What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this classic '70s/'80s sitcom -- which follows an African-American couple who move to an upper-class Manhattan apartment in a primarily Caucasian neighborhood -- combines strong racial stereotypes with some positive representations of African Americans and interracial relationships. George Jefferson is stubborn, mean-spirited, and bigoted, and the show uses strong words like "damn" and racial epithets like "honky." The show is generally mild by today's standards, but George's inappropriate behavior and language may send iffy messages to younger viewers.
What's the story?
Classic sitcom THE JEFFERSONS -- which originally aired from 1975 to 1985 -- stars Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford as George and Louise "Weezy" Jefferson, an African-American couple who move from a working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, to a luxury high-rise apartment on Manhattan's East Side after his dry cleaning business takes off. Hired to help the middle-aged couple in their swanky new digs is Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs), a sharp-tongued maid who's never afraid to speak her mind. And what new home would be complete without new friends, including neighbors Helen and Tom Willis (Roxie Rocker and Franklin Cover) and eccentric Brit Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict). Ralph the doorman (Ned Wertimer) sometimes stops by, too, usually looking for ways to collect a tip.
Is it any good?
This popular, controversial sitcom was spun off from 1970s classic All in the Family -- and features the same kind of bigoted humor that made Archie Bunker famous. Mean-spirited George freely offers stinging remarks about "white folks" and Helen and Tom's interracial marriage. Also bearing the brunt of his jokes is his adult son Lionel (Mike Evans), who later in the series marries the Willis' fair-skinned daughter Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert). Throughout it all, Louise finds herself apologizing for her husband's actions.
The Jeffersons' confrontational brand of humor includes some prominent negative ethnic stereotypes, which are most notable when George's Amos and Andy-like antics result in conflict. But the show also broke barriers by being the first TV show to feature an interracial couple, and it shows African Americans living somewhere besides the lower-class neighborhoods usually featured in African-American-centered sitcoms of the time. And despite his many shortcomings, viewers are always reminded that George is a hardworking, self-made businessman whose efforts moved his family up in the world.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about confrontational humor. How is it different from other kinds of humor? Does it rely on negative behavior to be funny? Families can also talk about how different racial/ethnic groups are represented on television now. How have things changed since this show first aired? Can you think of any groundbreaking TV moments from recent years that have challenged stereotypes? Why are some stereotypes from the past now considered unacceptable while others are still seen in today's media?