that All In The Family excelled at: pitting Archie against son-in-law Mike over a national issue. The topic here is gun control, and Archie goes on local TV to air his views.
"The Bunkers And The Swingers" - Edith innocently answers an ad in a swingers magazine, not knowing that the couple (humorously played by Vincent Gardenia and Rue McClanahan) are looking for more from the Bunkers than just friendship!
"Flashback: Mike & Gloria's Wedding" - In this two-parter, we go back in time to see the events leading up to the wedding of Mike and Gloria. One of the rare shows where Archie shows his soft side, this one is worth watching for Part 2's father/daughter talk between Archie and Gloria that is sure to bring a tear to your eye.
"Archie Is Branded" - This is my personal pick for the best episode of Season Three, although it's not one that is often mentioned among fan favorites. Archie wakes up one morning to find that someone has painted a swastika on his door. This is one of the few All In The Family episodes to end on a serious note, rather than a laugh.
"Gloria, The Victim" – In the next to last episode of Season Three, Gloria is sexually assaulted on her way home from work. This is another one of the more difficult topics taken on by All In The Family, and Sally Struthers, in particular, gives a fine performance here that is hard not to be moved by.
The episodes are shown in their original 4:3 full frame format, and the quality is comparable to the releases of the first two seasons. The overall look of the picture is only average, and some episodes suffer from occasional interference or other small glitches. All in all, for a 30-year-old program, the quality isn't all that bad – but those used to razor sharp and crystal clear DVD images won't find them with this series.
The audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby Sound, which sounds very good considering the age of the show. No problems with "popping" or "tinny"-sounding dialogue.
This is the part of the All In The Family DVD releases that I just don't get. There is literally tons of archive material out there (not to mention three cast members and a series creator that are still living), yet we've seen nothing but bare-bones releases so far. It's really a shame that a series as great as this one was is getting such a lousy treatment on DVD – but I guess Columbia/Tri-Star feels it's not worth the time or investment. That's a shame.
Oh, by the way, Columbia/Tri-Star seemed to have no problem adding three Trailers onto the third DVD in this set that plug other TV shows on disc they have available for purchase.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even the lack of effort by the studio in giving viewers a real collector's edition DVD set can't take away from the fact that All In The Family is great television. The episodes hold up after all these years, and they are still as funny and as socially significant as ever.