All in the Family

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Boy, the way Glenn Miller played
Songs that made the Hit Parade
Guys like us we had it made
Those were the days!
And you knew where you were then
Girls were girls, and men were men
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again
Didn't need no welfare state
Everybody pulled his weight
Gee, our old LaSalle ran great
Those were the days!

All in The Family was a groundbreaking and controversial CBS Sitcom from Norman Lear, based on the British sitcom 'Til Death Us Do Part. It aired from 1971 to 1979 (and on to 1983, if the run of Archie Bunker's Place is counted). The show has consistently been rated one of the greatest television shows of all time. It was also the highest-rated show in the U.S. for five consecutive seasons between 1971 and 1976.

The show was, at its heart, a Dom Com focused around the Bunker family and its titular head, Archie Bunker, an Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist of the highest order. Archie was a blue-collar dock worker with conservative and broadly bigoted views which he was unafraid to voice at any opportunity. Archie's major foils were his wife Edith, his daughter Gloria, and his son-in-law Mike Stivic. Mike, not-so-affectionately nicknamed "Meathead" by Archie, with the following explanation: "You heard me. Meathead. Dead from the neck up. Meat....head.", was every bit as opinionated and vocal as Archie, but liberal and socially active. This usually resulted in a verbal sparring match between the two, with Mike's solid, intellectual, but sometimes idealized arguments clashing with Archie's stance, usually full of malapropisms and wayward logic but also with a closer personal relationship to the situation at hand and an ability to be so cleverly obtuse that Mike was unprepared to answer him. Around this, Edith simply wanted to avoid conflict, trying her sweet best to diffuse the frequent conflicts and to just keep a peaceful home -- no easy task when two of the people thrive on conflict.

From the start, All in the Family broke a large number of unwritten network rules, particularly with the issues which were considered acceptable to air on public TV. Archie's language was laced with epithets common on the street but never heard on television. Mike and Gloria, the Bunkers' daughter, made it clear that they had an active and healthy sex life. Even the Bunkers' toilet was the first one heard actively used on air. As the show continued, it tackled a wide variety of taboo topics, either directly, or through the medium of Archie's debates with Mike and others. These included race relations, gender roles, homosexuality, war, economy, political current events, abortion, rape, child custody, and other issues that, if not new in the 1970s, were most certainly not brought up in a comedy show. Even in the later seasons, where the show had lost some of its initial luster, there were episodes which stand out as some of the best ever put to air. A fine example would be the death of Edith and Archie's incredibly moving breakdown, a show that won Carroll O'Connor two Emmys and another for Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner (Gloria and Mike).

The impact of the show was such that it became the focus of a heated national debate on whether the use of comedy was an appropriate means by which to combat prejudice and social inequality. Never before had a situation comedy, light family fare for the most part, ever treaded such heady waters. It may be said that few have done so since, at least not nearly as well. It tread the line; its humor was iconoclastic and defiant of convention without being a Dead Baby Comedy, yet it was also socially relevant and insightful without being noticeably trendy in its opinions or exceptionally preachy.

Even by today's standards, it's an incredibly frank sitcom, and head and shoulders the best, and funniest show to combine controversy with good taste. For example in one episode the family meet Sammy Davis Jr., and almost an entire episode of Archie sounding like a complete racist while trying not to, Sammy responds

If you were prejudiced, Archie, when I came into your house you woulda called me a coon or a nigger but you didn't say that, I heard you clear as a bell, right straight-out you said "colored!"

Can you imagine any sitcom daring to air a line like that today? And this from a show that never even came close to dropping an f-bomb.

The following series were spinoffs directly or indirectly resulting from the show or characters appearing during its run. Note that several of them were critical and commercial successes in their own right.

  • Maude (1972-1978)
  • The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
    • Which spun off Checking In (1981)
  • Archie Bunker's Place (1979-1983), an After Show focusing the location on Archie's bar.
  • Gloria (1982-1983) A spin-off starring only Gloria, the premise being that Mike left her to live in a hippie commune so she takes their kid and goes on a journey to find herself... In the Big City.
  • 704 Hauser (1994) About an African-American family living in the former Bunker residence.
Tropes used in All in the Family include:
  • Absentee Actor: George Jefferson was kept offscreen until season 3 due to actor Sherman Helmsley's commitment to a Broadway show.
  • Abusive Parents: In the "Two's a Crowd" episode, a drunken Archie reveals details of his abusive father to Mike.
  • Adolf Hitler: Turns out to be the old army buddy that "Starchie Bonkers" invited to dinner in the Mad Magazine parody Gall In The Family Fare.
  • Affectionate Parody: All in the Family: The Opera, performed on The Sonny & Cher Show. The skit included Caroll O'Connor himself as The Censor. Archie defeats him by singing, essentially, Screw the Rules, I Have Ratings.
  • Animated Adaptation: The Barkleys, the '72-'73 story of opinionated bus driver Arnie Barkley, his wife Agnes, daughter Terri, son-in-law Roger, and son Chester. All played by different breeds of dogs.
  • Attempted Rape: Happens to Gloria in "Gloria the Victim" and Edith in "Edith's 50th Birthday".
  • Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other: Every now and then in each season they need to make an episode that reminds the audience that yes, Archie is an asshole and gets frustrated with Edith a lot, but for all their squabbles, he lovers her just as much as she does to him, if not even more so.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Several examples:
    • Edith, in "Edith's Problem." Framed around Edith going through the early stages of menopause, this classic episode became known for Jean Stapleton's comic timing and portrayal of Edith's irritability and mood swings as she deals with the symptoms. Her attempts to put Archie in his place – "Stifle, stifle, STIFLE!" – made this episode.
    • Lionel Jefferson, the young black neighbor of the Bunkers who most of the time put up with Archie's brow-beating and ill-educated attempts to deal with racial harmony. However, in "Lionel Steps Out," he puts Archie in his place (not too nicely) when he crosses the line and tries to stop him from dating his white niece.
  • Big Eater: Mike.
  • Blowing a Raspberry: Archie Bunker had this as his Catch Phrase.
  • The Board Game: Yep, the show had one. It was a party card game that asked people how they would honestly react to various social situations. The slogan: "Is there a little Archie in all of us?"
  • Born in An Elevator: One episode features Archie stuck in an elevator with several people, including a pregnant woman, who eventually gives birth.
  • The Celebrity Lie: Inverted in an episode of Archie Bunker's Place, where Archie can't convince his friends that he met Sammy Davis, Jr.
  • Chain Letter
  • Christmas Episode: Several, perhaps the most famous being "The Draft Dodger", in which Archie invites a friend who lost his son in the Vietnam War for Christmas dinner while Mike invites a friend who is a draft dodger...with completely unexpected results.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Frank and Irene Lorenzo, an Italian Catholic couple who moved into the neighborhood, began appearing in season 4. Frank was phased out without explanation after one season; Irene hung on a couple more years before vanishing without a trace herself.
    • Maude would feel like one if you'd never heard of her spin-off. After the Poorly-Disguised Pilot where the Bunkers visit her she's never mentioned again on either All in the Family or Archie Bunker's Place, despite being Edith's cousin! Even the Jeffersons were mentioned and appeared again after being spun-off.
  • Class Reunion
  • Clip Show: There were two of them, both titled "The Best of All in the Family". The first was hosted by Henry Fonda midway through season 5, while the second was hosted by Norman Lear toward the end of the ninth and final season.
  • Content Warnings: This was read before the first episode:

"The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are."

    • Following that, we hear a flushing noise and out steps Archie with a newspaper tucked under his arm. How's that for a series opener?
  • The Couch: More like "The Armchair".
  • Cousin Oliver: Stephanie, Edith's young grandniece who was adopted by Archie and Edith in season 9 after being left at their doorstep by her alcoholic father.
  • Cultural Translation
  • The Ditz: Edith, much of the time.
  • Do-It-Yourself Theme Tune: The opening credits featured Archie and Edith singing and playing the piano in front of the live studio audience (who would applaud at the end). Several different versions were used throughout the show's run, the first version noted for the burst of audience laughter at Edith's singing.
    • This was a very literal example...CBS didn't want to waste money on an opening title sequence for a show that wasn't likely (in their opinion) to go past 13 weeks (if it even aired at all). Lear created this now classic opening since it was all he could afford.
    • The closing theme, a piano instrumental called "Remembering You", was co-written by Carroll O'Connor.
  • Domestic Abuse: Archie constantly criticized and insulted Edith.
  • Downer Ending: Some episodes that were more serious wouldn't have a happy ending, if any proper conclusion at all, only fading to black.
  • Drop-In Character: The Jeffersons (particularly Lionel), in the early seasons; and then the Lorenzos (particularly Irene), after the Jeffersons' departure.
    • Mike and Gloria sort of became this after they moved next door.
  • Embarrassing First Name: "Archibald".
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Shoebooty", what the other kids called Archie when he was little because his parents could only afford to give him a shoe and a boot to wear as a pair of footwear, according to the Bottle Episode where Archie and Michael are locked in the cellar.
  • The European Carry All: Mike's "shoulder bag for men".
  • Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: In 1972, a full single version of "Those Were The Days" was released, containing three additional stanzas, which were never used on the show. In addition, the original, unaired 1968 pilot contains lyrics that don't even appear on the single.
  • The Gambling Addict: Archie used to be one, and only could quit when Edith threatened to leave him.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Literally. Was the first television show to feature a toilet flushing (offscreen).
  • Heat Wave: The season 4 opener ("We're Having a Heat Wave") and its followup ("We're Still Having a Heat Wave").
  • Heroic BSOD: Edith has one after she's almost raped.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: George Jefferson, for the first couple of seasons. Also, Henry Jefferson's wife (and Lionel's aunt), Ruby.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Actually averted with Mike. He has a problem with religion and is outraged when Archie baptized his son behind his back, but in the long run Archie's the one who always picks fights with Mike about it. And in an episode where Edith has a Crisis of Faith, Mike of all people is the one who helps reaffirm her belief in God.
    • More than 30 years after last playing Mike Stivic, on an episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, Rob Reiner identified himself as an atheist. This is a twist on his character, who was not an atheist (he was agnostic, one who states it cannot be known whether there is a God) but was forever incorrectly called such by Archie.
  • Hollywood Tone Deaf: Edith is not by any definition pleasant to hear when singing. But that doesn't stop her from carrying out one of her favorite tunes at any given moment.
  • Ignore the Disability: Archie successfully keeps Edith from saying something stupid to Davis, then promptly does so himself.
  • In-Series Nickname: Meathead. Archie also calls Gloria "little girl" while Mike calls him "Arch".
  • Insane Troll Logic: In "Henry's Farewell", Archie tricks George Jefferson into entering his house by claiming that standing on his stoop counts as being inside his house. George, caught up in the argument, chases him into the house, thus breaking his vow.
  • Irishman and a Jew: Caroll O'Connor and Rob Reiner, though the characters they played were not written to match their real-life ethnicities (Bunker was a WASP and Stivic was Chicago Polish). Viewers picked up on a lot of Subtext, however- O'Connor based many of Archie's speech patterns and mannerisms on blue-collar Irish-Americans he had known growing up, while Reiner made no attempt whatsoever to sound like a Polish-American from Chicago.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Archie gradually developed into one of these as the years went by. While he was a bigot, his attitudes came about more due to the society he grew up in, rather than genuine malice or racism. Once he actually got to know other cultures and peoples better, he was able to accept them at least a little more easily.
  • Locked in a Room
  • Long Runners: Counting the continuation Archie Bunker's Place Carroll O'Connor played Archie for an astounding 13 seasons and 300 episodes between the two shows. Almost unparalleled for a live action American sitcom character.
  • Lowered Recruiting Standards: Archie's lodge is in trouble for not having any black or Jewish members. So he suggests that they invite one black to join - Solomon Jackson. And one Jew - also Solomon Jackson. At the end of the episode Jackson accepts their invitation to join, and promises to invite all his black friends and all his Jewish friends to join too.
  • Mad Magazine: Gall in the Family Fare.
  • Malaproper: Archie, leading to many a Crowning Moment of Funny.
  • Miss Conception: Led to a Very Special Episode.
  • Moving the Goalposts: One of Archie Bunker's favorite fallacious debating tactics. If anyone ever comes up with solid counter to his arguments, he'll get a look of disgust and try to steer the conversation in a different direction entirely. He only ever admits he's wrong when he's well and truly cornered.
  • My Friends and Zoidberg
  • Never My Fault: One of Archie's other major character traits: he was lighting-quick at diverting blame.
  • New Year Has Come: "New Year's Wedding".
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Rob Reiner makes no attempt at sounding like a Polish-American from Chicago; he pretty much talks like a New Yorker all the way through.
  • Not So Different: Mike, for all his liberal attitudes, is shown in a few episodes to be just as bullheaded and chauvinistic as Archie. One episode in particular -- "The Games Bunkers Play" -- is more or less built around pointing this out.
    • George Jefferson (and his brother Henry) are expressly characterized as being the black equivalents of Archie.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Lionel used to pretend he was much more stereotypical and dumb in front of Archie, solely because it amused Archie and Lionel had fun trolling him.
  • Odd Friendship: Maybe "friendship" is too strong a word, but all things considered, Archie got along pretty well with Lionel and vice-versa.
  • One Head Taller: Mike and Gloria (Rob Reiner is 6'2, Sally Struthers is 5'1).
  • Person as Verb: Archie Bunker became a cultural phenomenon so rapidly that as early as 1972, sociologists and pundits were discussing the "Archie Bunker vote" (otherwise known as the White Working Class; later called "Reagan Democrats") in that year's elections. It turns out the show accurately predicted that "Archie Bunker" voters would overwhelmingly break for Nixon. He even won Archie's native Queens, the last time to date that a Republican presidential candidate has done so.
  • Pet the Dog
  • Pie in the Face: Or birthday cake rather. Into the face of an attempted rapist.
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: For both Maude and The Jeffersons.
  • Porn Stache: Mike had one. Though every time he shaved it off everyone would comment that he looked ridiculous without it. Fans agreed.
  • Put on a Bus: Henry Jefferson moves upstate in season 4, the rest of the Jeffersons "move on up" to Manhattan (and their own series) in season 5, and Mike and Gloria depart for California at the end of season 8.
    • The Bus Came Back: George Jefferson appears in a season 8 episode, as does Louise Jefferson in season 9. And Archie and Edith travel West to visit the Stivics for Christmas in season 9.
  • The Rashomon
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: Surprisingly averted. Neither Archie nor Edith ever appeared in an actual episode of The Jeffersons (save via old footage in a Clip Show) or Maude (Archie did have a cameo in the original, unaired pilot for Gloria, however).
  • Series Fauxnale: The season 8 finale "The Stivics Go West", which sees Mike and Gloria leave for California, became this after it was decided to continue the show for another year.
  • Seventies Hair: Mike and a number of his hippie friends.
  • Smarter Than You Look: It was apparent that Edith was much more intelligent than she let on, she just had a tendency to ramble and was a Cloudcuckoolander.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: The classic performance of the theme song ("Those Were the Days" by Charles Stouse and Lee Adams) by O'Connor and Stapleton was infamous for a couple of mumbled/garbled lines (most notably "Gee, our old LaSalle ran great"), which left viewers arguing about them for years.
  • Standardized Sitcom Housing
  • Stealth Insult: Sammy Davis, Jr. gives a fantastic one to Archie: "If you were prejudiced, you'd go around thinking that you were better than everyone else in the world. But after spending these wonderful moments with you, Archie, I can honestly say - you ain't better than anybody."
    • Irene Lorenzo dished these out to Archie a few times. On at least one occasion, this led to Archie asking (after a Beat), "Was that a shot?"
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: Gloria's riddle -- 'A man and his son are in a car accident and the man is killed. The boy is rushed to hospital. The doctor takes one look at him and says "I can't operate on this child, he's my son!" How is that possible?'
  • Strange Bedfellows: One episode had Archie and Henry Jefferson teaming up to try and keep a Puerto Rican family from moving into the neighborhood.
  • Suddenly Ethnicity: In the "Archie in the Hospital" episode (but only for Archie, not the audience).
    • A more straight example happened in "Stretch Cunningham, Goodbye", where the titular recurring character dies and both Archie and the audience discovers he was Jewish.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Edith was used sparingly in the first season of Archie Bunker's Place before dying of a stroke offscreen.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: George Jefferson, for Henry Jefferson. It's inverted, though, because George was always intended to be on the series, but Sherman Hemsley had to fulfill other contractual obligations and Norman Lear didn't want another actor. Henry was created as a substitute until Hemsley was free to appear.
  • The Talk: The wedding flashback episode has a very flustered Edith trying to give one of these to Gloria.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Those Were the Days", a longer version of which was issued as a single and became a minor radio hit in 1972.
  • This Is My Chair
  • Trans-Atlantic Equivalent: Till Death Us Do Part, which came before this show.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Mike and Gloria.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Archie Bunker.
  • Very Special Episode: The attempted rape of Edith.
  • Whole-Episode Flashback: One involved Archie and Mike meeting for the first time, another revisited Mike and Gloria's wedding.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Variation - just whether or not Mike and Gloria get back together or go through with their divorce is unclear. It simply gives a vague closing scene of everyone calmly sitting by the Christmas tree. The Gloria spinoff says that he does leave her, but how canon that was is up for debate.
  • Women Are Wiser: Edith in some ways. She was, indeed, as Archie often called her, a "dingbat", but she was also much more socially sensitive and moral than him.
  • You Look Familiar: Vincent Gardenia played different characters in a couple of early episodes before becoming a semi-regular as Frank Lorenzo in season 3.