All In The Family revolutionized television in the early 1970s. The days of the pristine, sanitized image of the American nuclear family was turned on its head, as Norman Lear's groundbreaking sitcom introduced the legendary character of Archie Bunker. Gone were the days of "Father Knows Best"; instead, America was treated to "Father Is An Irascible but Basically Good-Hearted Blue Collar Racist" and hijinks ensued.
To recap for those of you new to the series, All In The Family took place around the Queens household of Archie Bunker, his wife Edith ("Ding Bat"), his daughter Gloria ("Little Goil"), and son-in-law Michael ("Meathead"). On the surface, All In The Family looked like your typical "taped-before-a-live-studio-audience" sitcom, but the series broke ground by examining racial, social, sexual, and political issues from which other shows of the time steered clear.
While the groundbreaking nature of the show is inarguable, looking back from thirty years in the future one cannot help but notice some minor limiting elements of the program. While Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton rightfully became television icons with their portrayals of Archie and Edith, Gloria and Michael were characters of any real depth, but more like counterpoints to Archie's traditional and conservative ideology (It didn't help that Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner played their characters so broadly it was too often to the point of caricature.) Michael was the liberal, Gloria the liberated woman, and their actions provided fodder for Archie Bunker's tirades.
Yet despite the program's flaws and Archie Bunker's overtly racist attitudes, All In The Family was a phenomenal success and became television legend. In its second season alone, the show won seven Emmy awards, including accolades for best series, actor, actress, supporting actress, direction, and writing, and a pair of Golden Globes for best actress and best comedy series. What made the program work was that deep down, people grew to love Archie Bunker – not because of his odious attitudes, but despite them. This, coupled with quality writing and some admittedly hilarious zingers, kept viewers coming back each Saturday night for more of All In The Family.
The following episodes are included in All In The Family: The Complete Second Season:
Sound: The audio presentation of All In The Family: The Complete Second Season is workable if unremarkable. This is a mono presentation, firmly rooted in the front of the sound stage. Dialog is adequately reproduced, with satisfactory clarity although there are noticeable levels of clipping and distortion (usually noticeable during the guffaws of the laugh track.) While the overall audio is nothing to write home about, the presentation is definitely serviceable and does not detract from the experience.
Extras: There are no real extras to speak of in this set, save for a TV Comedy Favorites video that is simply an advertisement for some of Columbia/Tri-Star's comedy shows available on DVD, including Married With Children, All In The Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Mad About You, The Larry Sanders Show, and The Jeffersons
Final Thoughts: These episodes are as old as I am, and probably look better at 32 than I do (yes, there's a little bit of self-deprecating humor in each and every reviewer's psyche – that's why we do what we do), but when all is said and done I can only recommend All In the Family: The Complete Second Season to fans of the All In The Family. The show's influence cannot be overstated, and if time casts a new critical light on the series from a 21st-century perspective, the overall quality of the series cannot be denied. And let's face it: the episodes were pretty darn funny. While the DVD is disappointing in terms of the quality of the presentation and the lack of extras, the episodes most likely look as good as they could be. For fans of the series and those looking to continue their All In the Family collection, I recommend this set: at $30 you are getting ten-and-a-half hours of some of the funniest television ever produced, quite a value for your hard-earned dollars. For all others, I recommend a rental first.