When it was originally on: 1971-1979
Original network: CBS
Where you can stream it now: None of the streaming platforms have this series in full, but you can find stray episodes on YouTube. You can also also purchase episodes on platforms like Apple TV+
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen some of the aforementioned stray episodes on YouTube, but that’s about it.
What IMDb says: A working class man constantly squabbles with his family over the important issues of the day.
Why I picked it: It’s damn near impossible discuss this history of television without All in the Family coming up eventually. It spawned 5 spinoffs and also re-wrote the rules of discussing politics in network sitcoms. It seems like when we look back at television now, there’s a clear divide between the “before All in the Family” shows and the “after All in the Family” shows and that historical significance makes it an interesting show and pilot to study.
What I liked: I loved how some of the funniest moments of this whole show were given to Edith and have absolutely nothing to do with the irreverent politics the show is known for. Jean Stapleton’s performance sells this role. She’s just a lady sitting in the corner who’s accepted her role in the chaos around her, and she’s trying to do the best she can. I love Edith enough that I don’t really care about how much the rest of this family irritates me.
I also love Lionel, the Bunkers’ black neighbor. The idea of a black person deliberately playing into Archie’s outdated, offensive stereotypes in order to manipulate him is both hilarious and profound to me. In letting Archie believe he has all the power, Lionel takes some of that power for himself. It’s unclear from the pilot whether or not Lionel is a series regular or not, but I actually find the Lionel/Archie dynamic far more compelling that any of the other relationships in the show.
What I didn’t like: I wish I had a better idea on where Gloria stands in this family. It’s odd to me how she makes a point of telling Mike “oh, can you please not fight with my dad today?” but then later is right in Mike’s corner proclaiming their atheism, even taking it further than Mike did. Gloria KNOWS atheism is going to upset her father. How could she not? And yet she willfully prances into this conversation topic despite her earlier desire for peace between the generations.
If she’s going to be a peacekeeper, she needs to be a peacekeeper. If she’s here to fight with Archie, she needs to fight with Archie. We get a little bit of both here, which leaves her devoid of identity. That’s especially disappointing given that I have such a firm grasp on where Archie, Edith, and Mike stand in relate to each other.
I also wasn’t super keen on the structure here either. Really, All in the Family episodes are closer to stage plays than they are to screenplays or modern teleplays, which is fine. But I’ve still stage plays and even other episodes of All in the Family that felt more like a real story than this one did. Here, we’re just watching a family argue for a half hour. I don’t really feel like it’s building towards much of anything. The ending is sweet, but doesn’t feel like a natural conclusion of everything that came before it. Such tacked-on endings are fairly common in older shows that had to adhere to stricter formats, but I’ve still seen other episodes that did this better. (The M*A*S*H pilot is a freaking spectacular example of a half-hour television pilot that came out a year after this one did).
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes. I found the pilot entertaining and it’s an interesting piece of television history.