It seems that remakes are continuously brought to the public. In the movies there have been three different Spider-men, six James Bonds, and numerous remakes of Godzilla. People hear re-renditions of classical songs, and old products that are “NEW AND IMPROVED”. The challenge of a remake has been the original came out at a particular time that fulfilled a need. Many original shows are considered to be classics because they brought something to the audience that was not there or even discussed before. This attempt to bring these two classic shows from almost 50 years ago can be daunting. However, the attempt of the remake was a GOOD attempt…but not a great one.
Created by Norman Lear, All In the Family depicts a white collar family whose head of the household, Archie Bunker, is not adapting to the changes of modern society and keeping to traditional ways. More politely saying…he’s a bigot. His views of changing cultures and equal rights not only offend his friends and family but the entire television audience. The result has been a dynasty and that has made the show number one in ratings for five years in a row (1971-1976), and the ground point for multiple spin-offs such as Maude, Good Times, Archie Bunker’s Place, and of course, the Jeffersons.
The characters of George and Louise Jefferson began in All in the Family, but their spin-off to their own series had a life of its own. George Jefferson became a strong character who never backed down and to “Whitey”, but still had to adapt to changing times. Interracial relationships, high-end deals, and a strong, outspoken maid named Florence were some of things that made the Jeffersons one of the longest running comedy shows. When the show ended, it ran for a unprecedented eleven years.
The strong points of the remake were particularly in the setting. I had to go back and watch the original episodes to compare. The house and apartment scenes were done perfectly. Seeing Bunkers old chair and the Jeffersons apartment kitchen were perfectly redone. The costume design was also a treat to see how they kept the original consistency of the looks from the seventies.
All the male actors seemed to have a rough start in getting into the characters when they first appeared on the remake. Woody Harrelson as Archie Bunker appeared to be a little stoic in the beginning and didn’t really get into his stride until the second part of the episode. Harrelson got into the character of Bunker, which he was actually showing off his comic timing in talking about “colored people.” Jamie Foxx as George Jefferson was the same way. When he first appeared, his break from character was a surprise. After all his great performances In Living Color and his Oscar winning performance in Ray, it was surprising to see him flub a line. However, he made a great George Jefferson in his voice, and attitude. Will Ferrell as Tom Willis was a disappointment. He seemed to appear not sincere, but more of a caricature. This was a disappointment to me since Franklin Cover’s original betrayal of Tom Willis was a strong testimony to the strength of love and relationships.
The one strength of this remake were all the performances by women. They showed a great consistency and enjoyment of their characters. Marissa Tomei came out the floor running as Edith Bunker and portrayed her loving and funny. Wanda Sykes also shown a very strong performance as low wheeze Jefferson as well as Kerry Washington in the role of Helen Willis. The true surprise was Marla Gibbs reprising her role as Florence Johnson from the original series at the age of 85. Her attitude and strength came through as it did when she first appeared on the show.
The true strength of both episodes was the writing. The writing is the reason for both show’s success (original AND remake). Back then and now, both shows were needed to be seen in a society that was changing. Many didn’t know how in the 1970’s to approach attitudes and ideas from a generation past. Even now, attitudes and Ideas have taken a different path from times before. Both shows gave the path to shock, laugh and help understand about the differences between others.
Both Archie and George were central to that change. Archie Bunker was a bigot, but his beliefs in family, support and knowing the difference between right and wrong made him hilarious, but relatable. George Jefferson was the flipside of that coin. He was a Black man that was never sorry or apologetic for his views on race. He spoke up proudly when others couldn’t. But he had similar values of raising a family, supporting a business, and reaching the success that his family didn’t have from a generation past.
The challenges of this remake were obvious. Can a live performance be done well? Will the audience be laughing as hard as they did when the original run came out? Will this new cast really capture the ideas and values of the original cast?
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.