Ain't We Lucky We Got 'Em II
I finally got the 2nd season of Good Times last weekend. (I also bought that pop culture version of Trivial Pursuit. And let me tell you, the box opened and the beating commenced. If I hadn't had such a hard time with the dice, it would have been a full-fledged mauling.) As I mentioned last time, the first two seasons of Good Times were very different than the later shows. Going through the first season, however, it's getting easy to see how JJ started to take over. And really, as a character, JJ was probably the least interesting one on the show. Maybe this is me with a little age and education talking, but I'm much more interested in Thelma and Michael than I am in JJ. JJ can provide comic relief, but the strength of that character was as a foil to the more serious characters. He was at his best as a sort of in-house Willona. Come in, crack a joke, make a sociological comment, crack a joke, say Dy-no-mite!, put on a funny outfit, make a face, be out. Instead, what happened was, JJ gradually became the focus of the show. Now, a lot of people I know have played up the racial element, saying that JJ represents the 'coon' stereotype and that that character was emphasized in an attempt to diminish the social impact of the show. There's no question that there are certain stereotypes of Black people that have been prevalent down through the years, and there's no question that JJ pretty well fit the coon stereotype, but I don't know that his takeover of the show was all part of some insidious plot. The same thing happened on Happy Days. JJ is to Good Times as the Fonz is to Happy Days. If Seinfeld had been any less centered on al four characters, it's easy to imagine was about race so much as it was about the network trying to capitalize on a popular Kramer taking over the show just like JJ and the Fonz before him. In short, then, I don't think JJ's takeover character. Having said that, I think that Good times really suffered when the focus shifted to JJ. Like I said before, Thelma and Michael were infinitely more interesting characters – or at least, they had much more potential. Thelma, especially. If it were me writing the show, I would have made Thelma the centerpiece. According to the traits of that television character, I can imagine her turning out to be similar to Claire Huxtable if James had lived. She was good-looking, smart, and ambitious. Of course, those characteristics don't necessarily make for funny television. I mean, Thelma had her share of featured episodes, but it wasn't the same as with JJ. (Of course, I might only be thinking this because Thelma was fine. If Thelma had really looked like JJ's sister, I might not be so interesting in seeing too much of her, no matter how smart and ambitious she was. Thelma was the truth; especially when she was rocking the natural. Whether it was the fro, the afro puffs, or the braids (especially the braids) Thelma had it goin' on! Some of my friends have tried to tell me different, but I kick the truth to the youth: when it comes to the little sister characters, ain't no rap: Thelma was the best, hands down.) Of course, this trend just represents the problem of popularity. The question is, when you have a popular product/show/etc., do you go with what the "market" seems to dictate, which would mean emphasizing the popular element, or do you focus on quality, which may not translate to sales? This plays out in more than just television programs. Hip-hop is stuck in this conundrum today. So far, hip-hop in general is going the way of Good Times. Whatever element used to represent the 'James' element is gone. Like EPMD once said, rap is outta control. Back to Good Times, though, do they still make shows where the teenage girls are virgins and are not afraid to say that's it a good thing? Or where the father was in charge, even if he didn't make a whole lot of money, or wasn't highly educated? I don't think so.