A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this classic sitcom revolves around an African-American family living in the Chicago projects during the 1970s. The series addresses some difficult issues -- including poverty, gangs, violence, and theft -- but manages to keep a sense of humor. Family values are highlighted; they're often discussed within the context of Christianity. Parents also need to know that the series discusses racial bigotry and African-American empowerment. Later episodes also portray some African-American stereotypes.
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What's the story?
A spin-off of fellow classic sitcom Maude, GOOD TIMES follows an African-American family struggling to survive the hardships of living in the Chicago projects in the 1970s. With the help of her well-intentioned but often-unemployed husband James (John Amos), Florida "Flo" Evans (Esther Rolle) is raising a family in a neighborhood plagued by poverty, gang violence, street crime, and racial discrimination. James and Flo are committed to raising their children -- aspiring artist J.J. (Jimmie Walker), teenage Thelma (BerNadette Stanis), and young-but-intellectual Michael (Ralph Carter) -- with strong moral values that include respecting their elders, each other, and themselves. During both the good times and the bad, the Evans family is supported by friends like neighbor Willona Woods (Ja'net Dubois) and, later, building superintendent Nathan Bookman (Johnny Brown) and Willona's adopted daughter, Penny (Janet Jackson). Together the group stays positive by believing in each other and the importance of striving for a better life.
Is it any good?
During the first few years of its original 1974-1979 run, Good Times served as a platform for discussing social injustice in urban America. Early episodes moved away from stereotypes by presenting strong African-American characters with something constructive to say about the issues of the time -- including Watergate, the gas crisis, and inflation. Also significant was the show's focus on African-American pride, most notably articulated through Michael, who even at a young age was a committed activist for his community.
Unfortunately, in later years Good Times shifted away from being a vehicle for positive family values to centering on the Walkers' brand of comedy -- which includes a lot of behavior that reinforces African-American stereotypes of the time. Nonetheless, the show expanded the boundaries of African-American television, providing a strong foundation for future positive African-American role models.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way that TV portrays cities. Why are problems like violence and drug use often shown as "inner-city" problems, when they're really everywhere? Is it possible to live a good life in the inner city despite the social problems? Why do you think that kind of life isn't shown more in the media? Families can also talk about strong African-American TV characters. Who do you think serve as positive African-American role models on television today? Why? How have African-American TV characters changed over time?
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