Season 5 of "All in the Family" was the show's midpoint. None of the "landmark" episodes occurred this year. Edith's menopause, the famous toilet-flushing scene, Gloria and Mike having a baby -- all those things happened in other seasons.
But Season 5 was nonetheless a good 12 hours of comedy. It was the top-rated show of the 1974-75 TV season, and deservedly so. By now the four central cast members were operating like a well-oiled machine, to use that cliché, and the show is surprisingly funny even today, more than 30 years later.
The season premiere aired on Sept. 14, 1974, just 35 days after Nixon resigned from office. Sure enough, the first scene of "All in the Family" -- ever the hot-button series -- addresses Watergate and Nixon's resignation, and does so in a funny, socially observant way. In another episode, Mike refers to the depletion of the ozone layer through the use of aerosol spray cans -- four years before any nation would pass laws seeking to prevent it. "All in the Family" was nothing if not up-to-date.
Other episodes in the season deal with the faltering economy, Mike's insistence he doesn't want to have children, and a variety of other highly charged subjects. There are plain goofy ones, too, like Archie and Mike betting whether Archie can go longer without cigars than Mike can go without food. Those episodes aren't as compelling as the more "important" ones, though the humor and charm of these characters tends to come through regardless of the subject material.
The Jeffersons are spun off into their own series here, with Episode 17 of this set serving as their pilot episode. (The only "All in the Family" character to appear in that one is Edith, briefly.)
Earlier seasons may have captured the show's fearless attitude better, but Season 5 continued to be funny, smart and eminently watchable.
All 24 episodes are included here, including the hour-long 100th episode retrospective (hosted by Peter Fonda!). They're spread over three discs.
VIDEO: The show was shot on video -- the first sitcom to be done that way, actually -- and video decays over time. That said, they've done what they could to make these 30-year-old episodes look as good as possible. The picture is clear, the colors are bright ... it's not as crisp as digital video, but it's OK.
AUDIO: Good ol' mid-'70s mono.
EXTRAS: There are no extras, except for some previews of other DVD sets of old TV shows available from Sony. But those aren't extras; those are commercials. So screw that.
This was a breakthrough series that remained at the top of its game for at least its first six or seven seasons. Season 5 is an excellent representation of what made the show such a huge success, and an inspiration for dozens of sitcoms that followed it: It's funny, the characters are likable, and it feels like it MEANS something. You feel like you've taken part in an important discussion afterward, even though all you did was watch a highly entertaining sitcom.