AMEN - 10 Unforgettable Episodes of The 1980s Sitcom Starring Sherman Hemsley
What do you do next after playing an iconic character for 12 years? That was the question Sherman Hemsley faced in 1985. The answer was more of the same.
“They wanted the same elements I had as George Jefferson,” Hemsley said of NBC and Carson Productions, producers of his follow-up sitcom Amen. “They wanted the same thing.”
And thus, Ernest Frye was born — just 14 months after The Jeffersons moved on up to rerun heaven. Amen aired on a different network, came from a different creator (Taxi's Ed. Weinberger vs. All In The Family’s Norman Lear), and was set in a different city, but the similarities are as clear as the mustache on Sherman Hemsley’s face. Like George, Philadelphia church deacon Ernie Frye is rude, conniving, and stingy. He also moves with the same attitude that first carried Hemsley through the door of Archie Bunker’s house in 1973.
“When in doubt, do the walk,” Hemsley said, speaking of how George’s strut became Ernie’s strut. “Because that’s what they do in Philadelphia.” (Both star and creator were Philly natives.)
Also like George, Ernie is fiercely loyal to the woman his life. The biggest difference between The Jeffersons and Amen: the deacon is a widower and his leading lady is his grown daughter Thelma (Anna Maria Horsford). This gave Ernie an opportunity to romance female guest stars, and it allowed the brilliant comic actress Horsford to handle the slapstick Hemsley had aged out of. Rounding out the cast are handsome Clifton Davis as pastor Rev. Reuben Gregory, veteran performer Jester Hairston as elderly board member Rolly Forbes, and Roz Ryan and Barbara Montgomery as gossipy church secretaries Amelia and Casietta Hetebrink. Elsa Raven recurs as housekeeper Inga, and Bumper Robinson joins the cast in the final season as Frye’s young protégé Clarence.
There are also plenty of African-American TV and film icons in recurring and guest starring roles, including Ron Glass (Barney Miller), Moses Gunn (Good Times), Denise Nicholas (Room 222), Jackee Harry (227) and LaWanda Page and Whitman Mayo (Aunt Esther and Grady Wilson on Sanford And Son).
The will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Thelma and Reuben bookends the series, from the pastor’s introduction to Thelma (in curlers) in the pilot, to the birth of their child in the finale. In between, there are five seasons of big laughs, great music, and a few tears. Best of all, you can see every episode on getTV! Amen kicks off our “Funny Side Up” block at 6a ET and expands to two hours each weekday morning beginning Monday, April 1.
So, put on your Sunday best and congregate on getTV for these unforgettable episodes!
1. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1 — Airdate: September 27, 1986)
Deacon Frye comes out swinging in the first episode, giving a tongue lashing to the First Community Church’s overweight pastor (John Hancock), who quits on the spot. Enter new pastor Rev. Gregory (Davis), who quickly locks horns with Ernie and suggests he resign. “I was born in that church and I’m gonna die in the church,” the deacon tells him.
2. The Courtship of Bess Richards (Season 1, Episode 2 — October 4, 1986)
Ernie courts a competing church’s singer (Nell Carter), who promptly falls in love with him. The Tony Award-winning Broadway star sings “I Won’t Let Go” — and engages in a slapstick wrestling match with Hemsley. This episode also sets up the show’s narrative through-line: that daughter Thelma is unlucky in love and desperate to marry.
3. Reuben’s Romance (Season 1, Episode 9 — December 6, 1986)
Another of Amen’s running themes is the tendency for Reuben to attract — or be attracted to — female congregants. Here it’s Lynne Moody, who plays a beautiful young widow. Moody had long histories with three of the Amen stars. She was the first actress to play George Jefferson’s daughter-in-law Jenny on All In The Family, and she played Davis’ sister on the 1974–75 sitcom That’s My Mama (which co-starred Jester Hairston.)
4. The Divorce Lawyer (Season 1, Episode 18 — February 28, 1987)
This episode establishes Ernie’s life outside the church as an ambulance-chasing attorney. Here he takes on a divorce case for a beautiful client (Vonetta McGee) who believes a bit too strongly in “attorney-client privilege.” McGee is a familiar face for fans of ‘70s cult cinema, from films like Blacula (1972), Hammer (1972) and The Eiger Sanction (1975).
5. Rolly’s Proposal and Rolly’s Wedding (Season 2, Episodes 7-8 — November 21 and 28, 1987)
Thelma’s Aunt Leola (Rosetta LeNoire) comes for a visit and has an awkward introduction to Rolly, which turns into a courtship and a wedding. Jester Hairston was a Broadway performer, radio star, songwriter, and choral director, and his deadpan Brother Rolly is truly Amen’s secret weapon. This storyline is adorable and the wedding is a true tearjerker.
6. The Fantasy (Season 2, Episode 18 — March 5, 1988)
Thelma, Reuben, and Ernie fantasize about what life would be like if Thelma and Reuben get married. Reuben’s is the funniest, a flash-forward to 2023 when he and Thelma have 8 kids, Ernie is retiring, and Rolly has a hair transplant. (For the record, Rolly would be about 120 years old in 2023.)
7. Thelma Says I Do (Season 4, Episode 8 — Airdate: November 18, 1989)
After three seasons, Thelma and Reuben are finally getting married. Or are they? James Avery (Fresh Prince Of Bel Air) guest stars as the minister who is (SPOILER ALERT) supposed to conduct their wedding, but can’t. With Hemsley, Horsford, and Davis, Amen essentially has three leads, each capable of carrying a show on their own. This episode belongs to Horsford, who is truly an underrated talent.
8. The Army Arc (Season 4, Episode 9-13— November, 1989–January, 1990)
When Thelma and Reuben’s wedding (SPOILER ALERT) doesn’t happen, Thelma runs off and joins the Army. This story arc gives Horsford some of her funniest moments in the series as she enlists, catches the eye of her drill sergeant (Shaft’s Richard Roundtree), and gets court-martialed by her commanding officer (George Coe) for trying to go AWOL.
9. The Wedding (Season 4, Episode 16 — Airdate: February 3, 1990)
Thelma and Reuben’s second try at getting married doesn’t go any better than the first, when the minister (Eric Christmas) pops too many tranquilizers before the ceremony. We won’t spoil it, but this has to be one of the most memorable wedding episodes in TV sitcom history.
10. Deliverance — Parts 1 and 1 (Season 5, Episodes 21-22—March 4 and 11, 1990)
After five seasons, Amen wraps up with bad news and good. The church is condemned by a building inspector, so Deacon Frye and the crew stage a telethon with some very special guests. And Thelma and Reuben’s baby make a triumphant debut. LaWanda Page, James Brown, and R&B singer Lloyd Price guest star. Fair warning: have some Kleenex handy for this touching farewell.
Amen expands to two hours — weekdays 6a until 8a ET — starting April 1. For more, visit the getTV schedule.