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Good Times Season One Episode Three

Good Times came from t.v. producer Norman Lear, who had already brought the public hits shows like All In The Family and Maude, and would later bring The Jeffersons. Good Times was nominally a spin-off from Maude, although the only thing that was kept was the name of Esther Rolle's character Florida. I am doing this episode out of order because while it was filmed first and so is technically the pilot, it was broadcast third and so is the third episode of the season. The production values seem cheap and cheesy by today's standards, but aren't bad compared to other t.v. shows of the period that didn't have big budgets. The jokes are good, the performances are really good (mostly) and it's easy to see why this show caught on.

That being said, this is a show that would cause a big chunk of the country in this day and age to go into meltdowns. Michael, the youngest son, is a militant who makes derogatory comments about cops and opines about the disparities between white society and black society.  (Sadly the reason this persona was given to him is that it was thought that the black power movement would seem less threatening to white audiences if it was represented by the youngest child.) There are jokes about Nixon not being good for "poor folk". There are also more than a few negative stereotypes being used. There's JJ's desire to run a "hustle", the guy trying to pick up women at the welfare office, and a few one off jokes that seem problematic to modern ears. But this episode holds up in terms of both being funny and being topical.

The story is about the family getting an eviction notice and trying to come up with the money to keep from being put out on the street. The reason they got behind on the rent is that the mom, Florida, had to go into the hospital and have her appendix out. Dad, James, has been working two jobs to make ends meet but still couldn't pay the hospital bill and the rent. He decides to go out to hustle someone at pool to make the money after refusing to consider asking for welfare. Florida goes to the welfare office anyway. And the three kids practice their hustle in case the parents don't quite make it. 

This episode manages a real magic trick in my opinion. It deals with a real life issue that people faced (and still do sadly). But it did so in a way that does not feel at all heavy handed or preachy. The 40 some odd year old jokes are mostly still funny. And even the dirty jokes are dirty in such a subtle way as you don't have to worry about little kids hearing them because there is no way they will understand the real implications. The only thing that didn't really connect for me was the heavy religious moment toward the end, not being a religious person myself. But I understand that many people are and even more were back then, so this just added even more realism to the show. It was definitely stagey in parts, but this pilot really does hit the ground running much more than most shows do. There's even a nice meta joke at the end where the family is discussing what to watch on tv. Michael says he wants to see an all black show for a change. James asks how he's going to find that. He responds that there is a basketball game on. The battle for representation goes on, and these early examples should be remembered for paving the way. When they are this good, it's easy.


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