Ain't We Lucky We Got 'Em
Watched a couple episodes from the first season of Good Times again. Let me tell you, Good Times was a very different show those first few seasons. The difference was James. When James was there, it was still very much an ensemble piece. JJ was still cooning it up, but in the proper context, he was actually very funny; his elastic face and rubber band tongue provided an interesting contrast to the stern-faced, hollering James, Sr. Good Times wasn't about any character in specific, it was about the family as a collective. Really, if you wanted to name the main "character" in the early episodes of Good Times, it was love. The principal form was the love between James and Florida, but there was also that confrontational-but-symbiotic love between the kids, especial JJ and Thelma. The James-Florida dynamic was the element that gave the show depth, however. Once James left the show, there was no balance; James kept everything in check. It was James' old-school sensibilities like taking pride in his family and his ability to provide for them that gave the show its main source of material. What difference would it have made if James couldn't find or keep that good job if Florida had been working? Not much. Aside from that, it's always interesting to me to look at the early episodes of a show to see how long it takes before the characters come to behave as we know them later. The characterization on Sanford & Son, for instance, really didn't gel until the 2nd season. That's when the bond between Fred & Lamont really started to seem solid. Likewise, on the Cosby Show, much of the material in the early episodes was taken right out of Bill Cosby's stand-up act; Himself, in particular. (Speaking of which, when are they gonna put Cosby on DVD? That's money out of my pocket already.) On Good Times, however, the episode does a very good job of introducing the viewer to the characters and letting the viewer know what each person is about. While some shows take a while to really hit their stride, Good Times had its voice early and lost it later. Anyway, on the disc 2 are my favorite episodes of the show, "Sex and the Evans Family" and "Junior the Senior." Coming in a close third is "Black Jesus," which is on the first disc. It was the show's second episode. From what I've read, there was a serious backlash to the fact that they had dared suggest that Jesus was not white. If I remember correctly, there were death threats and the whole nine. (Although I may have the death threats aspect confused with a play in NJ some time in the 90's.) "Sex and the Evans Family" is my favorite episode for reasons unrelated to its larger significance. The show starts with JJ and Thelma each getting ready for a date on a Saturday night. Thelma, who is 16, is going out with a 21 year-old man. While the kids are getting ready, Florida and Willona find this typewritten booklet entitled "Sexual Behavior in the Ghetto." Florida immediately assumes the booklet is JJ's and lights into him for reading trash like that. JJ denies owning the book, but Florida doesn't believe him. When James comes home, Florida tells him about what's going on and is nonplussed when James actually seems to be proud of JJ. Of course, it's not JJ who was reading the book, but Thelma. And of course, when James finds this out, he hits the roof. In the end, the "filthy piece of trash" is Thelma's date's (played by Philip Michael Thomas with a pointdexter fro, parted down the side, an argyle sweater vest, and a tie with a fist-sized knot) Master's thesis. He says that Thelma supports a theory of his, which is that children from two-parent homes, especially those in which there is a strong father figure, show lower incidences of teen pregnancy. Anybody who watches television knows that the days when regular broadcast television would run a show in which the father's vigilance in watching over his daughter is ultimately shown to be a good thing. To be sure, they did bring up the whole double-standard issue, with James "letting the wolf out while he kept Little Red Riding Hood locked up." Unlike today, however, the focus of the show was not the issue of James' double standard. James' stance was actually affirmed by the academy; even smart people knew that James and Florida were doing right by hawking over Thelma the way they were. Nowadays, it would be all about James being old-fashioned or a chauvinist for not letting Thelma's boyfriend sleep over. For as leftist a bent as the show had at times, it certainly demonstrated a high level of family values. My second-favorite episode is "Junior the Senior." In it, Michael, Thelma, and JJ get their report cards. Actually, Michael got his the day before Thelma and JJ. He brought home straight A's. Thelma gets all A's and a B+. JJ gets an A in art and C's in everything else. Everything is good until JJ starts talking. Then Florida and James start to suspect that he's not really earning the grades he's getting. James says, "I'm readin' C's, but I'm hearin' F's." They then march him down to the school to get the principal to keep JJ in 11th grade! We can talk about school choice and vouchers and whatnot all we want, but if parents showed this much interest in their children's education, the school system would be nowhere near what it is today. Having taught before, I can say that I personally have never had a parent come in to see me about giving their child too good a grade. I have never even heard of such a thing. Come to think of it, I have heard of it. My mom did that to me; she didn't make me repeat a grade, but she did pull me out of the Individual Education program I was in. But that's another story for another time. When parents are actively involved in their children's education, the kids can't help but be inspired. I, as a viewer, may wonder where James and Florida were all the while JJ was not-studying, but I have to like what they were trying to do when they found out. As an interesting aside, Jeremy Pierce at Parablemania has posted the third in his series about John McWhorter's book, Losing The Race: Self Sabotage in the Black Community. This time, Jeremy is looking at anti-intellectualism. Maybe this is a bit of television magic, but Michael, the "Militant Midget" is, in one sense, absolutely not anti-intellectual. For as sensitive as he is to racism ("Daddy, 'boy' is a white, racist word!") he does not see learning as 'white.' In fact, he sees it as the pro-Black thing to do. One might question whether McWhorter would see Michael's singular focus on Black issues as problematic, perhaps anti-intellectual in his unwillingness to deal with issues that are not related to Blackness, but I think there is a level at which having a means of praxis gives some value to intellectual pursuits. I'll probably write about all that at some other time though. Good Times. The first season, at least. Maybe sometime soon I'll actually stop gummin' about it and buy the 2nd season.