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Jeffersons: The Complete First Season, The
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
It feels funny to call The Jeffersons a visionary TV show; years of reruns have made it seem silly and played out. Still, watching them now it's amazing how close to the bone the show cuts on serious social issues. The first episode kicks off soon after the Jeffersons, a black family, have moved into an upscale Manhattan high rise thanks to George's dry cleaning business. George (Sherman Hemsley), Louise (Isabel Sanford) and Lionel (First played by Mike Evans, then Damon Evans, and later in the series by Mike again) ) make up the perfect American sitcom family: always bickering, always disagreeing, but still with a loving core.
That said, most of each episode is taken up with George's screaming at "Weezie" and her sassy retorts. The show is filled with biting racial humor and doesn't shy away from George's mistrust of his predominantly white neighbors. The Jeffersons uses some language that's surprisingly strong for a sitcom, but it doesn't feel gratuitous. It's easy to see how The Jeffersons started as a spin-off of All in the Family (the Jeffersons were neighbors of the Bunkers, a fact that neither Archie nor George were particularly thrilled with.) The show deals with class, race, gender, and urban issues but never feels too serious. Credit the roundly excellent cast, including Roxie Roker and Franklin Cover as an interracial couple in the building that bears the brunt of a lot of George's jokes, and the always weird Paul Benedict as a British neighbor.George is always some sort of fed up with these people but there is often a mischievous glint in his eye, like instead of simply kick them out of his apartment, he'd rather piss them off, then kick them out. His abrasive manner and ridiculous, cartoonish swagger have made George Jefferson a cultural icon and time hasn't smoothed the edges. The heart of the show, however, has always been Weezie. Isabel Sanford's consistently sympathetic performance as the much more heartfelt Jefferson may not have gained the kind of pop culture status as George, but she brings dignity and calm to the show. She alone is uncomfortable with the Jeffersons' new life and much of the first season is taken up by her struggle to find her place as an upper class housewife. In one episode she refuses to hire a maid (she eventually does, introducing another strong character, Florence, played by Marla Gibbs) and in another she goes to work for George's competition in an effort to feel like she's doing something with her life. Her fears and concerns are very real and are hardly expressed on television. Even though it sometimes appears to be a crass comedy (and there is plenty of low humor) there is an emotional center to The Jeffersons that has helped it age well long after George's polyester suits started to look ridiculous.
The video reflects the substandard broadcast quality of video in the 70's. It looks soft and lacks contrast. Still, this is how it was shot and it ain't getting any better. Comparing it to recent TV video productions is useless.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is also a product of its limited resources. It sounds good enough, however, and subtitles are available.
Nothing, just 13 episodes on 2 discs.
The Jeffersons is a great show, not at all dulled by time. With recent releases of Sanford and Son, MASH and All in the Family, you could really build up a 70's sitcom library. The Jeffersons left an imprint on primetime TV and even today its easy to see how it ruffled a lot of feathers. With the entire first season available at a reasonable price maybe a new generation of TV viewers will get to see what the fuss was all about.
Email Gil Jawetz at [email protected]