ALL IN THE FAMILY – 10 Unforgettable Episodes
“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.”
It’s often said that the first rule of comedy is “Don’t explain your jokes.” But that’s exactly what CBS did on January 12, 1971 when the network aired this disclaimer before the premiere of All In The Family. It’s understandable, considering the programs Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcom followed that night: The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee-Haw. While each is iconic in its own way, those high concept comedies would likely not have prepared audiences for the hyper-realism of Archie (Carroll O’Connor), Edith (Jean Stapleton), Gloria (Sally Struthers), and Mike (Rob Reiner).
With All In The Family, television began to grow up. The decade of primetime witches, genies, and talking horses was over, and the issues that drove dinner table conversation were now sitcom subjects. But, while All In The Family was issue-oriented, it was still fundamentally a comedy. Lear and his writers needed situations upon which to hang each week’s tale, and they did that better than any sitcom of its time. Even more refreshing: we often laughed just as hard at Mike’s knee jerk liberalism as we did at Archie’s malaprop-laden ignorance.
All In The Family never suggested that we accept Archie’s prejudices, but it did remind us that those we disagree with can still be loving spouses, parents, and friends. And that’s a perspective that still resonates strongly today.
Best of all: you can catch the trials and tribulations of the Bunker family every weekday on getTV. Here are ten episodes to look out for (in order of original broadcast).
1. Judging Books By Covers (Season 1, Episode 5 – Airdate Feb 8, 1971)
Archie has his doubts about Mike’s friend Roger (Anthony Geary), who is “sensitive and intellectual” but straight. Meanwhile, Archie’s ex-NFL buddy Steve (Philip Carey), whom he regards as a “real man,” turns out to be gay. Casting Carey, a macho icon of Western films and TV shows, as a gay character completely upended stereotypes of the era. And it was a remarkably bold move from a series still in its infancy. Both Geary and Carey would go on to become soap opera icons, as Luke Spencer on General Hospital and Asa Buchanan on One Life To Life, respectively.
2. Cousin Maude’s Visit (Season 2, Episode 12 – Airdate: Dec 11, 1971)
All In The Family begat more spin-offs than any other show in TV history, and this episode led to the first. Edith’s equally opinionated, staunchly liberal cousin Maude Findlay (Beatrice Arthur) comes to stay at the Bunkers’ when Archie, Mike and Gloria are all sick with the flu. Maude and Archie debate everything from the New Deal to his treatment of Edith – until Maude herself ends up sick. Arthur made one more appearance in March of 1972 before starring in the Lear-created Maude on CBS that September.
3. Edith’s Problem (Season 2, Episode 15 – Airdate: Jan 8, 1972)
It’s Jean Stapleton like you’ve never seen her before, when Edith starts losing her temper and yelling at everybody. (She even tells Archie to “stifle” himself!) Turns out that she’s going through “the change of life,” which Gloria figures out before everyone else. “When Archie hears about this he ain’t gonna love me no more,” Edith laments. She’s wrong, of course. Writer Burt Styler won an Emmy for this groundbreaking episode.
4. Archie And The Editorial (Season 3, Episode 1 – Airdate Sept 16, 1972)
Just a few weeks before the 1972 presidential election, All In The Family began its third season with a pointed episode about gun control. It begins with Mike and Archie debating the merits of the Second Amendment, which conservative Archie defends (and liberal Mike, of course, opposes). It ends with Archie delivering a now-famous television editorial in support of gun rights – and getting robbed soon after in Kelcy’s Bar. Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg on The Dukes Of Hazzard) guest stars.
5. The Bunkers And The Swingers (Season 3, Episode 15 – Airdate Oct 28, 1972)
Open marriage and “wife swapping” may have been in vogue in the 1970s, but they certainly weren’t topics for most primetime network sitcoms. So, when Archie and Edith inadvertently had a “date” with married swingers in 1972, it made headlines. Vincent Gardenia and Rue McClanahan play a middle-aged couple looking for “friends.” Only when neighbor Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) sets them straight do Edith and Archie realize what’s on their dance card. Gardenia clicked with producers, who brought him back as recurring character Frank Lorenzo in season four. McClanahan joined the cast of Maude just a few weeks later.
6. Archie In The Cellar (Season 4, Episode 10 – Airdate Nov 17, 1973)
After Irene Lorenzo (Betty Garrett) “fixes” his basement door, Archie proceeds to get locked in – with Edith, Gloria and Mike away for the weekend. He entertains himself with vodka and a tape recorder, where he records his “last will and tentacle.” O’Connor is both hilarious and touching in this episode, and Archie meeting “God” (actually the oil man, played by Juan DeCarlos) has to be one of the series’ best gags.
7. The Draft Dodger (Season 7, Episode 15 – Airdate Dec 25, 1976)
On Christmas Eve, a Gold Star father and a draft dodger come together around the dinner table at 704 Hauser Street. David Brewster (Renny Temple) is Mike’s high school friend, on the run from the FBI for refusing to serve. Pinky Peterson (Eugene Roche) is the father of a young soldier killed in Vietnam. World War II vet Archie becomes incensed when he discovers the truth about David, only to be calmed slightly by his friend’s healing words. This is an intense episode and, according to director Paul Bogart, it was the only All In The Family show tampered with by network censors.
8. Cousin Liz (Season 8, Episode 2 – Airdate Oct 9, 1977)
Archie and Edith go to the funeral of Edith’s cousin Liz, who has died unexpectedly. There they meet Liz’s “roommate” Veronica (K Callan), who was actually her significant other. This is news to the Bunkers, particularly Archie, who has his eyes on cousin Liz’s silver tea set. When Edith learns that Veronica loved her cousin “like a wife,” she forbids Archie from taking it. “I can’t believe you would do anything that mean,” she reprimands, and Archie finally relents. This episode demonstrates that, even late in the series, the writers were maintaining Archie’s core truth. He’s still the selfish, flawed man we met in 1971, just older and a bit wiser.
9. Edith’s 50th Birthday (Season 8, Episode 4 and 5 – Airdate Oct 16, 1977)
It’s Edith’s birthday, and Gloria and Mike are planning a surprise party at their place. Archie agrees to help, leaving Edith alone in the house. A man knocks on the door claiming to be a cop and, when Edith lets him in, he attempts to sexually assault her. The potential rapist is thwarted but, in the weeks following the attack, Edith falls into a deep depression and blames herself. Only with the support of her family is she able to overcome the shock and shame. This Emmy-winning two-part episode by Bob Weiskopf and Bob Schiller is an example of All In The Family’s greatest strength: the ability to mix resonant drama with light comedy.
10. Two’s A Crowd (Season 8, Episode 19 – Airdate Feb 12, 1978)
The penultimate season brought a lot of change to All In The Family. In the premiere, Archie buys Kelcy’s Bar and renames it Archie Bunker’s Place. And in the season finale, Gloria and Mike move to California when Mike gets a teaching job. A few episodes before he leaves, Mike gets locked in the storeroom at the bar and the father and son-in-law talk through the last eight years. It’s an extraordinarily touching episode and an important reminder that the Archie/Meathead relationship is as central to the show as Archie/Edith. It’s is also the closest we get to an “origin story” for Archie’s bigotry.
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