TV Review – Best of All in the Family Part 5

The Bunkers and Inflation Part 1 (Original airdate: September 14, 1974)
Written by Don Nicholl and Michael Ross & Bernie West
Directed by H. Wesley Kenney

The landscape of American life was changing drastically in the 1970s, a result of the tumultuous 1960s. There were many excellent and long-awaited changes such as desegregation & the Civil Rights Act, the women’s lib movement, and the growing acceptance of LGBT people. Economically things were getting murky, downright awful for working-class union people. This was an opening salvo by the corporate elite to weaken union power to increase their own. The speculation market was coming to power and with the 1980s looming, the salivating day traders and industry liquidators were on their mark, ready to go.

Add to this the McGovern-Fraser Commission, a study to evaluate the catastrophic 1968 presidential election that saw the vote going to Richard Nixon. A week before this season of All in the Family premiered, President Ford pardoned the disgraced Nixon who had just resigned a month earlier. The McGovern commission had reworked the rules of the Democratic primary in the meantime gave strict powers to the establishment of the party, ensuring that you’d have no more Hubert Humphreys upsetting future elections. This also shifted the DNC’s attention away from courting working-class voters, whom the party believed they had a lock on, to focusing on the burgeoning professional class, soon to be the yuppies of the 1980s with all their disposable income and upward mobility.

The country, while under the leadership of Nixon, sees housing and automotive costs skyrocket and interest rates wreaking havoc. This culminated in the inflationary state of 1974 where we find the Bunkers struggling to make ends meet. Archie’s union job is about to go on strike, which will leave the Bunkers worried about future income. Mike is still in school while Gloria works but doesn’t make a whole lot. Archie, a staunch supporter of his beloved Richard M. Nixon, refuses to blame the man who is at the forefront of this problem. 

I have to hand it to the showrunners of All in the Family to devote the first month of their new season to the ongoing economic crisis of the time. I cannot imagine any significant network sitcom doing this in the modern era. That’s a shame because these programs can be a beautiful way to help regular working people reflect on what is happening in their lives, help them shine a light of humor on situations that can otherwise be dour and depressing. There’s a lot of talk right now about the media landscape needing to reflect the racial and gender makeup of the country better, which is very much needed. But I think we need to see more working-class families on television as well and less financially comfortable people who live in relative mansions compared to the majority of the nation. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see people struggling to make ends meet on a modern sitcom instead of money problems appearing to never come up?

The Bunkers and Inflation Part 2 (Original airdate: September 21, 1974)
Written by Don Nicholl and Michael Ross & Bernie West
Directed by H. Wesley Kenney

One of Archie Bunker’s greatest flaws (and there are many) is his refusal to ask for help when he most certainly needs it. This second part of the inflation story finds the grocery bill affected with Edith unable to buy much meat, and the family forced to eat an increasingly limited diet. Help comes in the form of Louise Jefferson, whose dry cleaning business with her husband is one of the few doing well despite the economic turmoil. Edith sees Louise as having a genuine love for neighbors and doesn’t offer the food as a means to make herself superior. While Louise may find Archie boorish, she adores Edith, who is the great shining light of this whole series. Archie is also weak when it comes to Edith and gives in to her desire to accept Louise’s gift.

Throughout the series, we have Archie harangue FDR over the New Deal revitalization of America; he, of course, believes FDR was a “rotten commie.” But amid economic distress, we can see how vitally important it is for communities to remain in solidarity. FDR merely gave support to people who were so bad off they couldn’t help each other without a little assistance themselves. While Archie sees this all as unearned government handouts, he fails to realize these crises are the very reason a federalized government is needed. When the struggle is on a scale of this magnitude, it’s going to take a more extensive network of systems to bring aid to those who need it. Archie never seems to see this connection in his union, a system created so that workers would be able to leverage their needs at the same scale as the ownership & management.

The Bunkers and Inflation Part 3 (Original airdate: September 28, 1974)
Written by Don Nicholl and Michael Ross & Bernie West
Directed by H. Wesley Kenney

This month-long storyline was told in real-time with each episode only representing a day or two in that week of the Bunkers’ life. By this time, the union has been on strike for three weeks with little to no progress being made on the desperately needed cost of living increase. Mike has even gotten a part-time tutoring job but only manages to bring in $25 a week. Edith receives an offer from the Jeffersons to work in one of their dry cleaning locations which sends Archie’s head spinning.

This episode brings race into the conversation about economics with Archie’s main objection to Edith working for the Jeffersons being that she’s white and they are black. It continues one of the most frustrating points about economics that keeps real change from happening. This goes back to the Civil War, where poor and working-class whites were used as cannon fodder to defend the elite class’s ability to hold slaves. The use of slave labor was one of the reasons why there were so many poor whites when an industry can use a violence-supported free system of labor, then why employ anyone? Archie fails to see that economic solidarity across racial lines is a crucial piece to helping lift everyone out of the morass of poverty. As long as the top one percent can keep the people at the bottom fighting over scraps, then they will always remain in control of an inordinate amount of wealth.

The Bunkers and Inflation Part 4 (Original airdate: October 5, 1974)
Written by Don Nicholl and Michael Ross & Bernie West
Directed by H. Wesley Kenney

The union finally reaches a deal, and it’s a pretty awful one. The workers at Pendergast Tool & Die will receive a flat 3 year raise without the needed adjustments for inflation. Mike tries to explain the longterm problems with this deal to Archie, but Arch can only see the immediate gain. Archie is glad the strike had ended so he can feel like he’s contributing to the household. He refuses to think about how this contribution will eventually turn out to not be enough. Sadly this is from a period where the negotiation power of unions was weakened due to a mix of internal corruption and corporate-led government interference. Collective bargaining was leveraged against the worker, and now America has become a landscape where unions exist but often in name only, with little power due to destructive Fire at Will state legislation.

This four-part quiet epic comes to an end with the protagonists having gained little, but under the assumption, they have won. The working class rarely gets to celebrate actual victories, merely something that extends their survival for a bit longer. If you watch contemporary shows like Shameless, they begin to feel like an endless cycle but are absolutely reflective of the one step forward, two steps back fate for the poor and working class. Nothing will really change, and even Edith is told she has to quit her job for the Jeffersons because Archie is working again, despite the fact she finds the work fulfilling.

Edith’s Friend (Original airdate: February 22, 1975)
Written by Barry Harman & Harve Brosten
Directed by H. Wesley Kenney

This time instead of remaining at the house in Queens, we follow Edith to a wedding in Scranton where she is reunited with cousins and a childhood friend who could have been something more, once upon a time. Edith always liked Roy but thought he was her cousin. Decades later, he explains to her over dinner that they aren’t cousins by blood but through a complicated series of marriages. There is a sudden dangerous temptation for a life she’s been denied, but Edith ultimately fakes a phone call from Archie to excuse herself from the situation.

Edith and Archie’s relationship was probably the first realistic marriage to be shown on television. They love each other, but they are also human, and Edith has a lot of buried regrets about her decision to marry Archie. It’s easy to see why she has regret, Archie is so repressed about showing his emotions and affection that even in private he’s uncomfortable expressing it to Edith. Edith is such an ebullient person that the audience is puzzled about why she stays with this man. But women of her era just stay, they don’t believe there’s a choice. This is yet another of those heart-aching Edith centered episodes.

One thought on “TV Review – Best of All in the Family Part 5”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: