Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria

1987, possibly first edition, from Workman Publishing
Donna McCrohan
Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria: The Tumultuous History of All in the Family
Original price $7.95, purchase price $6.99
Worn paperback

This is the first but far from the last of the books I own to take this particular approach to a television show: chapters on the making of and its cultural impact, miscellany, and then an episode guide towards the end.  All in the Family was one of those shows that I grew up with as a child of the 1970s, but already by '87 it was very dated.  (In fact, the 1977 episode "Mike and Gloria Meet" gets much of its humor by showing how different the early '70s looked.)  Norman Lear's magic touch had worn off-- Paul Rodriguez, star of A.K.A. Pablo jokes here, "I like to think of myself as the man who ruined Lear"-- and the nature of sitcoms had changed significantly.  Still, you could very well argue that AitF was the big game-changer, that if you had to pick one show (or at least comedy show) that there is a before and after of, it's the one.

Back when I had Netflix (a gift from a friend), I found their search engine woefully primitive, so I gave up on trying to get movies from them and instead got early seasons of M*A*S*H and AitF.  The former, with the exception of the classic "Captain Tuttle" episode, was not nearly as brilliant as I remembered.  But I found myself laughing at Archie, Edith, Mike, and Gloria.  Yes, the way they handled feminism in the early days was wincey, but the writing was overall good.  And thirty years on, I still loved Watergate humor.

McCrohan does a pretty good job of capturing what was special about the show.  There are times when her writing could be tighter (less redundant, sharper), but I liked her even-handedness.  There were disputes about the show not just among the public and the media, but by those who worked on it.  She presents the different sides, but doesn't take one herself.

When I watched the show as a kid, I thought of Archie as elderly.  It was a shock to find out as an adult that his character was born in 1924 (a year before my father, the same year as Jimmy Carter), so he was 46 when it started (a year older than I am now).  As a '70s kid, I thought all the bigots were old and would soon die off.  Carroll O'Connor (a liberal in real life) lived until 2001.  Jean Stapleton is still alive at age 90 although retired.  Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers quickly aged almost beyond recognition, and became at least equally well-known for respectively directing and "Do you want to make more money? Of course. We all do!"  And little Danielle "Stephanie" Brisebois?  She co-wrote the earwormy "Pocketful of Sunshine."

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