Created by: Mike Evans & Eric Monte
Starring: Esther Rolle, John Amos, Ja’Net Du Bois, Jimmie Walker, Bern Nadette Stanis, Ralph Carter
Released by: Columbia-Tristar
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Rent it for the nostalgia value.
“Dyn-o-mite!” If you’re a member of Generation X, you’ll remember this catch phrase, and you know it’s from the 70s sitcom Good Times. This show presents the trials and tribulations of the Evans family headed by hard working patriarch James (Amos) and God-fearing mother Florida (Rolle) and their children: jive-talking artist J.J. (Walker), boy-crazy Thelma (Stanis), and budding militant Michael (Carter). We see the family trying to keep things together in Chicago’s projects through hardship and temptation yet still keep a smile on their faces.
[ad#longpost]There is a great deal of television historical significance to this situation comedy: it was one of the few shows at the time to portray the various problems of inner city life, one of the few shows to feature a two parent black family, and it was a successful spin-off of a spin-off (from Maude which was from All In the Family). While it featured standard sitcom concepts (a girl using her charm to get J.J. to paint her portrait, Florida asks to promote a ‘health tonic’ that is mostly alcohol, the double standard with boys and girls about sex), it also dealt with the deficiency of the public school system, the inflexibility of government bureaucracy, and the anxiety of living from hand to mouth in the ghetto. It is considered by many to provide a good depiction of black culture before crack cocaine and the AIDS virus.
But is it still funny? For the most part, yes. Some of the jokes are of their time and might pass over the heads of viewers who aren’t up on recent American history. And since this was made before the political correctness movement, the characters are somewhat broad in their portrayals. This is especially true of Jimmie “Dyn-o-mite!” Walker. His mugging to the camera and jive talk helped the show get great ratings, but caused problems with the cast when the focus went from a black family making the best out of what they have to J.J. acting goofy and saying “Dyn-o-mite!” all the time. If this were made now, Jesse Jackson would be trying to storm the studio. But there are still plenty of laughs to be had with only the occasional cringe.
Unfortunately, there are no extras on the two discs. Where are the cast interviews, the ‘making of’ featurette, or anything? Especially with the fairly recent loss of Esther Rolle, it would be nice to get everybody we have left on record with their thought and memories. I would have liked a short piece on the 70s, if nothing else, to help give context to the show’s topics and jokes. Still, this is only the first season, so they have time to fill in this gap. So if you’re a fan of TV Land and other nostalgia network, Good Times is a must rent.