Based on the British sitcom “Til Death Us Do Part,” Norman Lear’s American sitcom “All in the Family” has managed to live on for decades as one of the most volatile and controversial American television series of all time. Even decades after its premiered, “All in the Family” continues to live on as a series that examined many themes about the world that are still relevant, and still widely examined by the greatest minds. In its nine season run, “All in the Family” explored themes of homosexuality, capital punishment, abortion, religion, the Vietnam war, feminism, civil rights, rape, racial stereotypes, sexual dynamics, homophobia, terrorism, gun control, and so much more.
“All in the Family” did so with a fearlessness that signaled a series that was willing to tackle such issues with a sincerity that made it very popular, while also making audiences laugh non-stop. With relatable down to Earth characters, “All in the Family” went to live on television for nine seasons, and conceived five spin offs of varying success. Norman Lear examined the themes deemed incredibly taboo in the seventies with a comedic dynamic that used its characters to become the catalysts for such arguments and dissections of what was troubling the world in the seventies, and what’s going to continue troubling the world.
Set in the midst of social change, Carol O’Connor plays the immortal Archie Bunker, a man very set in his ways who is still living based on his terms. Married to his loyal and faithful wife Edith, an unusually open mind and occasionally naive woman, Archie has to face the brunt of social and class change when his daughter Gloria begins changing her political views, and moves in with her new husband Mike, a young college student and liberal who is the opposite of everything Archie Bunker is from head to toe. Throughout the series, the foursome bounce off of one another in a rapidly changing world where views from the fifties and forties were considered obsolete, and as Archie Bunker, O’Connor portrayed a man who was unwilling to change along with the world, and eventually had no choice but to adjust with the changing times. A time where even his wife Edith began digging in to ideas of feminism, women’s liberation, racial equality, and even becoming best friends with a transvestite during the middle of the show.
O’Connor is excellent as the central character who runs around trying to comprehend many of the changes transforming his fitted and comfortable state of living, and comes of conscience over time. It’s especially true when the writers toss many obstacles his way that test his faith and resolve as a man who once considered his views justified. Rob Reiner gave a wonderful dichotomy with O’Connor, posing often as Archie’s foil, challenging every belief Archie holds dear and daring to introduce him to a new way of living that could help change the world, the way he is attempting to. Some of the best moments of the show involve Reiner’s character Mike battling Archie’s views on the world, and Reiner is marvelous in his supporting role. The piece de resistance is Sally Struthers as Gloria, Archie’s once devoted daughter who now finds herself discovering other aspects of the world to be devoted to and find passion for, to which Archie must either adapt towards, or fight.
Along the way Gloria discovers that she may not be completely separated from her dad’s principles. “All in the Family” is so much like a televised “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” where everyone eventually assesses their views on the world, and Norman Lear’s series remains hysterical, brilliantly written, and incredibly relevant to today’s social and political climate. And what’s sad is that in today’s “Everyone’s a winner, walk on eggshells” society, if introduced in modern times, this series wouldn’t have made it past half of the first season on television.
Shout! Factory does not short change fans of the series for the money they’ve paid. There’s an eleven minute new interview featured with show creator Norman Lear, as well as four bonuses from the 2009 Norman Lear Collection. There’s two documentaries for the series, “Those Were the Days: The Birth of “All in the Family”” clocking in at a half hour, and “The Television Revolution Begins: “All in the Family” is on the Air,” a series of interviews about the creation of the show running at forty minutes long. There are also the two original pilots for “All in the Family” included that were used to pitch the show to the network. One titled “Justice for All” features O’Connor and Stapleton and two different actors as Mike and Gloria which runs at thirty five minutes, and the second pilot entitled “Those Were the Days” with O’Connor and Stapleton starring alongside two other different actors, which runs at twenty seven minutes.
Along with two versions of the original pilot, there are pilot episodes included for three of the various spin offs from “All in the Family.” There are no “The Jeffersons” or “Maude,” but there is the pilot for the Sally Struthers starring “Gloria” which sees Gloria Stivic now a divorcee and single mom working as a veterinarian. There’s “Archie Bunker’s Place,” a part spin-off and part continuation of the series which centers on Archie running his neighborhood bar and the eccentric characters who help him raise his niece Stephanie, as well as “704 Hauser” the 1994 reboot of the series where an African American conservative family move in to the Bunkers’ old house, the parents of whom are living with a grown son who is married to a white Jewish woman, played by Maura Tierney of “ER” fame.