Jamie Foxx, Marisa Tomei and Jennifer Hudson were among the outstanding artists in ABC's live productions of producer 1970's hit "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons" by producer Jimmy Kimmel.
If you have the chance, it's often interesting to see a big Broadway show early in the preview. It's easier to get tickets, and you can watch big stars solve their problems in front of an audience. Sometimes it's hard for them to remember lines. Sometimes blocking is awkward. Sometimes a performance is too loud or too quiet, or the actors have no idea when to pause for laughter. But if you're lucky, you can discover a core of something great.
The experience of seeing a really rough preview performance came to mind in front of a studio audience live during the ABC Wednesday Night Special : Norman Lear's "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons" , The awkwardly titled dream project by Jimmy Kimmel felt at least as much a confirmation of the timeless genius of Norman Lear. With more time to practice and prepare and refine, you would have seen interpretations that are better tailored to the actors rather than the originals. They would certainly have a tighter timing and the feeling that the stars were out of action for more than a day or two. But you probably would not have got Woody Harrelson and Jamie Foxx and Will Ferrell and Marisa Tomei and Kerry Washington and Ike Barinholtz and Wanda Sykes to band together for TV production.
My conclusion was the somewhat contradictory feeling that was live in front of a studio audience imperfect and often chaotic and that I really hope that ABC does this again.
The gimmick, if you missed it, was that under Lear's watchful eyes (and directed by industry icon James Burrows) staged this all-star ensemble an episode of All in the Family and an episode by The Jeffersons Back-to-back and live for the East Coast. The sets of both shows were modeled with great attention to detail, the costumes with much love for the butterfly collar, and no dialogue line was changed. In a perfect world, this meant that young viewers were sent to Wikipedia to hear headlines about Tom Bradley, Shirley Chisholm or Lester Maddox ̵
The episode All in the Family was "Henry's Farewell" attributed to Don Nicholl and with Archie Bunker (Harrelson) having to host a farewell party Henry Jefferson (Anthony Anderson) , the brother of neighbor George (Foxx) and uncle of Lionel (Jovan Adepo). As usual, the episode depends on Gloria (Ellie Kemper) and Meathead (Barinholtz) fearing that Archie will ruin the occasion with his occasional racism and Edith (Tomei) is crazy, sweet and vaguely disconnected.
Presumably this half-hour was selected for the presence of the Jefferson clan – double Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes! – and for his solid encapsulation of Archie's insecurities in the work and how they manifest in happy bigotry, even when he's beaten on all sides by his daughter, his son-in-law, his neighbors and the progressives that make everyone wince around him sometimes he refers to the "coloreds". From the despicable dismissal of an unpopular president to the talk of racial and gender wage differentials, to the deconstruction of why America felt more ready for a black president in the 1970s than a well-chosen screenplay for a woman in the White House.
It could have worked better with a better archie, or rather with a better idea of how to approach Archie. Archie Bunker must have his own gravitational force, because every other character in the series only makes sense as an offshoot of Archie's magnificence. Harrelson's interpretation was halfway to an impression, mostly an inconsistent and exaggerated accent and many hand gestures and an unmotivated stutter, but not the required sizes. I suppose Burrows, who has worked exceptionally well with Harrelson, Cheers may have driven him to the right performance. Instead, Harrelson's work and perhaps the entire episode All in the Family culminated with a wonderfully false rendition of the title song.
For me, Edith is above all to believe in answer to the two question "What kind of woman would Archie Bunker marry for several decades, and what would that mean for her?" With a poorly defined archie, Tomei is on an island making an epic, if not always explicable, Jean Stapleton impression that kept making me laugh because of his vivid craziness. Tomei stole the episode in a way that was probably not ideal. Kemper and Barinholtz played more against each other than Harrelson.
The episode really came to life when Sykes and Foxx arrived as Weezy and George. Foxx accepted all make-up and hair ornaments that Harrelson clearly disliked, and his George felt like a sketch version of Sherman Hemsley, but it was still an all-natural sketching performance that could make any other actor in the room fade Sykes not equal. This interaction, which continued beyond the Jefferson's episode, is a perfect illustration of what Edith and Archie
lacked. Honestly, the Jefferson's episode could probably have ended with Jennifer Hudson's interpretation of "Movin 'On Up," a self-assured tribute to a classic that made the audience clap when also against the clock.
The Jefferson's pick by Barry Harman and Harve Brosten could have been less "current" than the episode "All in the Family" (19459006), but I was impressed with how they received a review At the intersection of race and class that was narrower than anything tried in a recent show, things comparable to CBS's The Neighborhood . A conversation between Washington's Helen and Ferrell's Tom about how, despite their love and mutual admiration, unspoken racist abductions can only lurk a fight away. It seemed to be something that you would never see today, because a network would be afraid to dig so deep. It helped that both Washington and Ferrell were in great shape, with a little sitcom spread and a hint of real emotion.
The pace of Jefferson's episode was much better than that of All in the Family or maybe it's just that I appreciated how well Foxx and Sykes shared each other worked. Legendaries like Jackée Harry and the great Marla Gibbs have become a multicam master class. Adepo was great in both episodes. If you see us and Pardon your loss to his merit, the Leftovers veteran is about to face a massive eruption (if he is not) t there already).
Although the show was hit and miss, I would like to see ABC two or three times a year. I would prefer if future rates deviate a bit further from the direct copies of the original sitcoms. Keep the scripts, but roll a few roles against the guy and see what other colors you can draw from the text. Give me the Maude abortion episode with Allison Janney. But that's too obvious. Do not stop here. Give me a Family Ties episode with Timothee Chalamet as Alex P. Keaton. Give me a taxi with Tiffany Haddish as Latka.