Good Times - Family Fun on TV - Groundbreaking Giggles in the Ghetto
In the 70's, things they were a changing. Following the Civil Rights Movement, 70's popular culture from magazines and music to film and television displayed life in a drastically different way than that which had been seen not a decade before.
This lens will introduce you to a groundbreaking TV sitcom that originally aired in 1974. At that time, I had no idea it was anything other than very funny and a pleasure to watch.
Good Times ran from 1974 to 1979. It was marketed as a comedy mostly but week after week mixed in with the laughs were serious issues most main stream television had steered far from in family sitcoms prior.
Lets check out the landscape.
America was coming out of overt war but very much still engaged in the cold war. Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac were hot, as were mood rings and pet rocks.
We had a new speed limit and gas was becoming an issue. Women were experiencing more freedom than at any other point in history and the idea of what constituted family was starting to change in the cultural consciousness.
It was a strange time with innocence fading and television seeking to present things that were more true to life than many of the idealized family portrayals of past shows.
Most shows had a family that was picture perfect. Not all, but the vast majority lived a charmed life of money and privilege.
June Cleaver had nothing on Florida Evens.
In the early to mid 70's, there were three major prime time shows depicting families of color. Prior, there was nothing. Unlike Sandford and Son and The Jeffersons, Good Times introduced audiences to a complete and intact family that lived life more like the rest of us, just a normal family trying to get by.
To me, Florida Evans was Mom of the year. She was a strong female figure. Such figures were somewhat new for women at the time and she pulled it off with a familial grace that seemed somewhat lacking in other shows. More on that later, but for now...
Lets meet the cast.
James Evans - Head of the Evans clan, James was a hard working man. He had a temper and it showed but James loved his family and that always came through. No matter what life threw at him, he never gave up and worked diligently to instill that same attitude in his children. James could be seen as a role model father for families of all colors to this day.
John Amos brought James to life. Audiences from around the world will recognize him from later fame in Roots based off the novel by Alex Haley. Roots was "the" groundbreaking mini series of the day. Many have proposed, and I agree, that without shows such as Good Times being so highly successful, the chances are high Roots would never have been made.
Florida Evans - If I ever really loved a TV character, Florida was it. She was the perfect mom. Not too lenient but always loving and supportive, Florida existed for her family and God.
Both God and family were in everything she ever did or said. Most moms of the time that I watched were just too perfect to be believable. They never got angry, never told anyone off, ran to Daddy if ever little Johnny needing correcting and generally just were not buyable to my kid self. Florida commanded respect in her own right, quietly and with dignity. I was inspired by this character in many ways.
Esther Roll played Florida Evans in such a way as to become an iconic representation of a strong black women, a strong and devoted mother and an all around inspiring woman of courage and conviction. We lost her in 1998. America wept and I was right there with them.
J.J. - James Evans Junior, eldest son, was played by comedian Jimmy Walker. He was an overnight underdog hit. Literally, his one liners and famous "dyn-o-mite" stole the show week after week. J.J. provided the perfect balance of funny with the far from funny situations the family typically found themselves in.
Thelma - Known as Baby Girl by her loving father and Catfish face by her teasing older brother, Thelma portrayed a young African American girl with a good head on her shoulders that you just knew was going to be something special one day.
Like most similar young girl characters of the day, Thelma always made the right choices in the end. Growing up in the projects of Chicago wasn't easy. From gangs to guns, living in the ghetto kept Thelma from being as sheltered as most female teenage characters of the day.
Seeing how hard the struggle was for her made Thelma more believable than most of her peers in prime time.
Michael - Michael was the youngest of the Evans clan. His character was somewhat novel. While only a child, he was interested in the issues of the day and aspired to be a Supreme Court Justice. Certainly a lofty goal for any young man, but seen as somewhat more so at the time considering the hiring practices of a largely white dominated American labor system.
The thing was, Michael like most kids, didn't want to wait. Watch as the young man his father affectionately refers to as the militant midget tackles injustice again and again. I'll say this, he might have been young but he was no dummy.
Willona Woods - Not biologically part of the family, Willona might as well have been. Florida's long time dear friend, she lived next door. Early on, Willona brought comic relief, a glimpse of 70's ghetto coutour and moved along all the juiciest gossip.
As the show and characters matured, Willona's character became as integral to the show as any family member. Single, gorgeous, strong and opinionated with a razor sharp tongue, Willona is a must see.
Good Times showed problems previously avoided by most family sitcoms.
While being foremost a comedy about family, the show tackled many a serious subject from drug addiction to teenage pregnancy, rape, child abuse, gang violence and political corruption. It wasn't the first show to display any of these serious type social problems though such certainly was not the norm for the day.
However, it was the first to show them week after week in such a personal way. Good Times broke ground in the casting, ratings, stereotype busting and situations displayed on American prime time television.
Regardless of viewing as I originally did with nothing more than a love of laughs, or looking at the show through the eyes of living history, Good Times is just good TV.
Check out the clips.
Below, you will find the original opening and closing score along with some fun clips from the show. There's a funny fashion spoof and lastly, find out where the cast is now.
Background Image credit; Poetvix
What's your favorite TV sitcom from the seventies?
No one tells it like someone who lived it.Amazingly, it seems the loving fictional family didn't get along so well in real life.Check it out.